Papers of Herbert Edward Durham

Scope and Content

Reports and correspondence concerning beriberi on Christmas Island and the Malay States.

Administrative / Biographical History

Durham was the son of A E Durham, once senior surgeon to Guy's Hospital and grandson of William Ellis, the economist. Educated at University College School and King's College, Cambridge, he distinguished himself by obtaining a first class in both parts of the Natural Science Tripos in 1890.

In 1894 he passed F.R.C.S. and then won a Gull studentship on which he went to Vienna to work in the Grubler's hygiene laboratory. While there his attention was drawn to the diagnostic value of agglutination in the serum of animals protected by prophylatic inoculations. In 1896 this reaction was applied to typhoid, when at first it was known as the Grubler-Durham reaction, but the title was later changed to that of the Widal reaction. In that year he also became a member of the Royal Society's Committee on disease spread by tsetse flies. In 1897 he produced the universally used and famous Durham tubes to measure the amount of gas produced in culture by bacteria.

In 1900 he led an expedition to Brazil organised by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to study yellow fever. Between 1901 and 1903 he undertook an expedition with Dr P T Manson to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, but this was marred by tragedy of his young colleague's death.

From Malaya he brought back the roots of Derris elliptica which were found to possess definite insecticidal properties and it seems that Durham was the first to draw attention to this phenomenon. In 1905 he forsook medicine to become supervisor of the laboratories of Messrs H P Bulmer & Co of Hereford who were engaged in brewing cider. Thereafter for thirty years he worked at the problems of fermentation, and was hardly ever seen in medical circles. In 1935 he retired to Cambridge, to his garden where he tended strange plants and herbs, many of when he had originally introduced into this country.

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Compiled by Victoria Killick, Archivist. Source: History of the School of Tropical Medicine in London (1899-1949) by Sir Philip Manson-Bahr, 1956, H K Lewis & Co Ltd, London.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed computer catalogue is available for use in the Archives and the on-line archive catalogue will be available at from 2005

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist

Related Material

Correspondence 1932-1943, Library and Archives, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, ref: NRA 25004 Royal Botanic Garden. Letters (19) to EF Bulmer, 1890-1895, Kings College Archive Centre, Cambridge University, ref: NRA 33377 Bulmer