John Farrell Easmon, The Sierra Leonean Creole doctor in the 1890s


John Farrell Easmon (seated) and his brother Albert Whiggs Easmon

John Farrell Easmon was born in 1856 in Sierra Leone. His paternal family were descendants of African heritage Nova Scotian’s who arrived in 1792. Easmon’s mother Mary Ann McCormack was of Irish heritage.. Easmon was the only West African to be promoted to Chief Medical Officer and served in this role with distinction during the last decade of the 19th century. Easmon was botanist and a noted expert on the study and treatment of tropical diseases. In 1884, Dr. Easmon wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Nature and Treatment of Blackwater Fever”, which noted for the first time the relationship between Blackwater fever and malaria. Easmon coined the term “Blackwater fever” in his pamphlet on the malarial disease.

Easmon enrolled as a medical student at UCL and in 1879, earned the M.R.C.S. from the Royal College of Surgeons). According to Adell Patton, Jr’s biography in his final year Easmon took six gold and silver medals. After London he studied in

Ireland, receiving permission to practice Ireland before he moved on to Brussels.

After completing his training Easmon was offered employment by a relative, Sir William McCormack, who was president of the Royal College of Surgeons, but he chose to move back to Freetown where he set up his practice at No. 2 East Street. In 1880, Easmon joined the Gold Coast Medical Service.


In addition to his practical work which included administering medical departments in 1884 he published Blackwater Fever, which T.S. Gale states was ‘the first clinical analysis of the symptoms of the disease in English’.’while it was recognized as a distinct fever in 1864 and received the nomenclature “blackwater fever” in 1884, Easmon’s analysis showed its most important symptoms as severe anemia and excess hemoglobin in the urine. It struck people whose constitutions had been progressively weakened by frequent bouts of falciparum malaria; and with a sizable dose of quinine as the immediate reciprocating factor.’

Easmon’s work in this publication as well as in his practice as a doctor led to a significant reputation in the Gold Coast; however, Patton Jr reports of his Blackwater Fever research, ‘proper acknowledgement for Easmon’s role in this discovery was long in coming’. In 1885 Easmon was based in the Accra General Hospital but during this time the government constantly rotated his postings.

Easmon attempted to obtain the position of colonial surgeon in Sierra Leone in 1892 but Governor Griffiths would not recommend him for the position as he was seen as too valuable to Accra. Thereafter he sought a promotion in the Gold Coast, applying for the position of chief medical officer. Easmon was appointed to the position in June 1893.






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