International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    James Cantlie

    Status Physician
    Country United Kingdom


    Dr James Cantlie was a Scottish physician who was a pioneer in first aid and in tropical medicine.

    He graduated from Aberdeen University as MA in natural science in 1871, and then received training in medicine. He was Instructor in Anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, London, and later worked as Demonstrator in Anatomy, House Physician, House Surgeon, and Surgical Registrar. He became one of the first members of the St John’s Ambulance Society.

    In 1878, Cantlie compiled a practical manual on first aid, using the notes of his friend Peter Shepherd. Handbook describing aids for cases of injuries or sudden illness (retitled in later editions as First aid to the injured) was one of the first manuals of this kind. Used as the official first aid manual for the St John’s Ambulance Society, it remained a widely distributed text until the 1950s.

    Cantlie’s involvement in tropical medicine began in 1877, when he volunteered to assist with a cholera epidemic in Egypt. In 1885, Cantlie travelled to Hong Kong and took over a medical practice established by a fellow Scottish tropical medicine specialist, Patrick Manson; he treated both Chinese and European patients. With Patrick Manson and Chinese physician Ho Kai, he founded the Hong Kong College of Medicine for the Chinese at the Alice Memorial Hospital. Sun Yat-Sen, who would later become the first President of the Chinese Republic, was one of the first graduates.

    While based in Hong Kong, Cantlie took an interest in the distribution of leprosy in China, and published several books and essays on the subject. He was concerned that Chinese people with leprosy posed an imminent threat to the British Empire. He called for rigorous medical inspection of Chinese migrants and the deportation of any migrants with leprosy, and warned of worldwide disaster if Chinese people with leprosy were allowed to travel freely (Edmond 125).

    Cantlie returned to London in 1896 and continued to practice in tropical medicine. With Sir William Simpson, he founded the Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1898, and with Manson, he founded the London School of Tropical Medicine in 1899. He founded the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine in 1907, and served as its president from 1921 to 1923.

    Cantlie remained interested in first aid, and was involved with the Red Cross during the First World War. He died in London in 1926.


    Cantlie, James. Report on the conditions under which leprosy occurs in China, Indo-China, Malaya, the Archipelago, and Oceania. London: Macmillan and Co, 1897.

    Edmond, Rod. Leprosy and empire: a medical and cultural history. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    "James Cantlie (1851–1926)-7: Tropical Surgeon, University Administrator, and Founder of the (Royal) Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene." Tropical Medicine: An Illustrated History of the Pioneers. Elsevier Ltd, 2008. 115-126. Web.

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