Surgeon-Captain Matthew Louis Hughes LRCP, MRCS, DPH

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Matthew Louis Hughes, LRCP, MRCS, DPH

Birthdate: (32)
Birthplace: Yokohama
Death: December 15, 1899 (32)
Colenso, South Africa (Killed in action at the Battle of Colenso in South Africa)
Immediate Family:

Son of Emilius Hughes, C.B., C.M.G. and Mary Sandys Emily Hughes
Husband of Katherine (Kate) Winifred Simpson
Father of Henry Brackenbury Louis Hughes
Brother of Gordon Hughes
Half brother of Ada Florence Hughes; Mary Alice Burne; Kaherine Marian Hughes; Geraldine Grainger Hughes; Geoffrey Wallace Grainger Hughes and 1 other

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About Surgeon-Captain Matthew Louis Hughes LRCP, MRCS, DPH

Surgeon-Captain Matthew Louis Hughes LRCP (Lond) MRCS (Eng 1889), DPH (Lond) 7 July 1867 – 15 Dec 1899 [Tugela River Colenso]

The Manchester Times - marriage:-

Hughes-Simpson, on Sept 24th at St Paul's Church Valletta Malta, by Rev . W.F. Sorbie M.A. chaplain to the Forces, assisted by the Rev M Jones, B.A. chaplain to the Forces, Matthew Louis Hughes, Surgeon-Captain A.M.S, eldest son of Colonel E. Hughes., C.B, C.M.B. asst Adj-genl., Malta, to Kate Winifred dau of Henry Simpson. M.D. Altrincham, Cheshire


Image supplied by Sam S Bach

Capt. Mathew Hughes was one of the earliest experts in Army hygiene. He had made a special study of the prevention of disease (especially Malta fever) and the control of epidemics. He had been hygiene officer at Aldershot, where he had lectured to medical and sapper officers on camp and field hygiene.

He fumed impotently against portentous bureaucrats and blimps "who", to use the words of that very unblimpish general, "shackled the R.A.M.C. with a dread of regulations." Lord Roberts also said that the medical department suffered greater disabilities than any other, and Sir Frederick Treves fairly let himself go in words which today still have a familiar ring. "The system", he said, "is full of an enormous number of safeguards apparently based on the impression that the officer in charge of a hospital is likely to be incapable and that his incapacity will be minimized by restrictions of all sorts."

Running true to bureaucractic and military precedent, Capt. Hughes, the brilliant hygiene officer, was taken off the duties for which he was so well qualified and "selected" as Sir Redvers Buller's personal medical officer. This was a purely clinical job and when attending a brave frontline soldier like Buller, a particularly exposed and dangerous job.

A few weeks after his arrival, Buller took a bad hammering at Colenso. He himself was severely bruised by a spent shell fragment. Many of his staff had miraculous escapes and Hughes was killed.

It was disastrous that he should have lost his life in so needless a fashion. In losing his life, thousands of others whom he might have saved were doomed to lose theirs by the germs of typhoid fever and dysentery.

Capt. Hughes lies in a lonely grave in the veld a few hundred yards to the west of the National Road, south of Colenso. His grave is marked by two memorials, one erected by his family, the other by his Corps.

He died before he saw disease descend, as he knew it would, on the Army. Dysentery and typhoid, immemorial scourges of war, devastated every column and every camp. Bloemfontein was the first and worst hit. Infection began at the Modder River and by the time the army reached Bloemfontein it was well established. The water works were in Boer hands. Such water as was available was suspect and in short supply. Out of consideration for the inhabitants, unparalleled in war, troops were not billeted on them. Military camps and hospitals were pitched on the arid, dusty plain where flies settled on them in filthy millions. Flies settled on everyone but, in their disgusting way, seemed specially to pick out and add one more torture to the unfortunate typhoid patients.

What happened in Bloemfontein happened everywhere. Every military graveyard, except those actually on a battlefield, is filled with cases who died of disease. A visit to the Pretoria or to the Mooi River, Intombi Camp, and Ladysmith cemeteries will bring this fact home very convincingly.

Although the germ of typhoid has been isolated for several years, knowledge of the disease was still scanty. Impure water, flies and direct contagion were all rightly blamed. But there was still no certainty as to which factor was most to blame. The essential part of treatment was good nursing; and there were very few nurses. So little was known that even after the war, Koch, the great German scientist who had discovered the germs of tuberculosis and cholera, could say that typhoid germs died very soon after they had left the human body and that the disease could easily be controlled by rigidly segregating every patient. No greater, no more dangerous fallacy could have been propounded. The use of the serum, crude and unrefined though it was, was a step in the right direction. It caused savage reactions but it certainly helped in preventing the disease or at least in mitigating its severity. It has long since been replaced by the now familiar vaccine which has eliminated all fear of epidemics.

At the time of the Boer War, because of this ignorance, troops and civilians were exposed to horrid tasks; thousands would go about miserable and ill but not bedridden suffering from "simple continued fever." These would now be recognised immediately as being mild cases of typhoid, very prone to developing the most dangerous and fatal complications, and much more dangerous to others by mixing freely with healthy people. Treatment required good nursing; trained nurses were pitifully few. There was no really effective form of treatment and it is only in the last few years that an effective drug has been prepared.

An example of what could be done in ignorance was the return of 20,000 blankets, unsterilized, unwashed, from Army hospitals in South Africa to England for sale as redundant Army stores. A sharp epidemic of typhoid was traced back to the troopship, Cornwall, on which some of these blankets had been used on the homeward voyage. Due to the vigilance of a hygiene officer most of these blankets were recalled after actually having been distributed in England.

The Boer War has been called the last of the Gentlemen's Wars, but the unfortunate Gentlemen who waged it were sent out with little more protection against disease than were the Crusaders.


  • Assistant Demonstrator in anatomy at King's College London.
  • Aug 1889 Passed the competitive examination for entry to the Army Medical School Netley.
  • 1 Feb 1890 Surgeon-Captain. Passed out of the Army Medical School Netley. Was placed first in his course with 5512 marks. Was awarded the Parkes Memorial Bronze Medal.
  • Malta 10 Dec 1890 Arrived from Aldershot England.
  • Malta 1891 Worked on the bacteriology of Undulant Fever. He cultivated from the spleens of 14 fatal cases of Undulant Fever a micrococcus similar to that previously discovered byDavid Bruce.
  • Malta 1892 Officer-in-charge of the Military Analytical Laboratory Valletta.
  • Malta Apr 1893 Member of a commission to Benghazi. On receiving a report of an outbreak of plague at Benghazi, a Mediterranean seaport on the Gulf of Sidra in the north of Tripoli, a special commission, consisting of Drs. Pisani and D Vella, and Surgeon-Captain M Louis Hughes, proceeded to Benghazi to report on the epidemic so as to take precautions to prevent its spread. [2]
  • The commission found that there had been no increase in the prevalence of bubonic plague at the port of Benghazi, but a severe epidemic of typhus fever had raged from December 1892 to April, 1893. The high mortality was attributed to the overcrowding of the town, caused by the sudden influx during cold wet weather of a number of bedouins in a state of misery and famine.
  • Malta 4 Apr 1893 According to the minutes of the meeting of the Mediterranean and Malta Branch of the British Medical Association, held at the Station Hospital Valletta, Surg Capt Hughes presented a paper on the prevalence of Mediterranean Fever among the civil, naval, and military communities of Malta with special reference to its endemic and epidemic characters.
  • Malta 9 June 1893 Home leave.
  • Malta 8 Aug 1893 Returned from leave.
  • Malta 1894 On garrison duty.
  • In his confidential report of 8 Dec 1894 the PMO stated that he has a sound knowledge of hygiene and bacteriology. The GOC Malta garrison stated that he had an extremely good opinion of his merit and ability.
  • Malta 1895 On duty at the Valletta Station Hospital.
  • In medical charge of infantry regiments Valletta.
  • 2 May 1895 Home leave.
  • 26 July 1895 Returned from leave.
  • Malta 1896 On duty at the Valletta Station Hospital.
  • In medical charge of Infantry Regiments Valletta.
  • Resident at 9 Strada Scoccese Valletta.
  • 7 Sept 1896 Left Malta on sick leave.
  • In his confidential report of 1896, the PMO very favourably reported on his ability, zeal, and professional acquirement, also tact and judgement. The GOC Malta, who was very well acquainted with him, had also a very high opinion of him and remarked that he had charming manners.
  • 1897 Author: Mediterranean, Malta, or Undulant Fever, (Macmillan, Lond 1897).
  • In this classic monograph, Hughes described the signs and symptoms of the disease later to be known as Brucellosis, but ascribed its causation to the local insanitary conditions. Hughes proposed the name undulant fever which was recommended by the International Congress of Medicine held in London in 1913. As Hughes had pointed out, the term undulant fever describes one of the most constant, and characteristic feature of the disease, namely the undulations of the temperature curve.
  • 1898 On returning to England he was selected as one of the secretaries to the first meeting of the Section of Tropical Diseases at the Edinburgh meeting of the British Medical Association, with Dr Patrick Manson as President.
  • 1898 Assistant Sanitary Officer to the troops at Aldershot where he was in charge of the chemical and bacteriological laboratories. He arranged the medical portion of the combined medical and engineering course of lectures, delivered to all quartermasters at Aldershot, to initiate them into the rudiments of sanitation connected with their important duties. In this course, which was first ordered by the Duke of Connaught, when in command at Aldershot, and which was cordially supported by Sir Redvers Buller, who succeeded him, Captain Hughes took a prominent part and became the medical instructor, and so effectively did he perform his duty that many of those who attended his classes were able to obtain by examination the certificate of the National Health Society, given for knowledge of the rudiments of sanitation. Again, when chiropody was started in the army at Aldershot, Captain Hughes took it up with his usual energy, delivered lectures, and framed a syllabus of instruction [1].


  • 1 Entry No: 7283. Johnston W. Roll of Commissioned Offices in the Medical Service of the British Army. Vol 1 (20 June 1727-23 June 1898). Aberdeen (1917).
  • 2. Malta Army and Navy directory at the Malta Chronicle office Nov 1895.
  • 3. Distribution of RAMC Officers. Corps News Vol IV June 1905 No 6.
  • 4. Succession Books Vol XVIII Returns of statement of service of RAMC Officers.
  • 5. 2Outbreak of plague in the Mediterranean. Brit Med J 1893, 1; 1686: 860 (22 Apr 1893).
  • 6. Von Wesley William Spink The nature of brucellosis.
  • 7. Hughes M L., 1893. Notes on Mediterranean or Malta Fever (Its behaviour in Malta)Brit Med J 1893, 2; 1136: 61-62 (8 July 1893).
  • 8. 1The War in South Africa - Obituary. Brit Med J 1899, 2; 2034: 1757-1758 (23 Dec 1899).
  • 9. Stevenson R. E., 1967. The Tragedy of Captain Hughes. South African Military History Journal Vol 1 No 1
  • 10. The South Africa War Memorial J Roy Army Med Corps Vol I: 4; Oct 1903 ; 333.
  • 11. 1The South Africa War Memorial, J Roy Army Med Corps May 1904, ii; 5: 642.


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Surgeon-Captain Matthew Louis Hughes LRCP, MRCS, DPH's Timeline

July 7, 1867
December 15, 1899
Age 32
Colenso, South Africa
Age 31
Hampshire, England