RAMC Officers
Of the Malta Garrison
David Bruce
1855 –1931

Surgeon Captain David Bruce

KCB (1918) MB CM (Ed 1881) FRCP (Lond 1911) FRS (1899)

29 May 1855 [Melbourne] – 27 Nov 1931

Service Record

David Bruce
Colonel David Bruce (RAMC/1656).

4 Aug 1883 Qualified in Edinburgh in 1881. Entered General Practice for two years, before being commissioned as Surgeon-Captain in 1883.

1883 Married Mary Elizabeth Steele RRC OBE.

10 Mar 1884 His first foreign posting was Malta, where he was stationed for five years, from 1884 to 1889. During this time he carried research which led to the isolation of the Micrococcus melitensis as the causative organism of Malta Fever. During the same tour, he also conducted an enquiry into an outbreak of cholera.

13 Dec 1884 Embarked for Egypt on the P&O Ship Rohilla in charge of forty men of the Medical Staff Corps. The voyage to Port Said took five days. The Rohilla crossed the Suez Canal and reached Suez on 20 December. Bruce obtained lodgings at the Suez Hotel while the men were bussed off to camp before proceeding by train to Cairo.

19 Jan 1885 On duty at the Station Hospital Valletta.

7 Oct 1885 To England with troops.

2 Dec 1885 Returned to Malta.

26 Dec 1886 Discovered the Micrococcus melitensis, in stained sections of a spleen from a private soldier (J. R. aged 20 years) of the 2nd/South Yorks Regiment, who died on 26 December 1886.

9 Feb 1887 Home leave.

15 May 1887 Returned from leave.

9 July 1887 Isolated the Micrococcus melitensis in tubes of agar-agar nutrient jelly inoculated with spleen sections from nine fatal cases of Malta fever. His first isolate was from the spleen of Pte Hugh Dixon A Coy 1st/The Black Watch who died on 6 July 1887, aged 25 years, after an illness of 12 days1. In August 1887, Bruce inoculated monkeys with pure cultures of micrococcus melitensis, and after death, isolated the micro-organism from their spleens, demonstrating the cause of Malta Fever. The monkey was an expensive animal, and at that time no help was given to private pathological work in the army, so that Bruce had to buy these monkeys out of one's own slender pay. Up to Bruce's discovery of the micrococcus, Malta Fever was blamed on effluvia finding its way into the barracks from porous subsoil which had become saturated and contaminated with sewage. The Grand Harbour was at one time thought to be the breeding place of the fever due to it resembling a cesspool from the accumulation of vegetable matter discharged by all the ships in the harbour and the sewage of the surrounding cities.

1887 The fourth outbreak of Asiatic cholera broke out in Malta in 1887. The disease attacked 471 out of a population of 142,204, resulting in 352 deaths. Bruce and Dr Giuseppe Caruana Scicluna carried out several post-mortem examinations, and in the evacuations of patients discovered the Koch's comma spirillum. Bruce was thanked by the Government of Malta and also congratulated by the Director General Army Medical Services (DG AMS) for having conducted with a coadjutor an inquiry into the nature of the cholera epidemic of 1887.

1887 Thanked by the DG AMS together with Surgeon Lorenzo Manche for their valuable paper on the prevalent fever in Malta which accompanied the annual sick returns.

11 Dec 1888 To England on leave. Resident with Mrs D Bruce at the Officer's Quarters Valletta Military Hospital.

Apr 1889 Left Malta for the Army Medical School at Netley. He remained at Netley for five years, as Assistant Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology. During this period he was associated with Sir William Aitken, who had been appointed the first professor of Pathology in 1860, and Almroth Wright, who succeeded Sir William in 1892.

1889–1894 Assistant Professor of Pathology Army Medical School. While at Netley, Bruce continued his work on the bacteriology of Malta fever, and, having studied bacteriology under Koch in Berlin, instituted the first systematic course in the subject to be given in any British medical school.

13 Aug 1891 In accordance with War Office Instructions dated 6 August 1891, Surgeon-Captain David Bruce Army Medical Staff (AMS), proceeded to Malta to collect material to carry out an investigation regarding the aetiology of the local disease known as Malta Fever. He left England on 13 August, returning on 21 September 1891. During his three weeks in Malta, every facility was afforded to him for the examination of cases under treatment through the kindness of Brigade-Surgeon-Lt Col O'Dwyer Thomas Francis Medical Staff, Acting PMO. While at Malta, Bruce attempted to grow the micro-organism from the tissues of living subjects obtained by splenic puncture. Eight attempts were made, but the micrococcus was only grown in two of the aspirates. Bruce attributed his failure to an excessively alkaline culture medium which inhibited the growth of the micro-organism.2

3 July 1894–1901 Embarked at England for the Cape of Good Hope.

1894–1896 Shortly after his arrival at South Africa in 1894, Bruce was instructed to proceed to Zululand at the request of the Governor of Natal to investigate an outbreak of nagana (trypanosmiasis of cattle). Bruce was accompanied by his wife who was his able and energetic assistant, and proved that nagana or Tsetse fly disease were identical and due to a trypanosome. Further work was interrupted by the South African War.

4 Aug 1895 Promoted Surgeon-Major.

1897 Returned to Natal, and shortly afterwards began working on South African horse sickness.

1898 Investigated the causes of Horse Sickness in Natal.

During 1898, a trial of an anti-typhoid vaccine produced in the Army School Netley was carried out on volunteers in the British Army in India. In the following year, no less than 30,000 men were inoculated against typhoid.

1900–1901 Member of a Commission that investigated conditions in South Africa with reference to the origin of dysentery in the field, and its relation to enteric fever.

29 Nov 1900 Lieutenant Colonel RAMC (Special promotion for service in South Africa). Took part in the defence of Ladysmith.

17 Oct 1901 Left the Cape of Good Hope for England.

1902–1910 Member of the Army Medical Services Advisory Board.
In 1902, the Army Medical School moved from Netley to Millbank. Vaccine production continued in the Royal Army Medical College until the outbreak of war in 1939, when it moved to Tidworth.

1903–1908 Visited Uganda as Director of the Royal Society Sleeping Sickness Commission. With Aldo Castellani he demonstrated the pathogenicity of Trypanosoma gambiense, its transmission by G palpalis, and the importance of game as a reservoir.

18 Dec 1903 Brevet Colonel L/RAMC (London Gazette 18 Dec 1903) in recognition of his services in investigating the cause of Sleeping Sickness in Uganda as well as in consideration of the distinction already attained by him in research connected with Malta Fever and Tsetse Fly disease.

1904–1906 Chairman of the Mediterranean Fever Commission for the study of Malta Fever. The commission established the goat as the source of the micrococcus which was excreted in the milk. This explained the baffling fact why patients and medical staff in the military and naval hospitals were more likely to leave hospital with Malta fever.

19 May 1905 Embarked from England on special duties at Malta in connection with the Malta Fever Commission.

1904–1908 Editor Journal Royal Army Medical Corps.

7 Apr 1906 Embarked for Malta as part of the Mediterranean Fever Commission.

17 May 1908 Colonel L/RAMC. In 1908, he became Chairman of the Sleeping Sickness Commission and in that capacity worked in Uganda from 1908 to 1910, and in Nyasaland from 1911 to 1914.

9 Nov 1911 Seconded for service under Colonial Office as Director of Commission to investigate Trypanosomiasis in Nyasaland.

1 Apr 1912 Promoted Surgeon-General for his scientific services.

1 Nov 1914–1919 Commandant RAMC College. Served on the committees for the study of tetanus and trench fever. It was largely due to the work of these committees that the efficacy of the prophylactic injection of anti-tetanus serum in the prevention of tetanus was demonstrated.

1 May 1919 Retired.

27 Nov 1931 Died a few days after his wife from a lingering illness.