Sandwith, Humphry (DNB00)
|←Sandwich, Ralph de||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 50
SANDWITH, HUMPHRY (1822–1881), army physician, born at Bridlington, Yorkshire, in 1822, was eldest son of Humphry Sandwith, surgeon. His mother was a daughter of Isaac Ward of Bridlington. His father eventually became one of the leading physicians in Hull. After being at several schools, where he learnt little, Sandwith was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to his uncle, Dr. T. Sandwith, at Beverley. There he spent five unhappy and unprofitable years, making up prescriptions. He managed, however, to find some scope for his love of adventure in shooting wild ducks on winter nights.
He left Beverley in 1843, had a little systematic teaching in the medical school at Hull, and spent a few months at Lille to learn French. He was then entered as a student at University College, London, and in the autumn of 1846 he passed the examination of London University and that of the College of Surgeons, and was qualified to practise. He was appointed house surgeon to the Hull Infirmary in 1847, but ill-health obliged him to resign. He had already made a voyage to the Levant, and, finding no work in England, he now determined to try his fortune in Constantinople.
He went out in March 1849 with letters of introduction to Sir Stratford Canning, the English ambassador. He made warm friends at the embassy, though his relations with Canning were never very cordial. In August he accompanied Canning's protegé, Austen Henry Layard, in his second archæological expedition to Nineveh, and spent nearly two years in Mesopotamia. He meant to have travelled in Persia, but an attack of fever obliged him to return to Constantinople in September 1851. In 1853 he was appointed correspondent of the ‘Times,’ but the connection did not last long; Delane complained that he looked at the Eastern question from the Turkish, not the English, point of view. He was no doubt influenced by the atmosphere in which he lived; but he was already quite alive to the unfitness of the Turks to govern other races.
When war broke out he engaged as staff surgeon under General Beatson, who was raising a corps of Bashi-Bazouks, and he served with this corps on the Danube in July and August 1854. It had no fighting, but there was much sickness, and Sandwith had to eke out his medical stores by gathering herbs in the meadows and leeches in the marshes. Finding that the corps was to be soon disbanded, he offered his services to Colonel (afterwards Sir William Fenwick) Williams [q. v.], who was going to Armenia as British Commissioner with the Turkish army. They were accepted, and on 10 Sept. he left Constantinople for Erzerum.
In February 1855 Williams, now a lieutenant-general in the Turkish army, appointed Sandwith inspector-general of hospitals, placing him at the head of the medical staff. There was a great deal to be done in organising it, in superintending sanitary measures, and in providing medical stores, for the drug depôt contained little but scents and cosmetics. Meanwhile Colonel Lake was fortifying Kars, and in the beginning of June, when the siege was imminent, Williams and his staff took up their quarters there. Throughout the defence, which lasted till the end of November, Sandwith was indefatigable. He had to contend at first with cholera, and afterwards with starvation; and after the assault of 29 Sept. he had great numbers of wounded men, both Turkish and Russian, on his hands. He had to rely mainly on horseflesh broth to bring his patients round. But he succeeded in keeping off hospital gangrene and epidemic typhus.
When Kars surrendered, and Williams and his staff went to Russia as prisoners, Sandwith was set free by General Mouravieff, in recognition of his humane treatment of the Russian prisoners. He made his way to Constantinople, undergoing great hardships and dangers in crossing the Armenian mountains, and on 9 Jan. 1856 he arrived in London. He was the lion of the season, and had to tell the story of the siege to the queen and the ministers. His narrative was published by the end of the month, was cordially reviewed in the ‘Times’ by Delane, and sold rapidly. He was made C.B., and Oxford gave him the degree of D.C.L. In August he went with Lord Granville to Moscow for the coronation of the czar, and was presented with the Russian order of St. Stanislaus. He also received the cross of the French Legion of Honour.
He had now several opportunities of obtaining a good medical practice in England, but he had no attachment to the profession, and looked to a different career. In February 1857 he was appointed colonial secretary in Mauritius, and he spent two years there. But the climate and the work did not suit him. He came home on leave in September 1859, and in the following spring he resigned, in the hope (which was not realised) that he would soon get another post.
He married, on 29 May 1860, Lucy, daughter of Robert Hargreaves of Accrington, whose brother William was intimate with Cobden. Thenceforth he began to take an active interest in English politics. He was an ardent reformer, a member of the Jamaica committee, and in 1868 he tried to enter parliament for Marylebone. In 1864 he paid a visit to Servia and Bulgaria, and in a letter to the ‘Spectator’ he predicted that ‘the next Christian massacre will probably be in Bulgaria.’ In the same year he wrote a book, ‘The Hekim-Bashi,’ which under the guise of a novel was a telling indictment of Turkish misrule. When the Franco-German war broke out in 1870, he went to France on behalf of the National Aid Society. But he was dissatisfied with the action of the committee, which seemed to him to be ‘fumbling about in the most imbecile manner,’ and he did not work with them long.
In 1872 he was invited by the municipality of Belgrade to attend Prince Milan's coronation, and became closely mixed up in Servian politics. When Servia declared war against Turkey in 1876, Sandwith went to Belgrade, and devoted himself to the relief of the wounded and the refugees. He wrote letters to the English papers, pleading the Servian cause, and, returning to England in the beginning of 1877, he lectured and spoke on behalf of the Servian refugees. He took back 7,000l. for them in March; but the work of distribution overtaxed his strength; he had a dangerous illness, and was obliged to go home. In October he went to Bucharest for three months as agent for the English Association for the Russian sick and wounded, but had neither health nor opportunity to do much. During all this time he used every means in his power to dissuade his countrymen from coming to the help of Turkey against Russia. In his last years he devoted time and labour to agitating for an improved water supply for London.
In 1880 the state of his wife's health led them to winter at Davos, with bad results for both of them. In the spring he became rapidly worse, and he died at Paris on 16 May 1881, and was buried at Passy. He had five children, one of whom, together with his wife, died next year.
Sandwith combined a genial disposition and winning character with singular directness and disinterestedness. Professor Max Müller wrote of him: ‘I never heard him make a concession. Straight as an arrow he flew through life, a devoted lover of truth, a despiser of all quibbles.’ Canon Liddon thought him one of the most remarkable persons he had known, and doubted whether any other Englishman had done so much for the relief of the Christian populations of European Turkey. But he had the one-sidedness of a strong partisan.
The following is a list of his chief writings, other than journalistic: 1. ‘A Narrative of the Siege of Kars, and of the Six Months' Resistance of the Turkish Garrison, under General Williams, to the Russian Army; together with a Narrative of Travels and Adventures in Armenia and Lazristan, with Remarks on the present State of Turkey,’ London, 1856, 8vo. 2. ‘The Hekim-Bashi; or the Adventures of Giuseppe Antonelli, a Doctor in the Turkish Service,’ 2 vols. London, 1864, 8vo. 3. ‘A Preface to “Notes on the South Slavonic Countries in Austria and Turkey in Europe,”’ London, 1865, 8vo. 4. ‘Minsterborough: a Tale of English Life’ (based on reminiscences of his youth at Beverley), 3 vols. London, 1876, 8vo. 5. ‘Shall we fight Russia? An Address to the Working Men of Great Britain,’ London, 1877, 8vo.[T. Humphry Ward's Memoir (compiled from autobiographical notes), 1884.]