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Zambia Flying Doctors Service (ZFDS): Papers donated by multiple individuals involved with ZFDS

  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The following is an interim description that may change once detailed cataloguing takes place.

Margaret Lawless' handwritten journals

Patient registers

Black and white print photogrpahs

35mm photographic transparencies

Administrative documents relating to the creation and running of the ZFDS

Correspondence with the Zambian president and his ministers.

Press cuttings relating to the service.



Acquisition note

Donated by individuals associated with ZFDS, including doctors, nurses, pilots, construction and airstrip workers, spouses, and other individuals involved in the activities of ZFDS. Some members provided commentaries or annotations along with their donations which form the box lists for these accessions.

Biographical note

The current state-run Zambian Flying Doctor Service has a precursor in this one, begun by the married couple Dr James and Margaret Lawless, in Zambia's first years of independence from British rule.

Dr James Lawless practiced medicine in an established hospital in Zambia. He was friends with Kenneth Kaunda (later President of Zambia) and Andrew Mukemba (later a government minister). Motivated to find a solution to the cases he saw of people who could have been saved if they'd received medical treatment in time, he suggested creationg a children's hospital and a flying doctor service. With the support of Kaunda and Mukemba, Dr James Lawless and his wife Dr Margaret Lawless wrote a plan to create a children's hospital and a flying drs service that would be able to reach remote rural parts of the country, "the aim was to ensure that no one was more than one day's journey on foot from a doctor" (Dr J Lawless unpublished memoir).

The Drs Lawless were able to find funding for the Zambian Flying Doctors Service from America, Ireland and the new Zambian government (1964). The original concept was that local people would be trained up as time went on, but that the medical staff would be made up of early career people from Ireland, America and the UK. These medical students and graduates answered advertisements in the BMJ to spend periods of time, usually 6 months, working for the ZFDS.

Over time the competing financial pressures and competition for funding within the new government, as well as racial and postcolonial tensions, and inter-African politics led to the end of this version of the ZFDS, and the creation of a service led and staffed by Zambian nationals.

Terms of use

This collection is currently uncatalogued and cannot be ordered online. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact for more details.”.

Accruals note

Accruals have been received from ZFDS members, including a large quantity of slides. Future accruals would need to add significant research value to be added to the collection as it stands; further slides will not be acquired.

Ownership note

The papers kept by Dr Margaret Lawless and transferred to Wellcome comprise the Drs Lawless' personal records of the ZFDS, they do not include Zambian public records, but span the creation and dismantling of the service, including Dr M Lawless' diaries in which she details her emotional farewell to the country at the end of the ZFDS (1969). Following the acquisition of the Lawless' papers, there was renewed interest among former ZFDS members to add material to the archives. A collaborative effort was made to collect together records from key figures involved with ZFDS across the world. As such, this collection comes from multiple provenances and locations.

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