Sir David Bruce, KCB,FRS,FRCP (1855-1931) and Mary, Lady Bruce,OBE (d.1931)

19th century-20th Century
Part of:
Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


While in general practice in Reigate in 1883, David Bruce married Mary Elizabeth Steele, the daughter of his former partner. His subsequent work in tropical medicine with the Army Medical Service was immensely helped by her ability as a scientific illustrator: it was said that the government got the work of two people for one salary.

They served in Malta 1884-1889, where they isolated the organism, micrococcus melitensis (brucella melitensis), responsible for 'Malta Fever' or “Mediterranean Fever”, now known as brucellosis.

After four years as Assistant Professor of Pathology at the Army Medical School at Netley, Bruce was posted to South Africa. Based at Pietermaritzburg in Natal, the couple worked on the mysterious diseases, “nagana” and “tsetse fly disease” which were decimating livestock herds, and proved them to be the same tsetse-borne disease, caused by a microscopic organism which they called a trypanosome.

In later work (1897-1899), they traced the life cycles and modes of transmission of the causative organisms of both brucellosis and trypanosomiasis.

In 1903 Bruce was seconded to the Royal Society Commission in Uganda investigating sleeping sickness, then thought to be a filarial disease. Scientists working on the disease had already found trypanosomes in the blood of patients, and Bruce proved by observations and experiments that these were the cause of the disease, also transmitted by tsetse fly.

During the First World War, Bruce was Commandant of the Royal Army Medical College, directing research into the aetiology and control of trench fever and tetanus. Lady Bruce served on Committees on the same subject, for which work she was awarded the OBE.

Further biographical details can be found in the Dictionary of National Biography

The Bruces' photographs are in the RAMC Muniment Collection.


19th century-20th Century

Physical description

38 Files, 22 Volumes, 1 Medal

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