Henry Wellcome with native
workers at Jebel Maja, Sudan
Model of Floating Laboratory,
Seqadi excavation: Sir Henry
Wellcome standing on the
north-west terrace looking down
at the excavations at Jebel Moya,
Toward the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th
centuries, the imagination of Victorian England was captivated
by developments in Africa. Henry Wellcome had the flair and
the money to do something practical about it. In 1884 he had
met, and become close friends with Henry Stanley, the
explorer, with whom he had a great deal in common.
It was his friendship with Stanley that was largely
responsible for Wellcome’s great interest in Africa. He was
among the first European civilians to visit the Sudan after the
Battle of Omdurman in the winter of 1900. He later met Lord
Kitchener, an equally enthusiastic and high-ranking
Freemason. In November 1899, following the agreement
reached between Britain and Egypt, restoring Egyptian rule in
Sudan, Kitchener was simultaneously appointed Governor-General of the Sudan and the first District Grand Master of
Egypt & the Sudan.
Sir Francis Reginald Wingate took over the Governorship
from Kitchener, and much of Wellcome’s activities were coordinated
through the auspices of Wingate. Henry’s first visit
left such a strong impression on him that he spent a total of 14
active years in the area establishing the Gordon Memorial
College and founding the Wellcome Tropical Research
Laboratories in Khartoum, which placed Sudan in the
forefront of tropical diseases research.
Wellcome was an enthusiastic collector and a keen
archaeologist. His interests in the Sudan and Egypt extended
to archaeological digs, most famously at Jebel Moya in the
Sudan, where he hired over 4,000 people to excavate over a
period of several years. Notwithstanding some controversy as
to his treatment of the native workers, he was popularly
known as Al Pasha by the local inhabitants.
His main collecting passion, however, was for medically related
artefacts. He acquired a vast collection of scientific and
other books and instruments – many of which are now on
display in the Wellcome Gallery of London’s Science
Museum or the Wellcome Institute Library. The Wellcome
collection is vast, as Henry bought everything in sight that had
anything whatsoever to do with medicine.
The collection includes, for instance, Napoleon
Bonaparte’s toothbrush, Charles Darwin’s walking stick and
Florence Nightingale’s slippers. In 1936, at the time of his
death, the total Wellcome collection consisted of over one
million objects of which some 125,000 items were medically
related and formed part of the permanent collection.
The remainder of the items, including his Masonic
possessions, were dispersed after his death by gift to other
Museums and by auction. In one instance, on 21 March 1938,
Harrods, Allsop & Co auctioned ‘by order of the trustees of
the late Sir Henry Wellcome’ a total of nearly 200 books on
Freemasonry in 11 lots (numbers 95 to 106).
These included a first edition of Anderson’s Constitutions of
1723, a 1745 edition of the French Exposure Ordre Des Franc-Maçon Trahi, a 1691 edition of a Knights Templar volume,
among many other classical works. They were all purchased
by a buyer identified only as Marks, for £4.10s.