Scotland knew of Dr David McKenzie Newton’s death in Turkey within a couple of weeks, presumably by telegram. Everyone knew his widow Ebeth was in limbo. What information flowed over the next two years, we don’t know. But we do know about something about 1916, how help was offered, and it was a treat to read some of the bizarrely baroque official consular and diplomatic language involved on the one hand, and the reserved but emotion-packed words in others. Drafts, CC: lists, pencil annotations and typewritten forms survive. Just how did things work back then? During a war! After 100 years here are the few official papers. Like fossils, they have been preserved (unlike most life), and can be found in the UK’s National Archives.
At the time of his death, Dr David McKenzie Newton had been a medical missionary for around a dozen years, and was the superintendent at Beaconsfield Memorial Hospital. It seems he also had a wider role, being identified also as “the college physician” by Smyrna’s International College in Paradise near Smyrna, an American educational institution which had been run by missionaries for 25 years.
His death (30 May 1916) from typhus, a family of bacterial infections carried by lice, aka “jiggers”, was probably caught in the course of his work tending patients, including Turkish soldiers, and due to the terrible conditions discussed elsewhere. His death was reported in contemporary newspapers and reports, and the aftermath was the subject of governmental communications (hence, luckily, preserved in the National Archive), as the Church of Scotland (his sponsors) and the families of David and his widow Ebeth attempted to help her in her perilous situation (see here).Continue reading ““Broughty Doctor Dies at Smyrna””
Grace Williamson’s wartime diary started at the end of October 1914, as she arrives back in Smyrna in Turkey to set up a Maternity Hospital. Within a few days:
So now the long dreaded war is upon us and what will become of us?
Who knows, one can’t help feeling a sort of unknown dread.
At the beginning of September 1916, Alithea Williamson (pictured) and Nurse-Matron Mary Parkinson from the Beaconsfield New Hospital struggled hard to keep my great-aunt Ebeth alive, and Grace wrote:
We are not sure yet what the end will be.
Grace Williamson wrote vivid contemporary letters/diary entries, and the Williamson family via the Levantine Heritage Foundation have made these and many other resources available online. It is therefore possible to get a flavour of life in Smyrna in 1916 generally, to read in more detail Grace’s experience of running a Maternity Hospital, and to read first hand accounts of Ebeth Newton (neé Scobbie) and her situation. It is hard to imagine a better way to gain insight into Ebeth’s role as the wife and then widow of a mission doctor and hospital superintendent (at the Beaconsfield), and as a single mother.
Dr Elizabeth Mitchell (as she would become) is shown here as a child in delightful photographs from 1920 or earlier. She survived her tough beginnings in Turkey during WW1 and lived a long and successful life. Like her father, she qualified as a doctor (from Edinburgh University in 1942), and ended up as a consultant anaesthetist in the dental service (for schools) in the North of England. By then she had married Dr John Mitchell, and had two children, both of whom also became medical doctors in turn, one of whom I’ve now had the pleasure to meet. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren also feature members of the medical and allied health professions, in common with many in our extended family.
The girl on our left in this picture is Ebeth, photographed with her siblings and parents in Scotland when she was 12 or 13, around 1896. Here is some of her life story. I collected some of this material in 2016, at the time of the centenary of the tragic day on May 30th 1916 when she was widowed, aged 33, in Smyrna (now İzmir on the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey), and now a year later, in the days before posting this blog, I finally located and visited her grave in Morningside, a few minutes walk from my home.
Why was she there? What happened to her? Why am I writing about her?Continue reading “Ebeth Scobbie (1884-1940)”