David 1805
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David Dumbreck was born 10th November 1805 at Kincardine O'Neil Aberdeenshire. His father was Thomas Dumbreck and mother Elizabeth Sutherland.

David Dumbreck married Elizabeth Campbell Gibson on the 27th February 1844 in Edinburgh and had a son Sutherland Dumbreck born 1845.

David, born in Aberdeen 1805, became a medical doctor in Edinburgh in 1830 and joined the Army Medical Service. He was in the Crimea, became Inspector General of the Medical Services 1864, honorary physician to the Queen 1865, K.C.B. (Knight Commander of the Bath) 1871.

He died at Florence on the 24th January 1876. By his wife Elizabeth Campbell Gibson of Leith, (married 27th February 1844), he had an only son SUTHERLAND born 1845.

From the Crimea Doctors
(text supplied by Robin Dumbreck)

Liverpool University Press
A History of the British Medical Services in the Crimean War
By John Shepherd

Mentions of Surgeon David Dumbreck

Page 38/39

On Feb 28th  1854  David Dumbreck were dispatch from England together with two other medical officers to report on the medical service needs in the Crimea area.

They reported in late April of the same year.

David Dumbreck was allocated the Turco-Danubian Provinces of Servia Bulgaria etc a considerable commitment. He not only surveyed the climatic conditions and diseases in this area but also gave detailed accounts of the inhabitants, the communications and the food resources. Such an investigation does not seem to have been undertaken with equal care by the military staff.  David reported on the treacherous changes in climate which were to prove so detrimental to the health of the army, and recommended alternative uniforms for cold or hot climates.  He recognised the risk of malarial fevers in the swampy low-lying areas and the incidence of dysenteric diseases (which he attributed largely to the filthy conditions in which most of the inhabitants lived).  For the treatment of the intermittent fevers he recommended the lavish use of quinine.  For the prevention of fevers in general, he advocated flannel jackets and drawers for the soldiers and prophylactic quinine in the spirit ration.  He advanced strong opinions concerning the necessity for the strictest hygiene in camps and for the filtration of water supplies.  He drew attention to the lack of tables in the furnishing of Turkish dwellings and advised that each regiment should carry a portable operating table.

Page 40

Of the three reports David’s was the most practical.  Summaries were sent to every medical officer in the expeditionary force.  The War office rejected the proposals when put to them by Andrew Smith the chief medical officer of the army.

Page 41

David Dumbreck did not come back to England, but remained in Turkey and was asked to approach Raglan with the same views. The only effect of this was that more blankets were dispatched.

Page 64

David was on April 24th the senior medical officer at Scutari reporting to the Director General – “Everything is at present in confusion, but the medical officers work well and are bearing much discomfort with very great humour” Most of the supplies required for this hospital were dispatched to Gallipoli in error as a result of mislabelling.

Page 69 notes 13

David Dumbreck (1805 –1876); joined as hospital assistant in 1825; LRCS Edinburgh 1825; assistant surgeon 1826; MD Edinburgh 1830; DIG March 1854; served in the East March - November 1854; I G 1859; retired 1860; KGB 1871.  Obituary misquoted that he had earned the VC.

Page 76/77

July 1854

David was sent into Burgaria to assess the army camp arrangements but arrived too late with the vanguard and returned to Scutari.

David had at once opened a general hospital in Varna in a long-disused Turkish barracks which was shared with the French.  The building was scarcely habitable, with rotting floorboards and leaking roofs.  The French with a well-organised Hospital Corps, succeeded in repairing and cleaning their half of the hospital.  It was with great difficulty that David recruited even the most meagre help for this task.  When Hall arrived on the scene he wrote; “The building is one square of an old Barrack, (only) part of which David Dumbreck has only been able to get clean and made in some way fit for the reception of sick, owing to the small number of sappers out here, and the lukewarmness of the authorities on the subject.  The place is literally alive with fleas, and quite uninhabitable until white washed.  Spoke to Lord Raglan on the Subject”.

Page 87

As predicted by David Dumbreck the numbers of cholera and other fevers continued to rise between June and August 1854. No quinine was used as a matter of course.

Page 117

General Hall arrived in the Crimea on 17th September 1854.  Accompanying him was David Dumbreck, who had returned from Scutari shortly before embarkation.

Page 130

David Dumbreck had reported that the operating tables would be needed was rejected by Hall who said that the surgeons should improvise such luxuries. This was at the time of the battle of Alma (first in the campaign).

Page 159

October – December 1854

Hall reported the chaotic state of the transport system to Smith in London, he made appeals to Raglan for help, and he assigned David Dumbreck, now Principal Medical Officer at Balaclava, the difficult task of improving the ships.  David could do little about the deficient medical staffing as the regimental officers could not be spared and reinforcements of new doctors were at first slow to arrive.  He did not have the authority to demand from the Navy, which was responsible for the allocation of merchant ships, the supply of transports and their more adequate conversion.

Page 160

On 11th October 1854 by General Order, David Dumbreck was reprimanded as follows:

The Commander of the Forces is sorry to have to animadvert strongly upon the conduct of the medical department, in an instance which came under his observation yesterday.  The sick were sent down from the camp to Balaclava, under charge of a medical officer of the division of which they respectively belonged; but upon their arrival there, it was found that no preparations had been made for their reception.

The Commander of the forces is aware that Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, Dr Dumbreck, gave the necessary order verbally to the staff medical officer of Balaclava; but that officer neglected to inform his superior, and the consequence was that the sick, many of them in a very suffering state, remained in the streets for several hours exposed to very inclement weather.  The name of the officer who was guilty of this gross neglect is known to the Commander of the Forces.  He will not now publish it, but her warns him to be careful in the future, and to be cautious how he again exposes himself to censure.  Dr. Dumbreck will, on future occasions of importance give his orders in writing addressed to the responsible officer.  When a convoy of sick is sent from the camp, either to the hospital, or to be placed on board ship, it is henceforward to be accompanied not only by a medical officer, but likewise by the Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General of the Division, who will precede it to the place of deposit, and take such steps as may ensure the due reception and care of the men confided to his charge.

The Staff officer concerned was Staff Surgeon John Tice, who through no fault of his own had not received the order.

David Dumbreck was affronted by the charges and argued with some justice that is was customary to give verbal orders in the army, even at the highest level.

On the 13th December the same year yet more criticism was heaped on the medical service and Hall thought he would be relieved of his post.

Page 165

The Medical Times and Gazzette defended the medical services in the Crimea as follows:

‘We have to protest against the public insult of the most unwarrantable and unjust character that is possible to conceive. The utter absurdity of this order is evident at the very first glance. A Medical officer at Balaclava receives a verbal order from Dr. Dumbreck to prepare for the reception of sick from the camp.  The Medical officer ‘neglected to inform his superior’ – The sick necessarily suffer; and Lord Raglan, instead of reprimanding the one offender for neglect of duty, issues a general order, in which he ‘animadverts strongly upon the conduct of the Medical Department’ Dr. Dumbreck is blamed for not giving a written instead of a verbal order.  As the baggage was left behind, it might have occurred to the General that it was just possible the Doctor might not be very abundantly supplied with pens, ink & paper, or that, under the unusual press of duty, he thought a written order might be dispensed with.  It is no part of a Medical Officer’s duty to procure transport or quarters for wounded.  His sole duty is to attend to them in a Medical capacity. We are not to make excuses for any neglect of duty; but that neglect must be proved before it can be admitted; and if proved, the punishment must be borne by the single offender, not by a whole department which is guiltless.’

December 30th 1854

There was much more criticism of the Generals in the London papers of the organisation of the army in the Crimea.


The Enquiries during 1855

David Dumbreck was called to give evidence.

He was questioned about the hospital in Varna.  He had not chosen the site and he agreed the building was unsuitable for its purpose.  When asked about conditions in the Crimea in October he said that “he saw no wants that were not supplied”  Surprisingly, “he never had had any direct evidence that green coffee was used”, a subject about which the committee felt strongly.

Page 185

The Roebuck committee note the evidence of two senior officers, one of which is David Dumbreck, who was invalided home in early 1855.

David Dumbreck visited the Scutari in October 1854.  His opinion was “the kind of utter confusion said to have existed in the hospitals at Scutari was certainly not creditable to our system”

David Dumbreck was awarded campaign medals for all four of the battles of the Crimea, and was later rewarded by Queen Victoria for his efforts.  He had one son Sutherland who in later years after his father had died fought in the Boer and Zulu wars in South Africa.

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