Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

097: John Mandombi, London 1890

In 1922 a tablet was fitted on a wall at the London Hospital to commemorate John Mandombi who had been treated in a bed in that ward in 1890. By quirks of fate Mandombi’s story has been confused – the tablet stated he had volunteered for investigative treatment ‘for the good of his people in Nigeria’. He was in fact from the Congo. Decades later the local council’s website on black history in that area of east London (www.towerhamletsarts.org.uk/attachments/298/Black%20/history, page 11) repeats the error about his origins in Nigeria and adds a new one, stating that Christian missionary Harry Stratton [sic] Guinness had met Mandombi in Nigeria.
Harry Grattan Guinness (son of Henry Grattan Guinness) died in 1915, having spent much of his life in Christian missionary work, with a base in his house in Bow. He had studied at the London Hospital from 1880 to 1885. His was one of the major Protestant missions in the Congo. He was to be involved in the Congo Reform Association’s agitation against the cruel exploitation of wild rubber by the region’s owner, Leopold II king of the Belgians.
Mandombi was suffering from sleeping sickness or trypanosomiasis, which plagued tropical Africa. A London Hospital doctor took blood samples every four hours for two months and finally identified the cause. Mandombi died, aged 22, in London in late 1890. His burial place and the reason for the plaque being fitted over thirty years after the experiment have not been uncovered. Perhaps a black medical student at the London Hospital had been the informant for there are two images of the plaque which can be seen in the W E B DuBois Papers on credo.library.umass.edu [then enter Mandombi]. Du Bois had many contacts in London and was in the city in 1921. The London weekly West Africa of 22 July 1922 (page 794) commented on the error over Nigeria.
The plaque recognised ‘his voluntary martyrdom for the benefit of the whole human race’.

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