Binkie meets the tsar

Gareth Millward

Ronald Ross is sat down next to his wife, Rosa. She is holding a stuffed dog. And they are playing a parlour game with three of their guests – what will malaria research look like in 2015? And how would we get there?

One of the advantages of working in a place like the School is that you can hold an event like this in its old wooden-panelled library. You end up suspending your disbelief and getting sucked into the story. It helps when the academics involved throw themselves in completely, and offer stories that you didn’t yet know. It also helps when free vodka is on hand. Perhaps I should explain.

For World Mosquito Day, the Malaria Centre organised an event to celebrate the work of Ronald Ross. Rebecca Tremain, a member of our Centre, produced a play-cum-lecture based on material provided by the Archives and Library. Before the Revolution, Ross was part of a mission from the British Government that went to meet the Russian Tsar to discuss the country’s anti-malarial policy and science. Building on his diary entries, the library was transformed into Ross’s drawing room – complete with Russian music, canapes and – yes – vodka.

We even had the opportunity to make our own mosquitos from pipe cleaners…


For the first half, Sir Ronald and Lady Ross discussed the trip. They noted how Ross had been reluctantly accepted as part of the group, his role as a pioneer in malarial science, and his impressions of the work being undertaken by Imperial Russia to eradicate the disease. In the second half, three academics engaged in a “conversation” with Ross about the current state of attempts to combat malaria. This included talk about the new malaria vaccine, eradication efforts in Africa and Asia, and the history of how that science developed from the First World War to the present. The latter was provided by Centre member Anne Hardy.

It was a unique way to present research in an accessible format, and really showed off the catalogue of the School’s Archive. Many thanks must go to Rebecca for organising the event, and to Claire Frankland, whose work on the Ross’s Russian adventure inspired it. It is certainly a format I look forward to seeing in the future.

Mosquito day