BRITISH  DOCTORS  IN  ARGENTINA

Dr. John Leslie

He was a native of Cavan, Ireland (some sources put his birthplace as Belfast), born in 1816, son of George Leslie and Elizabeth Dundas. He graduated as a Doctor in Medicine at St. Andrew’s University in 1840, and later he travelled to Brazil, where he lived in Bahía for several years, and also obtained a medical degree at its Medical  School.

Having returned to England in 1850, he married Fanny Jane Adamson in Manchester. At the time, he was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and a Graduate in Parturition at Coombe’s Hospital in Dublin. He arrived in Buenos Aires with his family in 1853, where he revalidated his degree, and obtained his license to practise medicine. His main interest was Gynecology, and thus announced himself, after presenting his thesis on “Ulceration of the neck of the Uterus”. In his first years he devoted much of his time to the local British Hospital. In 1856, in an old house on Tucumán street, between 25 de Mayo and Reconquista, he opened the town’s first private clinic, the Cosmopolitan Sanatorium. His partners were Dr. Ventura Bosch and Dr. Charles Furth, a Danish physician from Copenhagen.  

This venture did not last long, as his neighbours complained that it was harmful to the district (insalubrious) to have sick patients in the area. He then opened private consulting rooms on Cangallo 103. He devoted some of his time as medical consultant to the local government, and was awarded a Gold Medal by the Municipality in recognition of his work, his benevolence and his charity to the needy.
He and his wife had five daughters. Edith Margaret, their firstborn, was born in Manchester in 1852, before they traveled to Buenos Aires. Florence Dundas, Fanny Elizabeth, Ann Gertrude and Maude Rosamond, were all born in Buenos Aires, and their names can be found on the St. John’s Church (later Cathedral) register.
He died in 1868 during the great cholera epidemic raging through Buenos Aires, whilst busy attending many of the victims. He was buried in the Victoria Cemetery, and a marble tablet in honor of his memory was erected in St. John’s Church: “John Leslie MD, who died while in the devoted and unsparing discharge of his professional duties in the City of Buenos Ayres on 13th January 1868. Deeply lamented”.
According to Mr. Michael Mulhall, “among the many valuable citizens who perished during the cholera epidemic in 1868 was Dr. Leslie, whose benevolence to the poor of Buenos Ayres was unceasing. He visited them and gave them medicines gratis, and at last succumbed to the epidemic, a victim to over-work in his humane efforts. He had been for some years (1862-1866) a councilor of the Legislative Body (Consejo Deliberante), and his loss was so much felt that a public letter of condolence was sent to Mrs. Leslie by order of the Municipality”.
He was also an active Freemason, having joined the “Excelsior” Lodge, and was later the founder of the “The Star of the South” Lodge, which he presided until his death.
In 1864 he had bought two adjoining properties, encompassing six of today’s city blocks, in the area close to the present Faculty of Medicine and to the Hospital de Clínicas, which were known as “La quinta del Dr. Leslie”. On it he built lodgings for sick people, which were called “La Casa de Sanidad”, being mainly used as an isolation home. There were four individual rooms for men infected with smallpox, and two for women with this disease.

This facility was extensively used during the cholera epidemic of 1867/1868. His heirs sold the property to Banco Maua, and after being transferred to the Municipality, it later became the “Casa de Aislamiento Municipal”, being used also during the yellow fever epidemic in 1871. His successor leading this enterprise was a young man named Dr. José Penna, who later was to become a famous local physician: one of the great Municipal Hospitals of Buenos Aires is named after him.

Dr. John D.C. Emery
Buenos Aires British Hospital

References:
  • Doctors of Medicine, Physicians and surgeons, serving the British Community in Argentina. http://www.argbrit.org/Doctors/doctors_in_BA.htm, pag.6.
  • “Diccionario de Británicos en Buenos Aires (Primera Época),   Gutten Press.
  • Archivo General de la Nación:  Testamentarias Nº 6551.
  • Mulhall, Michael G. 1978. The English in South America.

Special thanks are due to Mrs. Carmelita Murray, (nèe Leslie) for unpublished family material.