Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Coleman, John Wycliffe (1924 - 2003)

MRCS and FRCS 1969; MB BCh Cambridge 1946; MA 1948.

10 May 1924
Cairo, Egypt
16 August 2003
London, UK
Chaplain, General surgeon and Missionary


John Wycliffe Coleman, one of three hostages detained for eight months following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1980 and released after the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a missionary doctor who worked tirelessly in the Middle East and in the East End of London. He was born on 10 May 1924 in Cairo, where his father, Robert Baxendell Coleman, worked as a missionary doctor. His mother was Enid Louise née Evans, the daughter of a Dublin doctor. He was educated at Westminster School and then Christ's College, Cambridge, and went on to St Thomas's for his clinical studies.

He was a house surgeon at St Thomas's and then a medical officer with the Church Missionary Society in Jerusalem, but soon moved to Iran after the outbreak of war between the Arabs and Israelis. For the next 16 years Coleman worked as a surgeon in the Episcopal Church of Iran's hospital in Shiraz. He was awarded the freedom of the city of Shiraz in recognition of his work.

In 1964 he returned to London, for his sons' education, and worked in the East End, as medical superintendent of the Bethnal Green Medical Mission. In 1978 he returned to Iran to run a medical clinic in Yazd, where he was made pastor of the small Christian community.

Just two years later, in 1980, Coleman and his wife were detained, along with the Bishop of Iran, the Right Reverend Iraj Muttahedeh, the bishop's secretary, Jean Waddell, and three other Christian Iranians. During the first month of captivity, he was kept in isolation and denied reading material, even his Bible. The hostages were eventually released in February 1981 after the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, and his envoy, Terry Waite. He never expressed any bitterness towards his captors.

Once back in Britain, Coleman travelled widely, speaking about his experiences. In 1984 he returned to the Middle East at the invitation of the Bishop in Egypt, as chaplain of a small church in Port Said and at the disocesan hospital in Menouf.

In 1990 the Colemans returned to the UK, once again at the Bethnal Green Medical Mission. He became chairman of the Egypt Dioscean Assoication and commissary to the Bishop of Egypt. He was a firmer supporter of the Friends of the Diocese of Iran and regarded both Iran and Egypt as home.

He was in demand as a speaker and Bible teacher, travelling in Britain and overseas, particularly Nepal and Afghanistan. He frequently visited Egypt and in 2000 returned to visit Iran.

He married Audrey Ponsford in 1946 and they had four sons. He died on 16 August 2003 in St Joseph's Hospice, London, from prostate cancer.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 29 August 2003, with portrait.}.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England