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Biographical entry Duka, Theodore (1825 - 1908)

MRCS Oct 7th 1853; FRCS June 14th 1866; MD St Andrews 1853; Hon PhD Budapest 1899; Fellow Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, 1900; Knight of the Iron Crown, 1883.

22 June 1825
Dukafulu, Saros, Hungary
5 May 1908
Bournemouth, UK
General surgeon


Born at Dukafalu, an ancient manor in the county of Saros, North-West Hungary, on June 22nd, 1825, and came of an old and notable family of nobles. He received his early education at the Lutheran College at Eperjes. His father was Francis de Duka, a country squire, his mother Johanna, daughter of Francis de Szechy. After studying law at the University of Budapest, he passed an examination with honours and was admitted a law student in the High Court of Justice. In 1848, the year of revolutions, he received a Government appointment at Budapest under Louis Kossuth, then Minister of Finance. In common with nearly all his young contemporaries of good family he joined the National Army, and became personal ADC to General Arthur Görgey, Commanding the 7th Army Corps in the Hungarian National Army. He went through all the battles of the campaign up to the capitulation of Vilagos in 1849. At the Battle of Komarom on April 26th, 1849, he was decorated on the field with the Order of Merit and was subsequently promoted Captain. At Vilagos on Aug 13th, 1849, Görgey, Duka, and other Hungarians of note were taken prisoners by the Russians when the Hungarian forces surrendered. Duka, like many others, succeeded in effecting his escape from the German and Austrian authorities, and after a prolonged and most exciting series of adventures reached Paris, whence in 1850 he made his way to London, and in time became a naturalized British subject.

Duka was an excellent linguist and spoke several languages. In learning English without a master, he began by committing to memory part of Chapter I of The Vicar of Wakefield, and on arriving in London joined the humble but useful Birkbeck Institution of the period, where he taught German and studied English with assiduity. He had been strongly urged to join the medical profession, and he now went as a student to St George's Hospital, where he was very kindly received and assisted, especially by George Pollock (qv). In 1854, through Pollock's influence with his father the Field-Marshal, Duka obtained a commission as Assistant Surgeon in the Bengal Army. He was present in India during the Mutiny, being stationed at Monghir, on the Ganges, and did much good work at different stations, including Patna, Simla, and Darjeeling. He acquired a great knowledge of Eastern languages, and afterwards found this of much use when a member of the Committee of the Bible Society.

On March 27th, 1877, he retired on a pension from the Indian Medical Service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and came to reside in England, but paid frequent visits to Hungary. He was accompanied in these tours by his devoted wife, the youngest daughter of the Rev Charles Taylor, DD, Chancellor of the Diocese of Hereford, whom he had married at Calcutta on Jan 14th, 1855.

He was twice received in audience by the Emperor Francis Joseph, and thanked him for the Iron Cross, then no trifle, received in 1883. Francis Joseph was in some sort a colleague of Duka's, having shared in the trouble of 1848 when he succeeded to the crown at the age of 18 in succession to the Emperor Ferdinand, who had abdicated. In March, 1902, Duka was awarded the double pension of a Honvéd Captain in consequence of a certificate forwarded by General Görgey to the Prime Minister of Hungary, setting forth his distinguished army services.

He was for some years a Member of Council of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was President of the Tropical Section of the Eighth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography in 1894. For many years he was deeply interested in the British and Foreign Bible Society, and was one of its Vice-Presidents from 1884 to his death. He was also Chairman of the Austro-Hungarian Aid Society in England. Duka resided in London after his retirement in 1874 with the rank of Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel IMS, latterly at 55 Nevern Square, and died at West Southbourne, Bournemouth, on May 5th, 1908. He was survived by his widow and two sons, of whom one was a barrister, and the other a medical man who served as a Surgeon in the Queensland Mounted Infantry in South Africa and was awarded the DSO.

He promoted in this country the movement which led to the erection of a memorial at Budapest to Semmelweis, and he also wrote a short sketch of his life (Childbed Fever….A Life's History, 1888).

Lieut-Colonel Crawford (Notes) gives the dates of his promotions, etc., as: Assistant Surgeon in Bengal Army, Jan 3rd, 1854; Surgeon, Aug 1st, 1865; Surgeon Major, July 1st, 1873; retired, March 27th, 1877.

Duke wrote a life of his countryman, Alexander Csoma de Körös, the first to study the Tibetan language, published in 1885.
Essay on Brahni Grammar, 1885.
Childbed Fever: its Causes and Prevention: a Life's History, 8vo, Hertford, 1888. Semmelweis on Childbed Fever: its Causes and Prevention, 8vo, Hertford, 1892. Kossuth and Görgey: Recollections of a Stormy Period, 1899.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Sir M Aurel Stein's In Memoriam Theodore Duka (1825-1908) was privately printed in 1914 and contains a minute account of the subject of this memoir, besides a striking portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England