Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Derry, Douglas Erith (1874 - 1961)

MC; FRCS by election 7 April 1949; MB ChB Edinburgh 1903.

20 February 1961
Anatomist and Anthropologist


Douglas Erith Derry studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1903; he was Crichton Research Scholar in Anatomy 1903-04, and Demonstrator in Anatomy. Very soon, however, Derry went to Egypt, and by 1906 was Assistant Professor of Anatomy at the Government School of Medicine, Cairo. In 1909 Derry became anthropologist to the Archaeological Survey of Nubia; his combined interest in anatomy and archaeology brought him great opportunities at a time when so many exciting archaeological discoveries were being unearthed.

Derry returned to England in 1910 to be Assistant Curator in the Anatomy Department of University College London, became Lecturer in Physical Anthropology in 1912, and in 1914 Demonstrator in Anatomy and Curator and Lecturer in Physical Anthropology. He was a Member of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

All through the first world war Derry served in the RAMC, and was awarded the Military Cross.

Derry returned to the Government Medical School, Cairo in 1919 as Professor of Anatomy. He travelled extensively in Egypt and spent a winter at the Wellcome archaeological excavations at Gebel Moya, south of Khartum, but soon realised that the conditions there were not to his taste. In the years following the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb at Luxor in 1923 Derry took a leading share in examining the human and other remains, and was the first anatomist to examine the mummy of the Pharoah Tutankhamen.

Later Derry devoted himself wholly to his work as Professor of Anatomy at the School of Medicine, which became the Faculty of Medicine of the newly formed Egyptian University. His influence on the medical profession in Egypt was profound: in a quarter of a century the number of medical undergraduates grew from 600 to more than 3600.

After the end of the second world war Derry was exposed to the hazards of life in Cairo. He was injured during a revolver attack by a student, and was brusquely evicted from his chair as an act of political reprisal in January 1952.

In September 1952 his son John was killed with many spectators at the disastrous crash at Farnborough Air Display. Derry's years of retirement were spent in a sixteenth-century cottage, Little Linden Cottage, Radwinter, near Saffron Walden, Essex. He was still upright and alert until his sudden death on 20 February 1961 at the age of 87.

Selected Publications:
Some physical characters of a prehistoric Sudanese race. Proc Int Cong Med 17, London 1913, 1 pt 2 p 99.
Mummification methods practised at different periods. Ann Serv Antiq Egypte, 1942.
Dynastic race in Egypt. J Egypt Archaeol 1956.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 23 February 1961, and 27 February p 14 g by HA; J Anat 1961, 95, 441 by U Fielding].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England