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Biographical entry Sebastian, Sir Cuthbert Montraville (1921 - 2017)

GCMG 1996; OBE 1970; BSc Mount Allison 1953; MD CM Dalhousie 1958; Hon LLD Dalhousie 1998; Hon FRCS 2001; Hon FRCS Edin 2002; Hon FCCS 2008; Hon LLD Mount Allison.

22 October 1921
Basseterre Saint Kitts and Nevis
25 March 2017
Basseterre Saint Kitts and Nevis
Diplomat, General surgeon, Medical Officer, Obstetrician and gynaecologist and Politician


Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian was governor general of Saint Christopher and Nevis. He was born in the Caribbean, on the island of Saint Kitts (as the island of Saint Christopher is commonly known), on 22 October 1921. His father, Joseph Matthew Sebastian, founded the labour movement on Saint Kitts and also established the first national newspaper. His mother was Inez Veronica Sebastian née Hodge.

On completing his secondary schooling, young Cuthbert, affectionately known as 'Cutie' to his family and friends, was apprenticed to the Cunningham Hospital on Saint Kitts as a learner-dispenser. Under the tutelage of variously appointed British Colonial Administration surgeons and physicians during the 1930s, he completed his early years at that institution, becoming a trained dispenser and surgeon's assistant. His duties also included being mortuary attendant and autopsy assistant. At times he was instructed by the surgeon to 'just carry-on' for a case of 'simple appendicitis' and so on, for which the chloroform anaesthetic would be administered by the matron.

During the Second World War, Sebastian enlisted in the Royal Air Force and was undergoing training in Canada as a rear-gunner at the time of the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

Upon returning home, he continued his studies and won an entrance scholarship to Mount Allison University in Canada, where he obtained a BSc degree in 1953. This achievement led to his gaining a place at Dalhousie University Medical School in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 1958 he gained his Canadian medical degree.

After his pre-registration year, he returned home to work in the Government Health Service as a medical officer, and was appointed variously to each of the islands of Saint Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla in turn. During this period, there would usually be only one doctor on an island with a population of under 10,000.

In 1962, he went to Britain and spent the next four years training in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology at Dundee Royal Infirmary. His colleagues there included Malcolm 'Callum' Macnaughton and Narendra 'Naren' Patel, both of whom became presidents of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Returning to St Kitts in 1966, Sebastian was appointed as medical superintendent and obstetrician gynaecologist to the Cunningham Hospital, the same institution where some 30 years earlier he had started his apprenticeship at 'a shilling per day in lieu of rations'.

When the Cunningham Hospital was closed in 1967, he took the same positions at the newly commissioned 164-bed Joseph N France General Hospital. Between 1970 and 1980 he served whenever necessary as surgeon and also as chief medical officer, in addition to his other hospital duties.

It was in 1973 that I first met and worked with Sebastian when I was appointed as a surgeon specialist. Being the only two surgeons in the country, and with no junior staff, we worked closely together, often conferring over major cases and joining each other across the table in the only operating theatre at the hospital.

In 1978, he was instrumental in obtaining the necessary funding and authorisation to establish and construct a twin operating theatre suite at the hospital, a project which moved swiftly to completion with his invaluable support and enthusiasm. This was aided no doubt in part by our joint appointment as attending surgeon to the then premier, Robert L Bradshaw.

In December 1995 Sebastian retired from medical practice and, on 1 January 1996, was appointed governor general of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, and Her Majesty's representative. In the same New Year's honours, Her Majesty conferred upon him the rank of Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.

Also in his retirement, Sir Cuthbert became instrumental in organising the Caribbean's first established telemedicine service, between Saint Kitts and the Dalhousie Medical School in Nova Scotia, such was his continuing enthusiasm for technological advances in his chosen profession.

In March 2001 Sir Cuthbert was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons at a joint meeting of the Royal College of Surgeons and the University of the West Indies in Barbados, and in 2002 received an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

I held Sir Cuthbert Sebastian's professional and personal achievements in the highest regard. It was my pleasure to have him as a colleague and friend for over 40 years - one of the worthy 'old school surgeons'.

Sir Cuthbert Sebastian died on 25 March 2017. He was 95. He was survived by his three sons and three daughters.

Desmond Fosbery

Sources used to compile this entry: [St Kitts and Nevis Observer 13 April 2017 - accessed 18 June 2017; St Kitts and Nevis Information Service - The life and times of Sir Cuthbert Sebastian - accessed 18 June 2017; Wikipedia Cuthbert Sebastian - accessed 18 June 2017].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England