March 04 - 11 , 2011


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Coastweek -- Timeless setting: An old town fishermen sailing slowly out to the Indian ocean past Fort Jesus and adjacent Mombasa Club seen from the North Coast mainland.
PHOTO [circa 1974] - JOHN JEWELL from his book 'MOMBASA THE FRIENDLY TOWN'


John Jewell was fascinated
by Dhows and Mombasa

Born, June 11, 1912 in Mahe, Seychelles - died
January 25, 2011 in Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire.


Coastweek -- John was born on 11th June 1912, on Mahť Island in the Seychelles.

His early childhood was spent on Praslin Island where his father served as doctor and magistrate before leaving the family in 1914 to join the British forces in East Africa following the outbreak of the first World War.

The family transferred from the Seychelles to Kenya in 1918, moving first to Kisumu and then Nakuru.

In 1920 Johnís family returned to Ireland whilst Johnís father studied successfully for his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons.

It quickly became clear, however, that his service with the Colonial Medical Service and the British Army in East Africa made staying on in Ireland impossible.

Several of his friends were shot and he himself narrowly missed suffering the same fate.

As a result, in 1921 the family returned to Kenya leaving John at school in England.

Coastweek -- Surgeon John Jewell in the seafront garden of the Mombasa [former Katherine Bibby] Hospital during the early 1960s.

John was educated at St. Pirans in Maidenhead and then at Oundle near Peterborough.

In 1929 John joined his parents in Kenya and spent a year travelling widely in the region.

Following in the footsteps of both of his parents, John went up to Trinity College, Dublin where, like his father before him, he studied at the School of Medicine.

Academically, he did well and was awarded the prestigious Cunningham medal for Anatomy, and the Haughton Clinical Medical and a prize for first place in Surgery in 1936.

He passed his primary exams for a Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (Ireland) while still a student and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Ireland )in 1939 while at the Hammersmith Hospital.

He was studying for the second part of his English Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons when the war intervened.

John was a gifted sportsman.

He won his colours for Trinity in rugby football and played for the College first XV throughout his time at Trinity.

He was a member of the unbeaten Trinity XV in the 1932/33 season which included games against Oxford and Cambridge as well as the old foe, University College, Dublin.

Johnís specialities in rugby were "selling a dummy" and place-kicking but, despite being given a trial for the national side at fly-half, as he was not an Irish national he could not be selected.

John was the Johnny Wilkinson of Trinity College in his day, fortunately without Wilkinsonís record of injuries although he did suffer a broken collar bone.

Those of us who graduated from Trinity will be well aware of how few "Knights of the Campanile" there were.

"Knights of the Campanile" are selected for exceptional sporting prowess and wear garish pink scarves which make them easily identifiable around the campus.

In Johnís day, they were also given pink blazers to wear.

Modest as he always was, one wonders whether Johnís pink scarf and blazer languished in a cupboard in his room.

Years later, he tried to pass his pink blazer on to Madelon.

John graduated from Trinity in 1933 and continued his medical training in Dublin [St. Stevens Hospital and St. Patrick Dunís Hospital] before moving to England and working in hospitals in Ipswich, Derby, Maidstone and London.

At the outbreak of the second World War, he joined the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve and travelled up to Scotland to advise on the design of the sickbay and operating facilities for the Glen class ships which were being converted to carry commandos and their landing craft.

John became the surgeon aboard HMS Glengyle, which sailed round Africa to join the Mediterranean fleet in 1941.

His ship assisted in the evacuation of Greece in April and May 1941 and in escorting convoys to Cyprus and Malta.

The ship participated in the Dieppe raid and transported US troops for the Operation Torch landings in North-West Africa in November 1942.

It participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily and in the landings at Anzio.

Modest to the end, I never heard John mention what had happened during those desperate years but I did hear that three days without sleep working in the operating theatre aboard ship in Malta turned his hair white.

He did mention his ship carrying Maori soldiers at some stage and they taught him the words of a Maori song he later sang to Madelon.

'Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye, for soon Iíll be sailing far across the sea.

'When Iím away, please remember me, so when I come back Iíll find you waiting here.'

John served later on HMS ... and, whilst in Bermuda, to his surprise, came across an American naval doctor with the same surname.

This turned out to be a first cousin of his, the son of our grandfatherís elder brother who had emigrated to the United States.

It was the Navy which brought John and Madelon together.

Madelon had joined the WRNS, the Womenís Royal Navy Service, and served [under Sir William James who, as a child was "Bubbles" in the Pears soap advertisement] in Portsmouth.

One night Madelon was the WRNS signals officer on duty when a certain naval surgeon missed the boat returning officers to their ship after a short shore leave.

Madelon signalled "PSB" for the boat to come back and pick him up - plus Áa change!

John and Madelon married in 1942 and were to have four children: one born in Glasgow, two in British Guiana and one in Harrow. John and Madelon were happily married for 68 years.

At the end of the war, John was offered a job in Ireland as Professor of Anatomy.

However, he decided that he would prefer a "hands on" job and applied for a position in far-off British Guiana which he saw advertised in The British Medical Journal.

So it was that John ended up living with Madelon in a house on stilts and working as a surgeon at the St. Josephís Mercy Hospital in Georgetown.

Coastweek -- Madelon and John Jewell celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary - they eventually celebrated 68 years of marriage: something of a record these days.

In 1956 John and Madelon left Georgetown and moved to Mombasa where John joined a local partnership of doctors.

As a general surgeon in a private practice with general physicians, John dealt with a rich mix of patients from different ethnic backgrounds.

He was known as the "bwana who speaks Kiswahili" Ė the more complex, coastal version of Swahili.

He became well-known on the Coast and, to this day, it is not unknown for strangers, on hearing the surname Jewell, to recall that Dr. Jewell removed this or that or mended the other when they were in Mombasa or Georgetown.

One childhood memory of Johnís surgical skill sticks with me.

John was preparing to operate on a childís hare lip the next day.

The night before performing the operation, based on photographs he had taken, John cut out pieces of paper to mimic the hare lip.

He then experimented with the different incisions he could make in order to be sure that he would be able to reconstruct the childís lip and palate in the best possible way.

His endless patience and empathy were also demonstrated when one of the family guinea pigs fractured its hip and, faced with tearful pleading from daughter Sandra, John together with a top orthopaedic surgeon Harry Hayes and anaesthetist Bob Davidson pinned it together very successfully.

Living abroad brought a vast and varied number of cases which demanded creativity and skill; harpoons in eyes; missing arms; crushed skulls; rhino horn damage and patients cursed by witch doctors: John took it all in his stride and looked after them all with consummate skill.

The life of a general surgeon in South America and Africa was certainly varied and challenging, and many individuals acknowledge that they owe their lives to Johnís consummate skills as a surgeon.

Working in the tropics, sometimes at the same hospital [the Katherine Bibby Hospital, formerly the European Hospital] where his father had worked a generation before, meant early starts with an essential snooze after lunch Ė referred to as "Egyptian PT".

I should mention in passing that Johnís sister, Daphne, had been born in Mombasa as well and when Sandra worked at the Katherine Bibby Hospital, she was the third generation of Jewells to have worked there.

John also worked at the Pandya Clinic and the Aga Khan Hospital.

Another childhood memory was of a car fondly called "Leaping Lena".

Leaping Lena was named after a car of Johnís youth which habitually leapt into the air when started up.

When the tide was out, the raised hinges of the old pontoon bridge at Nyali caused Lena the Second to leap as well and, to Johnís amusement, this tested the bladders of the young children in the back seat when they returned home after a long safari.

Speaking of photography, John was a gifted photographer and often won prizes for his photographs of wildlife and flowers.

He chose to take photographs in an unusual 2.5" square format.

His love of photography led him frequently to the Tsavo game parks, and to the Old Town in Mombasa where he became fascinated by the wooden vessels of another era which he encountered in the Old Harbour.

He managed to capture, in word and photographic image, the age of dhows and the men who sailed them.

His authoritative book, Dhows at Mombasa, was first published in 1969.

Coast Provincial Commissioner Isaiah Mathenge noted:

"John Jewell's work, which is based on his personal experience and close observation of Arab dhows and their crews and merchandise, is a welcome and timely contribution to the history of Kenya".

Mombasa Old Town Dhow Registrar Shariff Mohamed Abdulla Shatry recalled:

"I could not help noticing, over the past eight or nine years, a familiar figure who seemed to haunt the Old Port whenever the dhows were there. He would often call in at my store to ask questions about the types of dhow and their cargoes.

Coastweek -- Sambuk dhow in Mombasa Old Town harbour. Hands have washed down the upper timbers with seawater, allowed it to dry, and are now applying fish oil. These parts that have already been oiled stand out from the rest. This Sambuk has four vents resembling stylized trees in the stern.
PHOTO [circa 1968] - JOHN JEWELL from his book 'DHOWS AT MOMBASA'

"He usually carried a camera and would not miss a chance to look around at the Arab chests and the carpets, both in my store and at the Old Customs House.

"I was very pleased, therefore, when my friend Mr. John Jewell, a well-known resident of our town, came to see me the other day with the typescript of this book.

"I was pleased because he had set down a lot of interesting information about the dhows and has been able to illustrate many of the points by most attractive photographs.

"Very few attempts have been made to record details of these interesting craft and this book with its illustrations will fill an important gap in the written story of Mombasa.

"Some of the ever growing army of tourists will also find it of great interest when taken to the Old Harbour to see the dhows."

At the time the dhow trade was still active with dhows sailing the monsoon winds to Mombasa and Zanzibar as they had done for centuries.

John was always interested in the Arab traders and became very knowledgeable on Arab chests and Persian carpets.

Strangely enough, in recent years I have been asked for copies of this book by people I met both in Mozambique and in Oman.

I was very surprised when, on a visit to Mozambique, and on enquiring at the National Archives about reference books on dhows, I was handed a photocopy of Johnís book.

His book Mombasa the Friendly Town was published in 1976 and was followed by Mombasa and the Kenya Coast published in 1987.

Johnís sporting prowess continued over the years and I never managed to beat him at squash.

He was excellent at tennis, golf or with a ball on the beach.

In later years he took up bowls in Lancing and was still winning cups in his 80ís.

John and Madelon retired to England in the 1980ís and lived in Rolvenden, Kent, in Lancing and, latterly, in Stockcross.

John was ever the English gentleman.

Smartly dressed, always cheerful, modest and with a Christian outlook on life, he contributed much to the communities in which he lived and we are all saddened by his passing.

It had been a long and fulfilling life.

- Kindly contributed by [his daughter] Sandra Jewell.




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