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.
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
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
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
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
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
'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
This turned out to be a first cousin of his, the son
of our grandfatherís elder brother who had emigrated to the United
It was the Navy which brought John and Madelon
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
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
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.
and John Jewell
celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary - they eventually
celebrated 68 years of marriage: something of a record these
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
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
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
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
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
Another childhood memory was of a car fondly called
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
He chose to take photographs in an unusual 2.5"
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
"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.
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
"Some of the ever growing army of tourists will
also find it of great interest when taken to the Old Harbour to see
At the time the dhow trade was still active with dhows
sailing the monsoon winds to Mombasa and Zanzibar as they had done for
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
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
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.