Christopher James Davis
Christopher James Davis (1842 – 28 November 1870) was a British-Barbadian physician. Educated in Europe, he volunteered to help sick and injured during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, and died from a smallpox.
Davis was born in the West Indian island of Barbados in a family of ten children. His family were Wesleyan Methodists. His father was British, his mother a Barbadian. "Of all my children," wrote his mother, "he seemed the most tender and considerate for me, and would weep himself to sleep if anything tired me."
Davis studied to become a school teacher and was a lay-preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The spread of the Brethren Movement from British Guyana had spread to Barbados and other West Indian colonies. Their teachings had been imbibed by Davis and he began to propagate the teachings he had lately embraced. Three of his own family also joined the Brethren.
Limerick born Dr. Thomas Mackern of Blackheath, South East London, visited the West Indies in 1866, to preach the gospel and to promote the literature work of the Plymouth Brethren in the islands. He met numerous Christians who had then recently broken with their denominational associations. He wrote, "They had begun ‘amidst much opposition from professing Christians’ to gather 'simply to the name of the Lord Jesus' – which meant that Brethren assemblies were functioning. The one chiefly responsible for this development was the young schoolmaster, C. J. Davis who for some time had been a local preacher among the Wesleyans."
By 1866 he had sailed to Britain to study medicine with the intention to return to practise medicine in the West Indies. In London he settled in the north London suburb of Stoke Newington in the home of a Mr Holland. He became one of the House Physicians at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where in the first year of study, he gained the examiner’s prize for proficiency in practical anatomy, and a junior scholarship in anatomy, physiology and chemistry.
He was an able and earnest evangelist. He preached to large congregations with much accompanying blessing in many parts of the British Isles. He records in his gospel tracts some of the locations he visited; these include Margate, Woolwich and Sheffield in England, Dunoon and Aberdeen in Scotland. In Aberdeen he pursued his medical studies where he completed his degree of MD.
He cut a very striking figure and quickly drew crowds when preaching in the open air. A contemporary friend, a Harley Street doctor, A. T. Schofield, wrote that Davis was "a tall and distinguished looking man". He used to preach from a kitchen table in Union Street, Aberdeen, the result of which was the establishment of a very large assembly of brethren in that city. In Aberdeen he delivered a series of lectures which were published the year of his death as Aids to Believers. This volume went through many editions. He also wrote a tract on The Lord’s Coming, and an evangelistic book, the Grace of God.
His Aids to Believers ran through at least 18 editions in the first half of the 20th century. His final evangelistic narrative, The Teachers Taught is in print with a number of publishers.
During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 he volunteered his services to assist the suffering and cholera stricken peasantry of eastern France, especially at the Battle of Sedan. He devoted himself with skill and energy to the treatment of large numbers of sick and wounded and to the establishment of soup kitchens which gave food and life to multitudes of starving people. He was an enthusiast for his soup kitchens, so that, when on one occasion, the sister of the Protestant Pastor at Sedan (Miss Goulden) told him there was not sufficient soup, he took his watch from his pocket, gained as a prize at College and sold it to pay for the immediate needs.
For this special war-work Mr and Mrs Chrimes of Moorgate, Rotherham, England, made the young physician almoner of a thousand pounds for the poor and sick among whom he laboured. Dr Davis also ran an ambulance, which was regarded as the finest one in the neighbourhood.
He also took care of several hundred wounded Bavarians in dire need of aid. It was in this final benevolent service in war-torn Europe that he assumed the honourable nickname, "The Good Black Doctor".
Two Englishwomen, Emma Maria Pearson (1828–93) and Louisa Elisabeth MacLaughlin (1836–1921), wrote this of him: "Dr. Davis, at Pongy-sur-Meuse, had 300 sick and wounded, all Bavarians.… Fever and diarrhoea were very prevalent, especially amongst the Bavarian troops, who ate large quantities of unripe grapes and apples. An application was made by a physician of colour, Dr. Davis, of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, who had established a hospital just across the Meuse for the services of Louise and myself in his Ambulance, not so much to nurse the sick (he had no wounded), but to see that the German orderlies did their duty, and to prevent the entrance of green fruit. Davis died of smallpox, about two months afterwards, at Pongy-sur-Meuse, where he had his Ambulance, beloved, and mourned by all who had ever come in contact with him."
‘But his enthusiasm,’ said a medical journal, ‘carried him beyond his strength’. Returning in an exhausted condition from a short visit to England where he had been to procure further funds for his charitable work, he was attacked by smallpox from which he died on 28 November 1870, at the age of 28. Davis was greatly loved for his impartial service upon his death was given a military funeral which was followed by troops of both armies, headed by the Mayor of Sedan. His tombstone records the high esteem in which he was held. He was buried in the quiet graveyard of Fond de Givonne, just outside Sedan.
In one of his tracts, the ‘Grace Appearing and reigning; Glory to Appear’, he wrote, ‘go out and visit the sick—feed the hungry; and if you have the gift, explain the word of life to the poor and ignorant . . . All can do good in some way; with time or worldly goods. . . this is our time to do as receivers of grace. In health or sickness to adorn the doctrine of Christ our Saviour.’
In the Franco-Prussian war there was then a large international Hospital in Sedan, at the head of which was a distinguished doctor from St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He was a Plymouth Brethren man, Dr Christopher James Davis (1842–1870) who had come from Barbados to help starving and fever-stricken peasants as well as wounded combatants of both sides. Dr Davis was generally known as the 'good black doctor'. Local Protestant Churches also participated in his humanitarian work. He was in part funded by donations from Mr Chrimes of Rotherham, Yorkshire, the wealthy entrepreneur and screw tap manufacturer. In 1870 Davis died of smallpox caught from a patient. He was so much beloved that he was given a military funeral which was followed by the troops of both armies and headed by the Mayor of Sedan. He was buried just outside Sedan in the graveyard of Fond de Givonne, along with Prussian military and other war victims. W.J. Lowe (1839–1927), another Plymouth Brother also visited Sedan and wrote a description of his tour.
- W. Walters (1875) Letters of Dr. Mackern: with an account of his conversion. W. B. Horner, London.
- N. L. Noel (1993) The History of the Brethren, 2 vols. London: Chapter Two.
- A. T. Schofield, The Teachers Taught.
- Guest and Chrimes. rotherhamweb.co.uk
- Emma Maria Pearson and Louisa Elisabeth MacLaughlin (1871) Our Adventures During the War of 1870 by Two Englishwomen, London: Richard Bentley and Son.
- W.J. Lowe (1999) The Nest in the Altar or Reminiscences of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 reprinted by Chapter Two, London, ISBN 1-85307-123-4.
- Private Archive Edwin Cross, Woolwich.
- The Nest in the Altar or Reminiscences of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 reprinted by Chapter Two, London in 1999, ISBN 1-85307-123-4.