James Africanus

Surgeon Major James Africanus Beale Horton
(1835-1883)

Doctor, soldier scientist and political activist

James Horton was born in Sierra Leone and his parents were freed slaves. Educated by the Church Missionary Society, in 1855, at the request of the War Office, Horton and two other young men were sent for further medical training at Kings College, London. He then went on to study at Edinburgh University. As a student, Horton took the name Africanus as a statement of his roots.

In 1859 he joined the British Army Medical Service where he was appointed assistant staff surgeon. Horton was one of the first Africans to qualify as a medical doctor and one of the first to serve as an officer in the British Army, and in 1874 he achieved the title Surgeon Major. In 1880 he retired and returned home where founded the Commercial Bank of Sierra Leone. He died aged 48. Horton always thought that the way forwards for his fellow black Africans was through education, in his Will he instructed, that most of his large estate was to be used as an educational trust fund.

The University of Edinburgh now bears a commemorative plaque, honouring James Africanus Horton as the first African Graduate of the University.

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