The Torrance family in, and of Tiberias

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias

The Scots Hotel, a five star hotel in the city of Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee, is historically linked with the Torrance family, and the Torrance family, in turn, are historically linked with the University of Glasgow.  However, this is not a story about a nineteenth-century family of entrepreneurial hoteliers…

This is a story of three generations of the Torrance family who came to the University from the nineteenth century onwards to study Medicine, and who went on to practice their medical education and training in various locations around the world.

Dr David Torrance, Tiberias Hospital 1904, part of The Torrance Collection (MS 38), courtesy of The University of Dundee Archive Services

Dr David Torrance, Tiberias Hospital 1904, part of The Torrance Collection (MS 38), courtesy of The University of Dundee Archive Services

The first was David Watt Torrance (1862-1923), who  graduated MBCM from the University in 1883. David went on to become a Medical Missionary, involved in the establishment of the Sea of Galilee Medical Mission. He also opened the first Scottish Mission hospital in Tiberias in 1885. This was the first hospital that was open to all races and religions and became somewhat of a family-run hospital.

Two of David’s children to his first wife, Lydia Huber, and a daughter from his second wife (he was twice made a widower), Eleanor A. Durie, would all follow in their father’s footsteps and come to the University to study Medicine.

Herbert Watt Torrance graduated first with an MBChB in 1916 and MD in 1921; soon after came Lydia Ida Huber graduating MBChB in 1918 and MD in 1923, followed by Eleanor Marjorie who graduated MBChB in 1922. They were all awarded numerous certificates of merit throughout their studies, with Herbert winning Medals for Surgery and Clinical Surgery in 1914/15 under Sir William Macewen, Regius Professor of Surgery (from 1892 to 1924).

Herbert’s papers from his time as a student are held at the University’s Archive Services, which include detailed research from his thesis as well as undergraduate medical notes. The Archive Services also hold the papers of Lydia, from which the follow photograph comes.

Dr LydiaTorrance at gate of Tiberias Hospital c.1926 (GUAS Ref: DC317/24)

Dr LydiaTorrance at gate of Tiberias Hospital c.1926 (GUAS Ref: DC317/24)

Lydia specialised in paediatrics and obstetrics, and only returned to Tiberias for a short period (1923-26, see photograph) before heading off to Sri Lanka and India. There she worked in government service with the Women’s Medical Division from 1928-1941, and until 1950 practiced in Calcutta (Kolkata). Lydia returned to work in the UK, having been awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for public service in India. Not just a gifted medic, Lydia was also said to have been a gifted linguist, speaking German, Italian, French, Yiddish, Arabic and Hindustani.

Her sister, Eleanor married a planter from South Africa soon after graduation in 1924 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her husband was employed with Harrisons and Crosfield Ltd and they were based for many years in Travancore, modern day Kerala. By 1967, she is registered to be retired and living in Sussex.

Herbert W Torrance Medical Dinner Yearbook 1911-16 (GUAS Ref: DC225/1/14)

Herbert W Torrance Medical Dinner Yearbook 1911-16 (GUAS Ref: DC225/1/14)

Herbert’s story followed closely to that of his father’s. Both served during the First World War, with Herbert being awarded the Military Cross. Herbert then went on to undertake postgraduate study at Glasgow; Vienna, Austria; Rochester, USA; and in London before returning to Tiberias where he assumed the post of superintendent of the Scottish Mission hospital that his father had established. He was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was awarded an OBE for services rendered during the British Mandate in Palestine (1920-48).

After a few transformations, the Scottish hospital finally closed in 1959 and the building was made in to a guest house by the Church of Scotland – and was subsequently revived as the luxury Scots Hotel in 2004. However, the Torrance family and their work within the community for both Arabs and Jews was recognised upon the closure of the hospital and was commemorated in Tiberias by the opening of Torrance Square and Torrance Square Garden in 1962. David Torrance and some of his family are buried in the small cemetery on the grounds of the former hospital.

The third generation to be born in Tiberias and subsequently come to the University were the daughters of Herbert Watt Torrance, who graduated in 1949 and 1950.

As always, we’d be happy to hear from anyone with information on any aspect of the University’s International Story!


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