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  Sir Arnold Theiler
Arnold Theiler
Sir Arnold Theiler

(26/03/1867 - 24/07/1936 )



Special Stamp

Postcard collection

Digital Arnold Theiler

Theiler Memorial Trust

In 1891 a young Swiss veterinarian arrived in Pretoria, his profession completely unknown and any facilities for research or investigation non-existent. All he had was his strength of character, his brain and his two hands, one of which he was soon to lose in an accident. Yet this, coupled with boundless determination, energy and exactness were soon to earn him worldwide respect for his knowledge, professional service and profession. C.F.B.Hofmeyr, 1971, in his Foreword to "Arnold Theiler 1867-1936: his life and times" by Gertrud Theiler. Published by the University of Pretoria.


Sir Arnold Theiler (1867 - 1936) was the father of veterinary science in South Africa. He was an outstanding researcher, administrator and teacher and made an enduring contribution to various disciplines both in South Africa and internationally.
He was born in Frick, Switzerland in 1867. He qualified as a veterinarian in Zurich. In 1891 he packed his bags, few books, microscope and surgical instruments and took the steamer to the Cape, and then by train and post-chaise he travelled to Pretoria.
He first worked as a farm hand at Irene Estates. It was here that he lost his left hand in a chaff cutter. At the end of that year he started practicing as a vet in Pretoria.
In 1893 his reputation was established when he offered to prepare vaccine to combat an outbreak of smallpox among mine workers on the Witwatersrand. His success led to his appointment as state veterinarian in 1896.
On 11th May 1896 he was officially sworn in as State Veterinarian for the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek.


At this time rinderpest was devastating the cattle population. In collaboration with others he succeeded in developing a vaccine by means of which the disease was eradicated in 1897.


Theiler later proposed the establishment of a research institute under a state veterinarian at which the production of vaccines against pleuropneumonia, black-quarter, rinderpest and smallpox could be carried out. He suggested that the disinfection station and stables at Daspoort, on the outskirts of Pretoria could easily be converted into suitable quarters. Apart from the research into the animal diseases and the production of remedies, he pointed out that the state veterinarian should also act as adviser to the government in all matters pertaining to animal diseases and hygiene and that the laboratory should act as a centre of consultation for the public.
In March 1898 his recommendations were accepted and he was appointed director of the Bacteriological Institute and later "staatsveearts" to the artillery of the ZAR.
During the Anglo-Boer War he was the official veterinarian of the Boer forces.



In 1908 the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute was founded and Theiler was the first Director. As a result of his hard work and exceptional leadership many local diseases were researched and vaccines were manufactured.

Main building


Theiler is especially known for his work on Babesia equi showing that it is caused by a tick called Rhipicephalus evertsi. He also proved that East African Coast Fever is caused by Piroplasma parva (Theileria parva). He also worked on epizootic contagious catarrh of equines and anthrax in the ostrich and contagious abortion in cattle. He discovered the cause of lamsiekte. Large parts of South Africa were opened up for cattle farming as a result of this and other discoveries, contributing significantly to the economic development of his adopted fatherland.


first graduates
The first graduates 1924 with Sir Arnold Theiler
In 1920 The Faculty of Veterinary Science was established enabling veterinarians to be trained locally. Prior to that time South Africans who wished to become vets had to go overseas for their training. Theiler was the first dean of the faculty. He retired in 1927 and died in 1936.

A memorial statue to Theiler was erected in front of the main building at the Institute Daughters at statue
The daughters Gertrud ( left)and Margaret in front of the statue.

Theiler, Gertrud : Arnold Theiler 1867-1936; his life and times. Publikasies van die Universiteit van Pretoria. Nuwe reeks nr.61. 1971.

Compiled by : Erica van der Westhuizen
Department of Library Services, Faculty Library for Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria


  Bibliography on Sir Arnold Theiler
1. Herbert Watkins-Pitchford, CMG, FRCVS, FRSE. Paradoxical veterinary surgeon: a reappraisal of his work in Natal on rinderpest.
Historia-Medicinae-Veterinariae. 1995, 20: 4, 81-93; 32 ref.
biographies-; veterinarians-; disease-control; veterinary-services; veterinary-history; rinderpest-

2. Theiler-his personal significance today.
Gutsche,-T; Theiler,-A
Journal-of-the-South-African-Veterinary-Association. 1985, 56: 1, 3-6.
Veterinarians-; Veterinary-history; Biography-

3. There was a man. The life and times of Sir Arnold Theiler K.C.M.G. of Onderstepoort.
Gutsche-T; Theiler-A
1979, viii + 486pp.; 205 X 267 X 40 mm.
Howard Timmins, 45 Shortmarket Street.; Cape Town; South Africa
Those who had the advantage of working closely with the late H. H. Green had perforce
to listen to many panegyrics of Sir Arnold Theiler. Because the stories were often amusing
and always well-told, we listened patiently but - wrongly as it now appears - we tended
to discount them heavily. It is pleasant now to have access to a very readable book which
contains the life-story of this man who, obviously, really was great. Some veterinary surgeons
might give up if, soon after qualifying, they lost a hand but, far from lying down under
adversity, Theiler went forward to great heights. His early struggles involved most
unprofessional advertisements for infallible cures for horse sickness; he was prepared to
sell the cure for ten shillings - through no such cure existed. Probably, his greatest triumph
was, with a small team of specialists, the discovery of the cause of lamsiekte: how cattle
grazing on soils deficient in phosphorus developed osteophagia, through which some developed
botulism. The cure by giving bone meal opened up huge tracts of Africa. But this is only a
small part of the achievements of this wonderful man. If it were possible adequately to do
justice to such a man, this biography does it. For reasons which are explained, the author had
access to none of the correspondence and administrative papers which would normally be available,
but she has produced an outstandingly readable and informative book which will, we hope,
be preserved for many generations.
DE: biographies-; veterinary-history

4. Science and empire: East Coast fever in Rhodesia and the Transvaal.
The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA.
1991, xvii + 385 pp.; Cambridge History of Medicine ; many ref.
Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge; Cambridge; UK
The story of East Coast fever (caused by Theileria parva parva) is told from its first
appearance in Rhodesia in 1901 (when a massive outbreak began when cattle were shipped from
Dar-es-Salaam to restock the herds of Rhodesia) to current studies. The book concentrates both
on the social and economic impact of the disease and on the scientists who recognized it as a
new disease and attempted to bring it under control. The main protagonists are Robert Koch
(who it is claimed, contributed little), the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, and Arnold
Theiler and Charles Lounsbury, who 'sorted out the facts and got most of them right' and Duncan
Hutcheon. Most of the book deals in great detail with events that occurred in 1902, 1903 and
1904. One chapter deals with attempts at eradication of East Coast fever in South Africa and
Rhodesia between 1904 and the 1950s. This is an eminently readable account of an important
disease; it should appeal to both the historian and the scientist.
DE: livestock-; history-; Veterinary-history; tickborne-diseases; epidemiology-; parasites-;
OD: ruminants-; THEILERIA-PARVA; Ixodidae-; cattle-; protozoa-

Compiled by : Erica van der Westhuizen
Department of Library Services, Faculty Library for Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria


  Memorial postage stamp
A memorial postage stamp was issued on 9th October 1991 to commemorate Sir Arnold Theiler 's life and his important contribution to animal health in South Africa.
special stamp


  Theiler's postcards
Postcards from his travels, sent to his family at home.

To Miss M Theiler 23-05-08 from her parents in Lourenco Marques
To Miss M Theiler 1909 from her father in Mombasa
Sent to the daughter Miss M Theiler from Father and Mother in Paris 21-10-1909
Sent to his son Mr Hans Theiler 21-09-1909 from Hamburg
A postcard to Hans Theiler from his friend Tony posted in Paris 27-12-1911
Postcard entitled : Paris - Jardin des Plantes : Megatherium de Cuvier
Sent to his son Max Theiler 11-4-1913 from Budapest
Postcards sent to Arnold Theiler by colleagues and friends
Sent to Arnold Theiler 6 January 1910 from Germany (Deutshe Reich) by his friend Lichtenheld
Sent to Arnold Theiler 17 October 1910
Sent to Dr Theiler 28 July 1910 from V de Waegenaere in Brussel
  Theiler Memorial Trust
During 1988, the "THEILER MEMORIAL TRUST" was created by his daughter Margaret Theiler in memory of his pioneer work.
memorial trust
The aim of this TRUST is to promote Veterinary Science in southern Africa by means of annual
awards in one or more of the following categories
    - Bursaries for studies either in South Africa or abroad

    - Awards in recognition of outstanding research relevant to veterinary problems of southern Africa

    - Invitations to eminent scientists

    - Any other purpose that the advisory board may deem appropriate to promote the
    primary aim of the TRUST.
The award will be made to deserving appropriate candidates irrespective of race, sex, religion, creed or nationality.

The income of the TRUST will be administered by an Advisory Board consisting of the Director of the Veterinary Research Institute, the Dean of the National Faculty of Veterinary Scienc eof the University of Pretoria and other appointed members. They will meet annually to decide on income administration and award presentations.

A proportion of the net income of the TRUST will be added to the capital to ensure the TRUST's continual growth.

The balance of the net income will be available to the Advisory Board for disbursement as is deemed appropriate.

The TRUST shall pursue exclusively and directly such aims as are non-profitmaking in accordance with the regulations pertaining to taxation.

We hope that you will consider the aims of this TRUST, worthy of your support.


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