Sir Ronald Ross collections

Sir Ronald Ross discovered the mosquito transmission of malaria and was the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Ronald Ross in a laboratory
Ronald Ross in a laboratory. Copyright: The Ross family

Our collections cover his scientific work and personal interests, as well as the establishment of the Ross Institute.

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Ross Papers collection

This collection (approx. 19,000 items) includes correspondence, photographs, publications, notebooks, postcards, press cuttings and a sketchbook. It is rich in material relating to Ross's scientific work, including the Ross-Manson correspondence, records relevant to the early research in trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis, as well as records of his malaria research during World War One and matters connected with this work at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

His papers also reflect his other interests such as his efforts to improve the pay of research workers and the improvement of sanitation in colonial countries which involved correspondence with political figures such as J Ramsay MacDonald, Waldorf Astor, J B Seely and Austen Chamberlain.

His literary interests are indicated by letters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Henry Rider Haggard, H G Wells and Rudyard Kipling. There is little in the way of family correspondence; letters to his wife have disappeared and it is thought he may have destroyed these on her death in 1931.

Ross Institute collection

This collection (approx. 1,000 items)  includes correspondence, manuscripts, publications, photographs and press cuttings relating to the Institute's establishment, work, and relationship with the School on its incorporation.

History of the Ross Institute

The Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases was opened in 1926 on Putney Heath by the Prince of Wales as a memorial to and in recognition of Ross' work. The main focus of the Institute was the study of the nature and treatment, propagation and prevention of tropical disease. Due to financial problems arising after Ross' death in 1932, the Institute was incorporated into the London School in 1934, eventually to become the School's Department of Tropical Hygiene.

The hospital became the Ross Ward of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in central London. The Institute added new dimensions to the School's existing departments and brought with it wide-ranging interests in overseas industries from Indian tea plantations to Anglo-Iranian oil companies who requested advice from the Institute on public health and disease prevention for staff in the tropics. The School has undergone several reorganisations since the 1950s which has resulted in the Institute losing its separate identity through its absorption by the School. 

Ronald Ross biography

Sir Ronald Ross was born in India in 1857 to a Scottish Army Officer and his wife. He was educated in England and entered St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in 1874. He took the examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1879 and obtained the post of ship's surgeon while studying for the Licenciate of the Society of Apothecaries, which allowed him to enter the Indian Medical Service in 1881. He held temporary appointments in Madras, Burma and Andaman Islands, all the while developing his interests in poetry, literature and mathematics. In 1892 he began his study of malaria and in 1895 began his correspondence with Sir Patrick Manson, then physician to the Seamen's Hospital Society, who became the Medical Advisor to the Colonial Office and the founder of the London School of Tropical Medicine.

In August 1897, Ross discovered the transmission of malaria parasites in man by Anopheles mosquitoes, after which he continued his research work in India until 1899 when he retired from the Indian Medical Service. He returned to England, taking a post as lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, later becoming Professor of Tropical Medicine, and accepting a personal chair in Tropical Sanitation at Liverpool University. During World War One he was appointed a consultant physician on tropical diseases to Indian troops and was sent to Alexandria for four months to investigate an outbreak of dysentery which was hampering troops in the Dardanelles. In 1917 he was appointed a consultant physician to the War Office and in 1919 he received an honorary post as consultant to the Ministry of Pensions.

During his life he went on various expeditions, including West Africa, Panama, Greece and Cyprus to advise on and aid the prevention of malaria. He wrote extensively on malaria and other topics including his book The Prevention of Malaria in 1910. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902 and knighted in 1911. Despite receiving many other awards and honours during his life, he felt embittered that he did not receive monetary reward for his discovery and petitioned the Government on this subject. This was part of his concern that research workers should receive proper payment and pensions for their work. He was Director-in-Chief of the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases from 1926 until his death in 1932.

While Ross is remembered for his malaria work, he was also a mathematician, epidemiologist, sanitarian, editor, novelist, dramatist, poet, and an amateur musician, composer and artist; many of these facets are represented in the archive collection.

Decolonising the Ross collections

In December 1899 Ross gave a lecture to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce on his return from an expedition to Sierra Leone where he had been working on malaria prevention, he said that ‘in the coming century, the success of imperialism will depend largely upon success with the microscope’. He was a key figure in the development of tropical medicine as a specialism and understood that it was instrumental to the growth of the British Empire and colonialism.

The Archives Service is working to provide more context in relation to colonialism for the Ross collection. The catalogue is being reviewed for language, terminology, emphasis and omissions as well as updating colonial country and city names. Former and current country names are included in the catalogue to increase searchability.

The Ross collection is extensive and although the focus of the collection is Ross himself, there is material on other individuals including correspondence, the collection will be researched to highlight stories on people who have traditionally been under-represented in the archives such as women and individuals from colonialised countries. This has been done in the past for example, the blog on the mathematician Hilda Hudson.

The Ross collection includes interesting items that are often used in displays and events, in line with our Decolonising the Archives principles, we will provide more colonial context on these items where relevant.


In October 2003 the Archives was awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust Research Resources in Medical History initiative to preserve, re-catalogue and increase accessibility to these important collections.