Monday, June 30, 2008

Trinidad's Doctor's Office by Vincent Tothill

An amusing diary by a young Scottish physician in Trinidad in the 1920s.

Picture this: San Fernando, Trinidad, 1920. Longing for the tropics, the young medicus Dr. Vincent Tothill signs up with the Colonial Service and comes to southern Trinidad, where he first works in the oilfields, then in the sugar factory, and eventually sets up private practice in San Fernando. With Scottish wit and a subtle feel for the local parlance, this young man describes the people he meets and the events that mark the highlights of his sojourn in Trinidad, and while he obviously fell in love with the people of the island, he does not spare criticism of the Medical Service of the colony. And while he will make you laugh out loud with his sometimes picaresque adventures, his diary is also a valuable anthropological and historical document, describing the language and customs of Trinidadians in that period.

This book was first published by Blackie & Sons in Scotland and is lavishly illustrated with contemporary photographs, some taken by Dr. Tothill himself, and others added from Paria Publishing's extensive archives.

Caribbean, History, Non-Fiction, Auto-Biography
ISBN 976-8054-76-0
6x9", 222 pages
Illustrated in black and white

Purchase the book online:
Approximate price: £ 14.00 / US$ 19.00

Owen Rutter, who wrote the foreword to the 1939 edition of "Doctor's Office", describes Tottie in his book "A Traveller in the West Indies" (1933, Hutchinson & Co.):

"He is a man of acute mind, a shrewd observer and perfectly sincere. he believes in hard knocks and is used to taking them. He makes no bones about saying exactly what he thinks, and since he holds vehement views on most subjects, I found his conversation extremely stimulating. In an island like Trinidad his frankness must be acutely disconcerting, but he seemed to me one of those rare people who can be downright without being offensive. It is easy enough to be rude and to tell people exactly what you think of them; but Tottie barks out what is in his thoughts in so engaging a way that nobody seems to mind. I dare say most people think it is just his manner and that he doesn't mean half he says. [But I am sure he does; and I should be disappointed to find that he didn't, because he talks such extraordinarily sound sense. He is liked because he is fundamentally kind. He has a large practic among all sections of the community, and although he will not spare himself for one who is in real trouble, he is outrageously outspoken to the malades imaginaires, and makes a point of telling languishing young women that what they want s a day's scrubbing and a baby to mind."

By the way, "Doctor's Office" came to our attention through Thora O'Connor, and "A Traveler in the West Indies" through Freda Scott, both wonderful ladies in their mid-90s, who may, just may, have met Tottie and Owen in person in the 1930s! We love to imagine that these authors would have given them their first editions in person, maybe over a good glass of rum punch? Thank you Thora and Freda, for preserving these little jewels in your libraries all these decades.


  1. I love the cover! It looks great! :)

  2. Thanks Katrianna. The background pictures are an old wooden oil derrick (left) and on the right, San Fernando High Street. Both are views that Dr. Tothill would have seen in South Trinidad in the 1920s!


  3. I found this book at a bookstore in San Fernando, Trinidad yesterday and I immediately purchased it, and started reading it last night.
    What a delightful book! If you are a student of Trinidadian or West Indian history, it is an excellent insight into life in the 1920s.
    Being born in San Fernando, I particularly enjoyed Chap 3 where the Doctor detailed streets and sights in San Fernando. I felt part of it, and wondered how my ancestors felt walking these same paths! Thank you so much for this book.

  4. Thank you Ramona! Yes, the good doctor really left us with a fun and insightful description of life in South Trinidad in the 1920s. Enjoy the rest of the book!

  5. I started this book and it's quite attractive and funny. Being in the world as it was then - and probably still is - was delightful. Keep up the great work.

    Lyndon Baptiste

  6. Thanks Lyndon! Hope you enjoyed the entire book, especially the story about sailing to Patos, which is really quite unique as a written record!