Dr. George Illidge van Romondt
By; Will Johnson
Doctor van Romondt was born on St. Maarten on December 9th, 1809 and died there on July 2nd, 1854.
His parents were Diederick Johannes van Romondt born in Amsterdam on February 16th, 1781 and died on St.Maarten on April 19th, 1849. He arrived on St. Maarten in 1803. In 1804 he married Ann Hassell born on St. Maarten in 1784 and died in 1845. She was a daughter of John Hassell and Susanna Westerbrand.
Diederick Johannes served as Governor from 1820 to 1840, and was the progenitor of the powerful Van Romondt family who dominated St. Martin economically and politically until the death of Diederick Christian of Tintamarre and Mary’s Fancy fame in 1948.
At a young age George went to Holland in order to prepare for his planned academic
studies. That was customary in those days as there were no secondary schools in the Dutch West Indies. His parents left him behind at the home of a certain Johannes van der Zandt, with whom he built up an excellent relationship, seeing the fact that in his dissertation George mentions him as his dearly beloved uncle. He dedicates his dissertation, written in Latin to him:
‘Tu! Carissime Avuncule! Senex plurimum venerande! J. van der Zandt, qui jam a juventute, dux, mihi vitae exstitisti cujus curis, ego, puer, a perentibus meis carissimis, committebar!’
(My beloved uncle, respectable J. Van der Zandt, who already from my youth has been a leading mentor in my life and to whose care as a young boy I was entrusted by my beloved parents.
So goes his song of praise for a number of sentences further to the figure of his foster father.
It is probably useful to stand still at this phenomenon. Only in the Second World War a Secondary School was established on Curacao which was also frequented by pupils from the other islands and from Suriname where there was also no institute for secondary education.
That meant that up until 1940 young people from the Dutch West Indies, who had ambitions for secondary education (middle school, high school, university) already at the age of between fourteen and fifteen years left for a long period for the Netherlands. They landed in boarding schools or were turned over to foster families.
That sometimes strong ties developed between pupil and foster parents is obvious from the emotional dedication to his foster father in his dissertation.
Van Romondt studied medicine at the University of Leiden and is part of the Corps Leiden’s Freedom Fighters, and as such takes part in the military activities of 1830/1831 against the Belgians, and thus also took part in the Ten Days Campaign. Because of this he lost a year and on October 3rd, 1831, after demobilization, he continued his studies. And then followed on August 7th, 1834 his graduation in Leiden with in the meantime his famous thesis; Rationem, qua systema cutaneum, hepaticum et nervosum in regionibus tropicis affici possunt et morbos praecipuos exinde oriundos. (The reason why the skin-, liver,- and nerve system in the tropics can be attacked and the specific illnesses which are a result of this).
Why famous? Because this is probably the first Dutch dissertation which has tropical diseases as its subject. His promotor is Prof. Macquelin.
Dr. van Romondt writes in his foreword: ‘Now that I have kept myself busy for fifteen years already – with the exception, in which I because of the Belgian insurrection was involved with militias of academic’s, was involved in armed conflict – in the seat of the muses , Leiden, was busy with medical sciences, the solemn day has finally dawned in which I must bring my academic studies to an end; faster than I had thought because if they had not decided otherwise, I would have without a doubt planned to the study of surgery, of which I consider the practice no less desirable in the West Indian islands as that of medicine.
His promotion was a success. The diploma is accompanied with written tributes of rector and professors in which he is given much praise.
They write: ‘When he displayed before us and for the subject a kindness and modesty of spirit, we gladly presented him the certificate with praise and virtue, which he deserves.
After his graduation he returned in 1834 to his native St. Martin and until his death, in 1854, he was a general practitioner in Philipsburg. Already working there at the time was his brother-in-law Dr. Philogene Phillippe Maillard (b. St.Croix June 1st, 1806 and died St. Martin Augugust 31st 1886). His first wife was Susanna Elizabether Illidge van Romondt, sister of Dr. George).
In 1863 the Dutch Government sent out Dr. Hendrik Rijgersma to attend the needs of the liberated slaves. He worked on St. Maarten from 1863 until his death in 1877. He owned the Welgelegen plantation and is remembered as a noted scientist.
Dr. George Illidge van Romondt on his return married Angeline Petersen of St. Barth’s whose parents were Peter Petersen and Ann Maria Laporter. Angeline’s sister Susan was married to Diederick Christian van Romondt (born 1807) and a brother of Dr. George. Their children then were double first cousins.
Dr. George and his wife Angeline had 5 children, the youngest of which was Ann Sophia van Romondt born December 13th, 1849 and who was married to the Dutch engineer Cornelis J. Hudig. In an article ‘My dear Kees’ in the Saba Islander I have written about this couple already.
From his dissertation of 43 pages we quote a few fragments, translated in English from the
Dutch and Latin, to illustrate for that period in time, his intimate knowledge and sharp clinical eye.
Tetanus is a complete tonic convulsion of which the patient himself is no longer aware. The illness causes a general contraction and stiffness of muscles or part of the muscle system; the name of it is different depending on the part which is affected. And so one speaks of real tetanus when a general contraction and stiffness of the muscles is observed, whereby the body spreads itself out completely, and becomes stiff and cannot move. . Opisthotonus when the body is bent over, Emprosthotonus when it bends forward. Trismuss when the lower jaw because of a heavy contraction is pulled in such a way to the upper jaw and the mouth cannot open again. This spasmodic affliction is generally observed in tropical regions because of the great sensitivity and movement of the nervous system. It can develop at the slightest irritation, through a sting or bite of insects, through wounds, damage by exertion, damage of nerves and ‘aponluirosen’ etc. Often also through the cooling of a heated body or by dampness which damage the skin. In the tropics it often occurs that on the ninth day after birth babies are sensitive to this illness.
About a form of paralysis which the inhabitants call beriberi.
Beriberi is a disease which very often leads to a paralytic form; it starts with pain in the small of the back, subsequently the lower limbs and the vocal chords can no longer move, and finally the entire body becomes stiff and cannot move cf. Bontus Medicina Indiorum. This disease which affects the people is called by the inhabitants Beriberi (which resembles the noise of a sheep. I believe because those who have this disease walk like sheep with bended knees and with legs pulled up). There is also a sort which causes paralysis the movement and the feeling in hands and feet and sometimes the entire body becomes different. This disease occurs in the time in which the winds are cold and blow from the continent especially in the months of December and February.
Especially foreigners such as Europeans are very sensitive to this disease, when they are drunk, or sleep in damp places or under a rainy sky. If this disease is not cured quickly a ‘hycerops’ of the joints, swelling of the entire body, stupor and lameness occurs. Healing is not easy, because of which medical practitioners advise the sick to go and live elsewhere or to take a sea journey.
Colica Pictonum appears in the residents of the tropics (dry belly ache). The name comes from the region of Pictavia Galliae (Poitu) where the illness was first discovered to have originated through the use of very sour wine, and a lead solution with which the wines have been impregnated. In the West Indies this illness is endemic. The cause is principally to be found in the lead solutions which is used in the distillation of rum.
This illness is accompanied by a terrible pain of one part of the body to the other. Often accompanied by frequent green vomit. That vomit is so bitter that silver objects become black as if they had been in contact with Sulphur. This is followed by a stubborn constipation, dry tongue covered with a brown layer, and finally- if the illness persists for some time- there develops a lameness of the lower limbs which does not disappear again.
Notes: Much of this article is translated from an article in Caraibische Cadens by Wim Statius van Eps and Robert Royer: ‘Twee Antiliaanse medische studenten en de Tiendaagse Veldtocht.