This edited article about missionaries originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 290 published on 5 August 1967.
Hunting, shooting, and fishing – the traditional activities of an English country gentleman – were the chief interests of Henry Holland as a very young man. Born at Durham in 1875, he spent much of his youth in the border country of Northumberland. His education at Loretto School, near Edinburgh, helped to make him the seasoned sportsman that he always remained.
Shortly after his 18th birthday he decided to become a doctor, “in order to avoid going into the Church”, as he afterwards admitted. His father and grandfather had both been clergymen; Henry, though a sincere Christian, wanted to do something different.
It was while studying medicine at Edinburgh that he began to feel that he ought to become a medical missionary rather than an ordinary doctor. In 1900 he responded to an urgent appeal for someone to go to Quetta, in Baluchistan, so that the only missionary doctor there could go on leave.
In those days Quetta was an important outpost of the Indian army. There was often border warfare, involving the Afghans and the fierce Pathan tribes. Life was very primitive, with plenty of work for the Mission Hospital to which young Dr. Holland was posted.
He soon found that the commonest complaints were eye diseases of various kinds. He had no special training in the treatment of these, but found that ‘experience is the best teacher’. Within a year or two he had become quite expert in the surgery needed to cure the form of blindness known as ‘cataract’. In time he became an authority on this and other diseases of the eye, while dealing with many other kinds of sickness and injury, often under the most primitive conditions. In the hard travelling by horse and mule, his early skill at riding proved a great advantage.
Year after year he spent in this work, extending the hospital and opening up clinics in other centres. In 1935 he survived one of the most terrible disasters ever recorded. A violent earthquake destroyed Quetta; 20,000 people were killed in less than a minute. Dr. Holland was buried in the rubble of his house, but managed to escape, and to take a leading part in bringing medical aid to those in need and particularly in preventing the spread of disease after the earthquake.
Under his enthusiasm and enterprise the wrecked hospital was rebuilt. For another 30 years he continued to organise its work, and was joined by his two sons, who had both become doctors like himself. His great services to medicine were recognised by the conferring on him of a knighthood in 1936, and his reputation as an authority of international standing on diseases of the eye led to his being invited to advise on the condition of the Emir of Afghanistan in 1948.
He retired at the age of 73, but lived to be 90, after giving more than half a century of pioneer service in what is still a remote part of Asia.
Scores of thousands of people owe the recovery or the preservation of their sight to the bravery and devotion of Dr. Holland.