Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

The Death of a Brave Man

halliday gibson sutherland

Completing his medical degree at Edinburgh in 1906, Halliday Sutherland travelled to Huelva, a seaport at the Mouth of the Odiel River in South-Western Spain. Here, he stayed with his uncle cousin [corrected 30 June 2022], Dr Ian Macdonald who had a large ground-floor flat in what is now the Hotel Colon (contemporary Google Street View here).

Dr Macdonald ran a clinic, and Halliday was there to gain experience. He described it in his 1933 bestseller, The Arches of the Years:

The clinic was in a street at the other end of town. It was an old house with a patio in the centre. The operating-theatre, consulting room, laboratory and single rooms were on the upper floor. On the ground level was a small ward of six beds for poorer people, and the kitchen. The catering was simple, because every patient had to arrange for a relative, friend, or servant to provide meals. There was an English sister and two Spanish male nurses—father and son—who lived on the premises.

My work at the clinic was both varied and interesting.

During this time, he treated a brave Scottish engineer:

Ships of many nations came into the river, and each paid an inclusive fee for medical services in port. From nine until eleven o’clock sailors who could attend were seen at the clinic, others were visited on board, and serious cases admitted as in-patients. One of these was a young Scottish engineer who was badly burnt. A paraffin lamp had exploded at the end of a gangway alongside the engine-room and the passage was set ablaze. Beyond the flames was the chief engineer’s cabin, cut off by the fire. Thinking his chief was asleep, the young assistant went through the flames to rouse him, found he was not in his cabin and came back through the fire. More than a third of his body was burnt and death was almost certain. One morning he had been visited by the chaplain attached to the English colony in the town, and that afternoon, as I was dressing his burns, he said: “I know I’m going to die, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to be frightened about afterwards. D’ye think I’ll be punished for my sins?”

“Were you talking to the parson this morning?”

“Aye, but I did not understand what he was saying. Maybe I was sleepy.”

“There’s nothing to be frightened about. Whatever happens to the rest of us, you’ll never be punished. Men have got the V.C. for less than you did.”


“You’ve done the greatest thing a man can do—you’ve given your life for your friend; and you know that the Bible says: ‘Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friend.'”

“I never thought of that.”

“Think of it now.”


The next day he was dead, and at the time I who reassured him was an agnostic.

From The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland.

Next post: 1 September 2015

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This entry was posted on 1 August 2015 by in Books, Huelva, Spain, The Arches of the Years.

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