Alexandre Yersin: from Switzerland to Vietnam (at his time French Indochina) or with other words an exceptional life for an extraordinary person.
Who knows about Alexandre Yersin today? This website is intended to honour the
memory of the man who discovered the bacillus of plague 1894 in Hong Kong. This brilliant discovery, achieved by simple means at a time of growing interest for the microbiological science. But Yersin had aquired a solid knowledge of it at Pasteur Institute
in Paris and Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. From one day to the other Yersin got famous, but although he understood rapidly how to gain benefits out of his reputation, he remained a very simple and modest man, offering his life to the wellfare of humanity.
The striking example of his exceptional life shows how full-fledged life always exceeds what has been created by man and invariably carries significant messages.
Yersin was not a friend of public life, nore was he a typical example of the colonial invader.
For this he carried to much humanity with him. He was a very discrete person and very few were those who really got to know him. He felt particularly well among poor people and children.
Yersin was born in the french speaking part of Switzerland and
later on studied medicine in Marburg a.d.L. (Germany) and Paris (France). In 1889 he got the french nationality, and after having achieved highstanding scientific work at Pasteur Institute in Paris he suddenly felt attracted by faraway lands. He was engaged
by the french shipping company "Messageries Maritimes" or simply "MM" and reached Saigon in French Indochina (Vietnam today) in October 1890. He was then appointed as a crew medical officer by MM and travelled for about one year between Saigon and Manila (Philippines)
and between Saigon and Haiphong (Tonkin at that time, Northvietnam today).
The narrative of the life of Yersin is read as an adventure novel. He was not only a physician and outstanding scientist, but also a seaman, an adventurer and explorer, geographer,
grower, breeder, expert in wireless telegraphy, meteorologist, astronomer, photographer. May be we have forgotten something. In short: he was a restless seeker with an untamed curiosity, blessed by an extraordinary intelligence, who had offered his life to
science and humanity. As plague raged in Hong Kong in 1894 he was 31 years old and it took him only three weeks to isolate the plgue bacillus out of inguinal buboes (protruding lymph nodes filled with pus and bacteria).
Although his discovery opened
him the doors to a brilliant scientific career, he preferred staying in French Indochina, but withdrawing to a place of quiet and isolation, on the coast of Annam (today central part of Vietnam), where he founded the Pasteur Institute of Nha Trang in 1895,
to continue his work on plague and other diseases of man and animals.
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