Sunday, 24 April 2016

Daphne de Waal (1896 - 1971) - South African poet and writer

Daphne Charlotte Aimee de Waal was born on 11th February 1896 in Cape Town, South Africa.  Her father was Sir (Nicolaas) Frederick de Waal, originally from Rotterdam who became the first Administrator of Cape Province in 1910.  Dephne’s was Sara Catherina Marina du Toit.

Daphne travelled to England and when she returned to South Africa, she married Royden McIntosh Muir in 1923.   Royden, who was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1891, was a doctor.  He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and was a volunteer  Temporary Lieutenant with the Royal Army Medical Corps.  After qualifying, Royden became a ship’s doctor and travelled extensively.  During the First World War, he served with the RAMC in France and then joined a Hospital Ship, serving in the Dardanelles, India and East Africa.  After the war he studied to become an anaesthetist in London before moving to South Africa in 1921.

Daphne became blind apparently while undergoing an appendectomy in a Cape Town hospital.  It seems a doctor accidentally spilled some anaesthetic on her eyes which caused the burning of the corneas.   Using her married name of Mrs Daphne Muir, Daphne wrote and published five books while her sight was impaired.   She heard of the experimental work of Dr. Tudor Thomas from Cardiff, Wales who had successfully transplanted corneas onto rabbits and dogs in sight restoring experiments.   In September 1933, Daphne began treatment that culminated in a cornea transplant in April 1934.  After the procedure, in strong sunlight she had to wear sunglasses but otherwise her sight was restored to normal.  Daphne was the first person to have the sight of both eyes restored in a cornea transplant operation.   

In 1927, Daphne moved permanently to England, where she died in Stockbridge,  Hampshire in 1971.

Daphne occasionally used the pen name Daphne Muir

Daphne’s WW1 poetry collections were:

“Soldiers Immortal and Other Poems” published by Maskew Miller, Cape Town in 1917 and “Curious Beasts and Tragic Tales”, published in 1925 by Juta and Co., Cape Town.

The artist Mabel Hill (mother of the famous plastic surgeon Archie McIndoe) painted Daphne’s portrait in 1934.