Torrance Appreciation

David Watt Torrance M.D., O.B.E.

"The Galilee Doctor" and famous son of Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland

"An Appreciation"

Printed in the Glasgow Herald shortly after the death of Dr. Torrance in 1923

Return to home page.   A discussion on his epitaph.

   An Appreciation
    By Rev. G.A. Frank Knight, D.D.
   Convener of the Jewish Mission Committee of
   the United Free Church of Scotland

        The brief notice that appeared in "The Glasgow Herald" on Tuesday announcing the death
of Dr. David W. Torrance of Tiberias must have brought a keen shock of sorrow to the hearts of
thousands in this country.  But even more throughout the East, where he was universally known
and beloved, multitudes of all races and languages and faiths in Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and even
further afield, must have experienced a keen pang of regret when the news spread through the
bazaars that the great doctor, whose name was a household word, had passed away.  It is a great
thing to have so laid out one's life that, when death comes, one is sincerely mourned, and
thousands feel that they are the poorer, and that earth is emptier, because of the loss sustained. 
"Torrance of Tiberias" was such a one.  He was one of the "big" missionaries, whose careers
influence multitudes, and who bring honour to the Gospel.  He has done a magnificent piece of
work for the Kingdom of God.  He gave his life for Palestine, and Galilee today is a place
enormously changed for the better through the self-sacrificing labours of this hero who passed to
his rest last Sunday.

        David Watt Torrance was born in Airdrie in 1862, his paternal grandfather being the Rev.
Robert Torrance, the first minister of the Auld Licht congregation in that town.  His mother's
father was a friend of Sir Walter Scott.  His own father was a surgeon of eminence in Airdrie. 
When the boy was sixteen his father died, and his mother removed with her family to Glasgow. 
Here in 1883 David graduated in medicine, and thus Glasgow University has the honour of having
trained the medical apostle of Galilee.  In 1884 he was sent out to Palestine by the then Free
Church of Scotland, along with the Rev. Dr. Wells, of Pollokshields, and Dr. Laidlaw, of the
Glasgow Medical Mission, on a mission of inquiry.  The state of matters in the cities, towns, and
villages of Galilee, from a medical point of view, was so appalling that, after overcoming the
temptation to accept various lucrative offers of professional service in this country, Torrance
decided to give his life to alleviate the awful conditions of suffering he had seen with his own eyes
in the land where Christ had laboured as a medical missionary. 

       The difficulties, he had to contend with were tremendous. His ignorance of the languages
of the country was a trifle compared with the unsettle condition of the country; the rapacity,
venality, and malevolence of the Turkish officials; the antagonism of the Talmudic Jews; the
bitterness of the Moslem Arabs; the fathomless superstition and bigotry of the peasantry; the
insanitary state of every town and house; the dire poverty of the people; the general backwardness
of the civilization; the tropical climate of Tiberias, where the temperature rises to 117 degrees in
the shade.  But Torrance had made a great discovery that patience and justice, fair dealing, and
the exercise of the Christian love could work miracles, and with steady perseverance and
invincible faith he overcame all difficulties.  Gradually he saw his dreams of social betterment
taking shape.  With a noble ardour he rectified the terrible insanitary conditions which surrounded
him on all hands; he helped to eradicate malarial fever and dysentery; he performed marvelous
cures on patients who flocked to him from all neighbouring lands; he broke down hostility, and he
established a reputation as a great Christian hakim.   Arabs from Central Arabia, over 30 days
journey distant, would arrive on camels, having heard in the midst of the sandy deserts of the
wonderful skill of the Scottish doctor.  Fellahen would show the most childlike faith in his ability
to do anything.  "Cut out my stomach, clean it , and put it in again" asked one sufferer from
dyspepsia.  So widespread was his celebrity that there was scarcely a tribe on the east of Jordan
but revered his name, and in that "no man's land" where the lives of travelers hang by a thread
Torrance could travel freely, even as a king among men.

       One of his ambitions was realised in the erection of the noble hospital overlooking the
lake, which is his monument.  It is impossible to say how many tens of thousands of patients have
been treated here, and have gone away cured to their distant homes to tell of the Christian
kindness they have received.  But can anyone estimate the strain of this incessant work of 39 years
in a tropical climate?   Torrance was a great traveler, and he was never happier than when he was
acting as an itinerant medical missionary in the villages of Galilee.  Frequently in his own case
the experiences of his Divine Master would be repeated--"He went preaching the Gospel of the
Kingdom and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people, and his
fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought unto him all sick people, and" --- as far as
human skill and modern medical and surgical science could go --"he healed them."  I have sailed
with him on the Lake of Galilee in his mission boat The Clyde, and I have heard from his lips tales
of his adventures among the wild tribes of the east of Jordan, and how medical skill opened a
door and brought a welcome.  But is was even more wonderful to stand in his dispensary and see
him at work as, with skillful hands, he passed from one patient to another, and always with good
cheer brought hope and brightness to the daily crowds of miserable sick people.

       He was a great lover of righteousness, and could not take wrongdoing with indifference. 
His manly life and character and outspoken words and deeds did much to create a new ideal of
moral rectitude in a land where social equity was unknown, and much of the advance of Galilee in
Western ideals of civilization is due to him.  He was a great human, a masterful personality, one
who did not suffer fools gladly; but the Oriental admires a man who is not afraid, and Torrance was
singularly daring and courageous.  Above all, he was a missionary of Christ.  He loved the Jewish
race and gave his life to serve them.  "Strange," he said, "we take our Sacred Books from the
Jews, we worship according to their system, we got our Saviour from them, our theology is
largely based on the work of a Jew, yet Christendom turns on them, imprisons them in ghettos,
and then condemns them for being what they are!".  Among those who have laboured to befriend
the Jews, to upraise their moral level, to heal their ancient woes, and to bring them the uplift of
the Christian Gospel none have toiled more faithfully than the famous Scot, "Torrance of

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Dr. Torrance's Epitaph
by David J. Byrne

      When I visited my Grandfather's grave in Tiberias in 1996 I was struck by the simple epitaph on the granite cross that read "Bear ye one another's burdens".  As soon as I could, I looked up "burdens" in a biblical concordance to find and read the full scripture surrounding the words .  I anticipated a verse about caring for each other or perhaps a sermon about taking care of the less fortunate.  Imagine my surprise upon reading Galatians 6, 1-5; the quotation is really a riddle!  It is simply the key that unlocks a scripture of  far deeper meaning and significance. 

          Caring for the sick and the poor was David Torrance's mission, his "work" you might say.  performing this work, his mission,  was the most natural thing in the world for him.  As a true Christian he would never "boast" to others about that work by placing it on his tombstone as a sermon or admonition.   No, he is simply stating that to do the work he did was  "fulfilling the law of Christ".  It is the complete chapter that surrounds this 2nd verse that is the legacy of this true Christian Missionary:  1. Be gentle and humble when you correct others faults, and look to correct your own faults first. 2. Care for one another through love as Christ did. 3. Do not think too highly of yourself for fear you may be deluded.  4. Examine your own life's work and find satisfaction in that before you look to others for praise or to find fault.  5. Carry your own load, make your life a good one so that others can look to you as a true "missionary" of Christ.

        How misguided  to assume the simple explanation that "Bear ye one another's burdens" was the only meaning of his life.  David Watt Torrance's life was much more than that.  And of course any single line of words that you would apply to his life would have a much deeper meaning.  Who ever selected those words must have known him well, and knew the scriptures, because the message they left was a instruction on how to lead your life.  Grandfather would not have judged the people he cared for, he considered his mission of caring a means of keeping the commandments.  I am certain that he died believing that he had not done enough, but knowing that he had done his best.   He certainly carried his load while "bearing the burden" of others.

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