Herbert Watt Torrance
Medical Missionary (1892-1977)


David Watt Torrance (1862-1923), son of Dr Thomas Torrance of Airdrie (b.1809) was educated at Glasgow University, graduating MB in 1883. Despite being offered a post at Glasgow Infirmary he travelled to Palestine in 1884 and assisted in the inauguration of the Sea of Galilee Medical Mission. Following further training in Egypt, Damascus and Nazareth he returned in 1885 to Tiberias and opened the first hospital for those of any race or religion in two rooms near the Franciscan monastery. A move to Beit abu Shamnel abu Hannah preceded the opening of a new hospital with 24 beds and 6 cots in 1894. He was ordained in the Free Church of Scotland in 1895. During World War I (1914-1918), Dr Torrance served as resident officer in charge of Oakbank War Hospital in the west of Scotland.

In 1890 Dr Torrance married Lydia Huber, daughter of Rev James Huber, CMS missionary in Nazareth. Four children were born of this marriage; Gordon, Stuart, Herbert (1892) and Lydia (1894). Lydia Torrance died in 1894 giving birth to her daughter. In 1895 he married Eleanor A. Durie, daughter of Thomas Durie of Port Said. A daughter Marjory was born and possibly a son. Eleanor Torrance died in the cholera epidemic of 1902. His third wife was Elizabeth W. Curtiss of Hertford, Connecticut whose father had been teaching at Beirut University. Five children were born of this marriage; Olive, Sue, Lois, Phyllis and Curtiss.

Dr D.W. Torrance died in Tiberias on 26 August, 1923.

Herbert Watt Torrance (1892-1977) was educated at Glasgow University, graduating MB in 1916. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, served in France and Serbia and was awarded the Military Cross. After demobilization he returned to Glasgow University as demonstrator and lecturer and to study for the FRCS. In 1921 he was awarded the degree of MD with commendation for a thesis on Tay-Sachs disease. The same year he went to Tiberias and in 1923 became superintendent of the hospital. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. For services rendered during the British Mandate in Palestine he was awarded the OBE.

In 1924 he married Irma May Marshall and two daughters were born. Julia (1927) and Lydia (1929). Following the death of his first wife [1938] he married Gladys Radford who had initially gone to Haifa before moving to Tiberias to become matron of the hospital. At the outbreak of World War II he and his wife returned from leave in the USA and UK to Tiberias, remaining there for the duration of war.

Following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 the mission hospital in 1949 became a maternity hospital responsible for midwifery and gynaecology in Northern Galilee under the Israeli Department of Health. In 1959 the government intimated the end of this agreement and the hospital closed. A hospice for travellers was established in the buildings and a resident minister and bookshop continue the work of mission in Tiberias. Dr H.W. Torrance retired to Dundee in 1953 and died in 1977.

Photography was an abiding interest for Herbert Watt Torrance. The collection provides a record of the main period of the British Mandate, the increasing rate of Jewish immigration and the impact of the State of Israel on the landscape. It also contains many photographs of medical conditions which subsequently have been eradicated. Dr Torrance’s interest in flowers, animals and archaeology is well represented and many photographs show examples of the “biblical situations” popular with photographers. The collection also contains a number of G. Eric Matson and Felix Bonfils photographs.

The work of the Torrance family for both Arab and Jew is commemorated in Tiberias by the Torrance Square which bears a dedication “Dr David and Herbert Torrance Square 1962” in black basalt stone.

The collection has been placed on indefinite loan in the University of Dundee Archive Services by Mrs Gladys Torrance.


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