Davidson Nicol (1924-1994)


Dr Davidson Nicol was a Sierra Leonean academic, diplomat, physician, writer and poet.

He was born in 1924 in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone.  His family belonged to the Creole minority who were an educated and elite ex-slave community and he attended primary school in Nigeria. In 1942 Nicol obtained a government scholarship to Christ's College to read the Natural Sciences Tripos and and in 1946 graduated with first class honours, the first black African to have done so.  He earned his PhD in 1958 and then proceeded to study for a medical degree at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, Univeristy of London's medical school.  Following the completion of his studies, he lectured at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

Nicol was also the first black African elected as a Fellow of a Cambridge college, becoming a Fellow of Christ's in February 1957.  He significantly contributed to medical science when he was the first to analyse the breakdown of insulin in the human body, a discovery which was a breakthrough for the treatment of diabetes.

In 1959, Nicol returned to Freetown which meant he had to resign his Fellowship, but he retained his affection for Christ's throughout his life, and particularly valued the Honorary Fellowship to which the College elected him in 1972.

Beginning in 1960, Nicol was the first native principal of the prestigious Fourah Bay College in Freetown as well as a member of the Public Service Commission.  He continued his administrative career at the university level in Sierra Leone as first the chairman (1964-69) then as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sierra Leone (1966-69).

In 1969 he became the Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, which he served as until 1971.  In that year, he became the High Commissioner to the United Kingdon, which ended in 1972.  He then became the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations under Austrian Kurt Waldheim, which he served as until 1982.  While serving as Under-Secretary-General, he also served as head of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

Nicol was awarded the Margaret Wrong Prize and Medal for Literature in Africa and received ten Honorary Doctorates for universities in three continents. His public services were recognised by the award to him of the important decorations from Sierra Leone, South Korea, Liberia and (from the UK) by appointment as Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Nicol lived in Thornton Road, Cambridge for many years frequently visiting Christ's and was made a disintinguished Honorary Fellow, meanwhile serving from 1987 until retiring in 1991 as a visiting professor of International Studies at the University of California (1987-88) and the University of South Carolina (1990-91). He retired in 1991 at the age of 67 to Cambridge, where he died three years later at the age of 70.

Published work:

Africa, A Subjective View, 1964

Two African Tales, 1965

The Truly Married Woman, and Other Stories, 1965

Creative Women, 1982