Davidson Nicol

Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby Nicol
Student photograph of Davidson Nicol.jpg
Personal details
Born (1924-09-14)14 September 1924
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Died 20 September 1994(1994-09-20) (aged 70)
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Profession physician, professor, scientist, diplomat, writer, poet, historian

Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby Nicol CMG or pen named Abioseh Nicol (14 September 1924 – 20 September 1994) was a Sierra Leone Creole academic, diplomat, physician, writer and poet. He was able to secure degrees in the arts, science and commercial disciplines and he contributed to science, history, and literature. Nicol was the first African to graduate with first class honours from the University of Cambridge and he was also the first African elected as a fellow of a college of Cambridge University. Davidson Nicol also 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.[1]

Early life

Nicol was born as Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby Nicol on 14 September 1924 in Bathurst, Sierra Leone, to Jonothan Josibiah Nicol. He taught at the Prince of Wales School in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, and studied on a scholarship at Christ's College, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, graduating with a BA in natural science in 1947. He was the first black African to graduate with first-class honours. He got a medical degree from London Hospital Medical College. On 11 August 1950, he was married to Marjorie Esmé of Trinidad. They had five children.[2][3]

In the early 1950s, he taught at the Ibadan University medical school, researching topical malnutrition, before returning to Cambridge in 1954.[2][3] In 1957, he was named the first black African Fellow of a Christ's College,[4] and went to the college to research insulin under famed scientist Frederick Sanger. He published two works on the topic, The Mechanism of Action of Insulin and The Structure of Human Insulin. both in 1960. He had returned to Freetown in 1958, and was working for the Sierra Leonean government as a pathologist.[3]


Davidson Nicol, Fourah Bay College, (far right)

Beginning in 1960, Nicol was the first native principal of Fourah Bay College in Freetown for eight years. While principal of the college, he led a large expansion program.[2] Nicol was a member Public Service Commission until 1968. Nicol continued his administrative career at the university level in Sierra Leone as first the chairman (1964–68) then as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sierra Leone (1966–68).[5] In 1964, he was appointed a CMG.


Nicol left academia in 1968 to become the Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, which he served as until 1971. In that year, Nicol became the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, which ended in 1972. In 1972, Nicol 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, Nicol also served as head of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). He was also at one point ambassador of Sierra Leone to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.[5][6] He was President of the United Nations Security Council in September 1970.[6]

Return to academia and retirement

He maintained a home for many years in Thornton Road, Cambridge, England, frequently visiting Christ's College, of which he had been made a distinguished 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 University of South Carolina (1990–91). Nicol retired in 1991 at the age of 67 to Cambridge, where he died three years later at the age of 70.[7] He was president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations from 1983 to 1987.[5][6]

Nicol's writings

Beginning in 1965 with Two African Tales,[8] Nicol was a published author of short stories, as well as poetry, music, academic literature and a biography of Africanus Horton, an early Sierra Leonean author and one of the founders of African Nationalism. His last piece of published work was Creative Women in 1982.[3][5][9]

Selected bibliography

  • Africa, A Subjective View, 1964
  • Two African Tales, 1965
  • The Truly Married Woman, and Other Stories, 1965
  • Creative Women, 1982



  1. ^ "Dr Davidson Nicol | Christs College Cambridge". www.christs.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Dr Davidson Nicol;Obituary". The Times. 19 October 1994.
  3. ^ a b c d "Nicol, Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55166. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "NICOL, Davidson Sylvester Abioseh". An African Biographical Dictionary - Credo Reference. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d "Davidson Nicol", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  6. ^ a b c Pace, Eric (28 September 1994). "Davidson Nicol Is Dead at 70; Was Doctor and U.N. Official". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  7. ^ Pace, Eric. "Davidson Nicol Is Dead at 70; Was Doctor and U.N. Official". Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  8. ^ Griffiths, Gareth (19 September 2014). African Literatures in English: East and West. Routledge. p. 384. ISBN 978-1-317-89585-5.
  9. ^ Mair, Lucille Mathurin; Nicol, Davidson S.H.W.; Pintasilgo, Maria de Lourdes; Stokland, Torill.; Vajrathon, Mallica. (1982). "Creative women in changing societies". United Nations Digital Library System.