Alexander R B Soga: famous South African doctor

Head and shoulders photograph of Alexander Soga in a shirt, tie, waistcoat and jacket, with his signature below
Photograph of Alexander Soga. University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, Final Year Dinner Book collection, GB248 DC225/1/10

Alexander Robert Bogue Soga joined the Baths on 26th April 1912.

He was a medical student from South Africa.

He was born on 3 October 1888 in Elliotdale, in Eastern Cape Province

He was awarded his medical degree by Glasgow University in 1912.

But he was not the first in his family to study at Glasgow.

His grandfather: Tiyo Soga, teacher and minister

His grandfather Tiyo Soga, entered the University in 1851. The University Story website has more details about his life:

“Tiyo Soga, the son of a Xhosa-speaking chief from South Africa, was one of the first African ordained ministers in South Africa. Soga was educated at Lovedale Missionary Institution, before circumstances led to him continuing his higher education in Scotland in 1846….

“Baptised in 1848 in John Street Church, the Juvenile Missionary Society of the Church agreed to pay for Soga’s education, and afterwards pay his salary as a teacher when he went back to South Africa.

“On his return to Scotland in 1851, the Congregation met all the costs to his ordination. Soga matriculated at the University in November 1851… On 10 December 1856 Tiyo Soga became the first black South African to be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church.”

Photograph of Tiyo Soga from Tiyo Soga: A Page of South African Mission Work by John A Chalmers, 1877. Available on the Internet Archive

Tiyo Soga married a Scottish woman called Janet Burnside and they had seven children.

There’s more about Janet Burnside, including a photo, and all of her and Toyo’s children on the Mole Geneaology blog

Tiyo and Janet’s youngest son was Allan Kirkland Soga, a journalist and campaigner for African liberation.

There’s more about him on The Journalist website and South African History Online.


His father: William Anderson Soga: doctor and missionary

Alexander’s father – William Anderson Soga – was born in South Africa in 1858.

He also attended Glasgow University where he graduated as a doctor in 1883. In 1885 he was also ordained as a United Presbyterian Church missionary.

In the 1881 census William A Soga, aged 23, was living at 54 Garnethill Street. though his occupation is recorded as civil engineer.

In 1885 he married a Scottish woman, called Mary Agnes Meikle, who was born in Cardross in 1866. They had two children,  Mary Agnes Buchanan Soga, who was born in about 1886/7 and Alexander.

The Glasgow University Story explains that William returned to South Africa and established the Miller Mission in Bomvanaland near Elliotdale in 1888, where he served as a medical missionary.

He was the first person of colour to practise as a medical missionary in Transkei.

Alexander Soga in Scotland

Entry in the Medical Students Register giving his name as SOGA, Alexander Robert Boag; details of his premliminary exams as Scot. Ed Deprt. June 1906 and Glasg. Prel. October 1907; date of registration is Nov 5; and the place and date that he commenced his studies, as Univ. Glasg. October 18
The Wellcome Trust; London, England; Medical Students Register; Reference Number: b24389602_i1375290x

Alexander is registered at the University of Glasgow in the 1907 Medical Students Register, starting his course on 18 October. He graduated with medical degree in 1912.

His father William, by now 54, and his mother Agnes, arrived by ship in Southampton on 6 Jul 1912, and presumably they came to Scotland to see their son.

In his article, The first black doctors and their influence in South Africa, Professor B M Mayosi writes that following his father who was the first black medical doctor in South Africa, Alexander became the seventh black doctor in the country.

“Before 1940, there were no opportunities for training in medicine in South Africa (SA) for people who were not white. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) took the first black medical students in 1941, and was followed shortly by the University of Cape Town (UCT).”

Alexander was getting towards the end of his studies when he joined the Baths. Perhaps he felt he now had the time to enjoy some leisure activities. He joined as a supernumerary member for six months.

Supernumerary member: 6 months Date: 26th April 1912 Name in full: Alexander R. B. Soga Age: Profession: Medical Student Home address: South Africa House Address: c/o Mrs Seiler, Laurelbank, Partick Proposed by: Ernest G J Thom Membership number: 50 S Admitted: 9 May 1912
Proposal form for Alexander Soga. Arlington Baths Proposal Book: Supernumerary Members 1912-1916. (Glasgow City Archives TD965/34)

His address in Glasgow, was c/o Mrs Seiler, Laurelbank, Partick. But he stayed in Scotland for several more years, and like his grandfather and father, he married a Scottish woman..

On 2 August 1916 he married Lilias Patricia Grandison at Redvers Oak in Transy Place , Dunfermline. They were both 28 years old. Lilias’ father was William Baird Grandison,  a damask designer, and her mother was called Margaret Grandison.

At this time Alexander was employed at at The Infirmary in Greenock. His father died in 1916, and, according to the Glasgow University Story, William’s brother and Alexander’s uncle, Reverend John Henderson Soga, took over the mission station.

His mother died in South Africa in 1919. It’s not clear when they went, but by 1920 Alexander and Lillias were living in there too: the UK and Ireland Medical Directory listed him at Fairview, Elliotdale, Cape Province.

But the family returned often to Scotland, presumably to visit relatives. On 14 Jun 1927, Alexander, Lillias, and their three children, Denis (9), Donovan (7), and Esme Margaret (5), arrived by ship in London, having travelled from Mozambique. Their onward address was 12 Park Terrace in Dunfermline.

On 13 April 1931 Alexander, Lillias and their eight-year old daughter Esme, arrived by ship in Southampton from Durban. This time they were planning to travel on to Mayland, Selkirk. And he and Lillias came again in 1937, arriving in 19 July at Southampton, again on their way to Selkirk.

Another Soga in Glasgow

The family continued the tradition of sending the children to Scotland to be educated. In November 1925, William Anderson Soga, arrived at Southampton. He was described as being a scholar living at 1 Vinicombe Street in Glasgow.

He was Alexander’s cousin, born in born 4 September 1908, the son of Reverend John Henderson Soga and his wife Isabelle.

In the electoral register of 1931 he was still at the same address in Glasgow though by 1935 he had moved to  12 Ruthven Street.

In 1936 Reverend John Henderson Soga, retired from the work at the Mission, and he and his wife settled in England. By 1939 their son was also living with them at 1 Twyford Avenue, Shirley, in Hampshire. He was now doing war work as a clerk at the Air Ministry.

Tragically, the whole family was killed by a bomb on 11 March 1941.

Alexander was in South Africa during the War. In 1942 his address in the UK and Ireland Medical Directory was Evelyn Street, Idutywa, South Africa.

He died in 1949 in Cape Province in South Africa.

Researcher: Lucy


After we published this story some people got in touch to share more about this amazing family:



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