John Farrell Easmon was born in 1856 in Sierra Leone. His paternal family were descendants of African heritage Nova Scotians who arrived in 1792. Easmon's mother Mary Ann McCormack was of Irish heritage.
Easmon enrolled as a medical student at UCL and in 1879, earned the M.R.C.S. from the Royal College of Surgeons). According to Adell Patton, Jr's biography in his final year Easmon took six gold and silver medals. After London he studied in Ireland, receiving permission to practice Ireland before he moved on to Brussells.
After completing his training Easmon was offered employment by a relative, Sir William McCormack, who was president of the Royal College of Surgeons, but he chose to move back to Freetown where he set up his practice at No. 2 East Street. In 1880 Easmon joined the Gold Coast Medical Service. In addition to his practical work which included administering medical departments in 1884 he published Blackwater Fever, which T.S. Gale states was 'the first clinical analysis of the symptoms of the disease in English'.
Patton Jr states,
'while it was recognized as a distinct fever in 1864 and received the nomenclature "blackwater fever" in 1884, Easmon's analysis showed its most important symptoms as severe anemia and excess hemoglobin in the urine. It struck people whose constitutions had been progressively weakened by frequent bouts of falciparum malaria; and with a sizable dose of quinine as the immediate reciprocating factor.'
Easmon's work in this publication as well as in his practice as a doctor led to a significant reputation in the Gold Coast; however, Patton Jr reports of his Blackwater Fever research, 'proper acknowledgement for Easmon's role in this discovery was long in coming'. In 1885 Easmon was based in the Accra General Hospital but during this time the government constantly rotated his postings.
Easmon attempted to obtain the position of colonial surgeon in Sierra Leone in 1892 but Governor Griffiths would not recommend him for the position as he was seen as too valuable to Accra. Thereafter he sought a promotion in the Gold Coast, applying for the position of chief medical officer. Easmon was appointed to the position in June 1893. Patton Jr states 'not since the appointment of Dr. William Fergusson, an Afro-West Indian, as principal medical officer and later governor of the Sierra Leone Colony in 1845, had an African medical officer been so promoted in such an important colony.' In this position there was a stipulation that meant private practice had to be given up except for in special circumstances.
Adell Patton Jr has explored colonial 'scientific' racism in the development of medical administration in late nineteenth century colonial West Africa and Easmon's career illustrates this anti-black racism against African doctors and scientists. Governor Maxwell opposed an African heading the medical office, developed an animosity towards Easmon and started gathering information on him. Desiring him out of office, Maxwell then charged him with commercial enterprises, which were forbidden for public officials unless authorised. Easmon worked hard defending himself but eventually was forced into resigning and then moved into private practice at Cape Coast.
On 16 June 1900 the Sierra Leone Weekly News reported:
'The sad and startling intelligence of the death of Dr. J. Farrell Easmon of Cape Coast was received by cablegram on Sunday morning, 10th inst., by his brother Dr. Albert W. Easmon of Fourah-bay-road. The cause of death is said to be pneumonia. The cablegram was sent by Lawyer Renner, who is brother-in-law to Dr. Easmon's wife. The news was circulated in town with rapidity, and there was a general feeling of sympathy expressed that such a gifted and talented man should be cut off in the very prime of life. Dr. J. Farrell Easmon who in 1880, was recognized at University College, London, as one of the most distinguished and prominent students in his year, having gained the gold medals and scholarships of the year, was well known in the Colony, and his successful practice in medicine, and in suavity in manners, endeared him to the large circle in which his practice was founded.'
On 11 August 1900 The Weekly News (Sierra Leone) reported:
'Mrs. Annette Catheline Easmon, wife of the late Dr. J. Farrell Easmon - the intelligence of whose lamented death was cabled from Cape Coast on the morning of June 10, was, with her two children, a passenger for Sierra Leone in the steamship Axim which arrive in Port last Saturday. In the July number of "West Africa," we cull the following notice in reference to the deceased gentleman :-
The death is just announced of John Farrell Easmon, one of the best authorities on the diseases of tropical climates. The deceased, who died of Pneumonia on June 9 at Cape Coast, West Africa, was educated at University College, London, where he had a distinguished career. In 1884 he published a treatise on "The Nature and Treatment of Black-water Fever."
The Doctor, widely known, as an ardent lover of printed matter and, as a close student, was the possessor of no fewer than eleven thousand volumes - many of these, being publications in French, German, an English, of travels in West Africa, from the earliest times down to the present. Surely, if the English people could recall with pride, the memory of three of their busiest, and yet, most accomplished, literati of their day - CARTFET, BROUGHAM and GLADSTONE - we too could think with satisfaction of the efforts, and, may I not add, of the achievements, in their own humble way - of a PARKES an EASMON and a GUERNEY NICOL! May they also rest in peace!'
Adell Patton, Jr., 'Dr. John Farrell Easmon: Medical Professionalism and Colonial Racism in the Gold Coast, 1856-1900, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 22, 4 (1989)
'Death of Dr. J. Farrell Easmon', The Sierra Leone Weekly News, 16 June 1900
The Weekly News (Sierra Leone), 11 August 1900
England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921 for John Farrell Easmon, via ancestry.co.uk