Suzie Marshall, wonderful volunteer with the local studies department in Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries, has spent many hours researching the life and family history of two of Dunfermline’s former residents . Firstly we find out about…

Vonda Sturrock – missionary in the Congo

Vonda Melvill Sturrock was born in Dunfermline on 30th January 1902 the only child of Peter Sturrock Sturrock and Ada Edith Sturrock (nee Clark) who had met and married in Baghdad in 1900 where they were both working as misssionaries. The family lived at 25 Canmore Street, moving to 7 Comely Bank when Vonda was about 8. 

Growing up she had a busy life, singing in choirs and playing the organ, learning Greek, studying the bible, helping her father dispense medicine and teaching at Sunday School. She studied Cello at the Carnegie Musical Institute from the age of 11 

In July 1923 after breaking off an engagement, she felt called to follow in the family footsteps to become a missionary. She was accepted as a missionary candidate by the Africa Inland mission in August 1923 but had to spent two years of Faith Mission training to study the bible which she did at Livingstone College (1924-1926)

 Following that she spent two years studying medicine (1926-1928) and also took a book-keeping course.  Her training wasn’t finished as she was introduced to missionary work by being on “deputation” in Northern Ireland before finally, in March 1933 taking a diploma of Tropical Medicine in Belgium before sailing for the Congo in 1934


Vonda took a furlough from Missionary work in 1939 but didn’t return to the Congo, living in Edinburgh until her death in 1987. 

Whilst looking into Vonda’s fascinating archive, Suzie found several other remarkable women in Vonda’s family tree, most notably her great aunt, but we can’t claim her in Fife.

Agnes Marshall Cowan

  She was born 19/4/1880 and died 22/8/1940 Agnes was one of the first fully qualified female physicians in Britain and a medical missionary in Manchuria during the plague years. Her father was Sir John Cowan a business leader, wine merchant and a philanthropist. Educated at Edinburgh University where she graduated with an M.B. Ch.B in July 1906 she then became House Physician at Leith Hospital. Later, she was appointed House Surgeon Eye Dept. Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. 

By 1913, Agnes was working as a medical missionary in Manchuria at the time under Russian influence and experiencing political unrest. In March 1914, she was based at the hospital in Ashiho, near Harbin, in northern China. She later worked at the hospital in Mukden (modern day Shenyang) as a midwife. The hospitals were supported by the University of Edinburgh and the Church of Scotland and sponsored by charities in Scotland. 

Agnes returned to Britain during  WW1 and was appointed as assistant medical officer at HM Cordite Factory Gretna in April 1917. In May 1918 she served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and was attached as medical officer to Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  

Following the end of the war in 1919 Agnes returned to Manchuria and was appointed to work again at the Woman’s Hospital in Mukden. She was also appointed a Member Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Her work in Manchuria included lecturing as a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Mukden Medical College against a background of political unrest in the region following the Japanese annexation of Manchuria in 1931. She finally returned to Scotland in 1939 suffering from ill health. 

To find out more about Vonda and the archive of information left to Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries contact us on For the month of March DCLG has a display in the Reading Room showing more of Vonda’s story.