Sydney Mowatt


William Robinson Clarke

‘Whirlwind life of builder turned top chemist’

1925- 1999

Share this:

When Sydney Mowatt boarded the Empire Windrush at the age of 23 he was already part-owner of several properties in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

In 1943, he had travelled to the USA to work as a farm labourer. While there he took a correspondence course in land surveying and returned home with plans to set up a property development company with his brothers.

In the meantime, he worked at Mais and Saint, Architects and Engineers, as a senior carpenter, then clerk of works, before jointly opening a professional draughting office in John Lane, Kingston.

Born in Spanish Town on February 19, 1925, Sydney was the grandson of Andrew Duffus Mowatt, who founded the Jamaica Burial Scheme Society (JBSS) in 1901 to provide burials for poor Jamaicans through an inexpensive payment plan. In 2001, to celebrate the centenary of the JBSS, a postage stamp bearing Andrew’s image was produced.

After the shortage of cement and corrugated steel in Jamaica left the building trade stagnant, Sydney decided that England might be a better bet for his ambitions.

Sydney, full name Sydney Augustus Duffus Mowatt, spent his first few nights in London at the Clapham South Deep Shelter, a former war-time bunker that had been set aside as temporary accommodation by the government.

After moving to Fulham, west London, he found a job working on the restoration of a high-rise office block in the West End. Deciding that the building industry was not for him after all, he

enrolled at Regent Street Polytechnic for a two- year course, majoring in chemistry. His next stop was Chelsea College to study for a BSc in pure and applied sciences.

He began his new career as a chemist at the Wellcome Research Foundation in Dartford, Kent. Outside of work, he was involved in a number of concerns, including the West Indian Student’s Union (WISU), spearheading the formation of the WISU Technical and Scientific Society to promote science and technology in the West Indies.

His next post was at the research institute at Cromwell House, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. He was interviewed by the famous toxicologist, Professor Alastair Worden.

While working there, Sydney had a daughter, Lesley, with a Scottish research zoologist, and she is now an actress and playwright. He left England in 1960, spending time in the USA before returning to his homeland.

In 1962, Sydney oversaw drug testing at the Jockey Club of Jamaica. Initially, the racing samples were flown to New York for testing but Sydney set up his own specialised laboratory, Industrial Scientific Research, at Harbour View, Kingston, to do the job. In 1967, he visited the UK, New York and Miami to study anti-doping methods used overseas.

He died in Jamaica on January 13, 1999, aged 73, at Midland Drive, Kingston. He had three other children: Michelle, Alastair and Lizette. Michelle is a Chartered Accountant in the USA and Lizette is Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of the West Indies.

Share this: