Bancroft Exhibition – Mosquito and Parasite Research

The Bancroft Exhibition Notes, Edited by Karen Tyler and Huxley Baberowski.

Mosquito and Parasite Research – Thomas and Josephine Bancroft

Firstly, it was believed that the way the filariasis (parasite) was transmitted to people was when people drank it in water.

Thomas Bancroft let mosquitoes bite a patient who had the filariasis disease, so they got infected with it. He then dissected the mosquitoes at different stages of development, and was able to illustrate how filariasis developed. He thought that when a mosquito ‘bit’ a person, they passed the larvae, or young parasite into the person, like an injection.

By dissecting and examining the filariasis during each stage of their development, Thomas tried to find out if this was true, but because he cut their heads off to dissect them, he could no examine the mosqitoes’ proboscis and could not see what was in it.

He sent specimens to England, and another scientist called G.C Low found the larvae in the proboscis. Thomas showed that these larvae could no live in water, and so could not be infecting people through drinking water. So it was able to be shown that the mosquito proboscis was how the infection was passed on.

josephine bancroft mosquitoes and parasite research
Captain Josephine Mackerras at the microscope. The work of the unit on malaria was pertinent to the fighting capacity of the Australian troops; and placed the study of drug effects on the malarial parasite on a secure scientific basis

Mosquito and Parasite Research and the War

Josephine also was fascinated by mosquitoes and continued her father’s research, making the distinction between many different species of mosquito. During World War II she worked at finding out more about malaria, so the soldiers who suffered from it could be cured and the other soldiers protected from it. To do this, she handled 233,000 engorged mosquitoes and performed 38,000 mosquito dissections.

During the Wars she was Captain Josephine Mackerras, in the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit, Second A.I.F., Cairns.

The work of the unit on malaria was one of the most important factors that lead to the allied victory in the Pacific, in World War Two. The General in charge of the Medical Services wrote that ‘Few women, other than Josephine Mackerras, can have make a greater contribution to the Allied war effort.


  • The Bancroft Tradition Edited by John Pearn and Lawarie Powell
  • The Bancrofts, Elizabeth Marks and Josephine Bancroft
  • The Impact of the Bancroft Kindred on Australian Medical Science, Frank Fenner
  • The prepared Mind, Lesley Williams


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