Evans W. Cottman with Wyatt Blassingame
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963
248 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 2011

This was the second time I have read Evans Cottman’s story. In 1964, when the book was published, I was living on Grand Bahama Island, finishing up two years of teaching 5th through 8th grades at Mary, Star of the Sea School. Someone in our small community of Freeport got a copy of the book and loaned it to me. Soon I had my own copy.

Out-Island Doctor is the story of Evans Cottman’s life in the Bahamas, especially the years on Crooked Island and his itinerate life from Abaco as, as he says, an out-island doctor.

Cottman was born in 1902, went to Butler University and graduated with a masters degree in biochemistry. For about 20 years he taught science in Madison, Indiana, was a bachelor and dreamed of doing something different. In 1939, as he remembers it, he first decided to retire early and go do something else with his life. After some study, he went down to visit the out-islands of the Bahamas to see if that was, indeed, his dream home. It was.

The Bahamas is a large chain of hundreds, actually over a thousand islands, many small and relatively few inhabited. Nassau was in Cottman’s day the only real “city” in the Bahamas, still the capital and on the island of New Providence. Everything else was then called the “out-islands.” Travel to them was extremely difficult and erratic, mainly by sail boat, and once on one, the basic necessities of food, fresh water and shelter were hard to come by.

Cottman had no idea what he would really do if he retired early with a pension that would only net him $28.63 a month, and he had limited savings beyond that, but he was willing to risk it, figuring he could find some way to augment his meager funds.

He first settled on Crook Island, purchased a 10 acre plot of land with some beach front for only $40.00 and built himself a house. However, Crooked Island was a bit rougher than Cottman seems to have anticipated, and when he visited Abaco island he not only found a bit more civilized place, he fell in love with a local woman and they had a daughter.

However, he soon became a fairly well-known and respected out-island doctor and much of the rest of the book contains the entertaining stories of his medical career.

How could this even happen? He tells us himself:

“. . . in the out-islands qualified doctors are practically nonexistent. The Bahamian government therefore has adopted a policy of granting a limited license to persons having certain scientific educational qualifications. These are known as Unqualified Medical Practitioners and may engage in general practice with the exception of major surgery.”

Later he expands on this theme:

“Most doctors start out by studying medicine, then they become interns. Gradually they acquire a practice, and after years of this, if they are both lucky and good, they may become famous. My own medical career was somewhat reversed.”

Cottman, in his retelling his story to his collaborator, Wyatt Blassingame, is often inexact about dates and times. He is even off by a full 10 years in what the time frame is, at least in relation to other data I have uncovered about his year of birth and such.

No matter, it is a very rewarding and delightful story, especially rewarding for me who lived on Grand Bahama while he was still on Abaco (next island to our east) though I never met of him or even heard of him until I came in touch with his book.

Later data indicates that Evans Cottman died in 1976 at what I find to be the incredibly YOUNG age of only 74!!!

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu