Biography.‎ > ‎

Dunant Henri.

posted Jun 5, 2015, 10:29 PM by Upali Salpadoru   [ updated Jul 10, 2022, 11:05 PM ]

Fig. Henri Dunant.1828- 1910

Birth:-8th May in Geneva.

    Jaques Dunant and his wife Antonette were a wealthy,                               religious family bent on social work. No wonder the boy developed                    a civic  sense and a humanitarian attitude that culminate in winning        the Nobel Prize for peace.

1846  Age 18Yrs.   

   Henri developed a great interest in religious youth society work, often        visiting the prisons and helping the poor.

1849  Age 21Yrs.

   He left Secondary school he was attending College Calvin, and joined a money lending firm, Lullin et Sautter, as an apprentice. He had not been an outstanding student except for his social attitude.

1852  Age   24 Yrs.

   He organised the Geneva branch of the YMCA helping the Calvanists.

1854 Age 26Yrs.

   Dunan became a representative of the firm, ‘’Colonies de Sétif ’, and visited Algeria, Tunis and Sicily. The Directorate was  highly pleased with his performance in spite of being a raw hand. It was such a memorable experience for the young man that he compiled a book, An Account of the Regency in Tunis.

1856  Age 28Yrs.

     He floated a company for business enterprises in foreign colonies, Financial and Industrial Company of Mons-Djémila Mills, to deal with growing, milling and trading of corn.

1858 Age 30 Yrs.

  He published the book including a chapter on ‘Slavery among the Mohammedans and in the United States of America’. 

1859   Age 31Yrs.

  His company had great success and he was elected the chairman. It had a capital of  100,000,000 Swiss francs. He obtained land for the purpose of growing corn from the French-Algeria. The extent of the land and the water rights were not clearly defined. As the authorities were of not much help, he decided to meet the French emperor Napolean III. At this juncture Napoleon was engaged in assisting Italians to drive the Austrians out of Italy.         

   In the evening of 24th June as he was approaching Solferino, in Northern Italy, he witnessed a horrible sight. The battle field was a blood bath. Thousands lay wounded. Amongst the lifeless bodies, scattered some shivered and screamed in agonising pain. Nobody cared a damn.

  Dunant deeply shocked immediately set down to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded. He got volunteers from the local population   to help him. The action spread and quite a number, especially from the fair sex were helping the dying and the wounded irrespective of their nationalities.. He spent his money to purchase first aid equipment and even helped to erect medical centres. He also got some Austrian Doctors imprisoned by the French  released for medical and surgical aid.

1862  Age 34 Yrs.

   As an aftermath, he published ‘A Memory of Solferino’.   The book consisted of three sections. The first one described the raging battle.  The second dealt with the bleeding wounds, and the misery resulted by the war effort. It also proposed a plan, at least to ease the acute suffering of the victims.

• The nations of the world should form relief societies to provide care for the wartime wounded.

• Each society should be sponsored by a governing board composed of the nation's leading figures.

• The society should appeal to everyone to volunteer,

• The society should train these volunteers to aid the wounded on the battlefield and to care for them later until they recovered.”          

     With the release of this book Dunant became popular almost overnight. Geneva Society for public welfare appointed a five man committee along with Dunant, to study and implement this action plan. This committee decided to summon an International Conference. Dunant traveled far and wide, spending his wealth, to meet government authorities requesting them to send delegates.            

  The conference was held from October 26 to 29th in Geneva. It was there that the ‘RED CROSS' was chosen as the emblem of the movement. The clauses upheld at the convention included, provision for the Red Cross volunteers to work in a neutral manner when there are clashes and to provide them with the urgently required medical supplies. Twelve nations became signatories to this treaty which came to be known as the ‘Geneva Convention’.         

    Dunant had almost achieved his dream but he was not content. His ambition was to serve not one country or one nation but to wipe out or at least minimize the pain, agony and anguish from those who are suffering all over the globe. He sacrificed everything he could, his wealth, time, skills and influence in an effort to reach this goal. It was a highly passionate act of humanitarianism.          

   After war wounded has been taken care of, his attention was drawn towards the casualties from the natural disasters such as floods and earth quakes. He introduced some plans for the prevention of clashes too. One suggestion was to establish a neutral state in Palestine to prevent the clashes there.

1867  Age 39 Yrs.

    Being a writer and a man of letters, he also had plans to protect and publicize literary masterpieces of not one nation or one country but of the entire mankind.  It was to this end that, he proposed to collect the literary heritage of the world into a, “Universal Library”. 

[Although this idea did not materialize, something similar has been evolved in the modern society as the Super Highway or the ‘Internet’]                

1872  Age  44 Yrs.

  He summoned an International Conference on the handling of prisoners of war and to settle disputes between nations which would have made, according to him, war between nations superfluous.         

   Dunant was completely immersed in the humanitarian activities that his business empire crashed with little warning. He could not get the water rights for his massive land development project. The failure of his ventures badly affected a number of his friends.

     A millionaire, philanthropist and a super civic minded citizen, suddenly got bogged down to the state of a beggar. The Geneva Society abhorred him, and as such he had no alternative but to depart.

1875   Age  47Yrs.

    Any other person would have even committed suicide, but Dunant simply walked away. The next fifteen years. he led the life of a loafer. “There were times”, he has said, “When I had to dine on a crust of bread, blacken my coat with ink, whiten my collar with chalk, and sleep out of doors”.

1890  Age  62Yrs.

   A teacher named Wilhelm Sonderegger joyously screamed that the missing man had been found in a small Swiss village of Heiden. Not a soul heard him. Not a society cared for the man; not even the ICRC. In the eyes of the Swiss, Jean Henry Dunant was a good for nothing, bankrupt, old codger. When he became feeble and fell ill an unknown Samaritan moved him, into a hospice. In this place, devoted for terminally ill poor patients, in Room no 12 he became an inmate for the rest of his life; which lasted eighteen years.

1895  Age  67Yrs.

   Probably due to some change of planetary positions, the world realized his existence. He was old, physically week and mentally fallen, when the society acclaimed him as a hero.  The influential people, news media heaped praise upon him. Some organizations became popular by presenting him with awards and donations.

1901  Age 73Yrs.

   The Swedish Academy too made use of the opportunity and selected him along with Frederick Passy of France, to share the first ever Nobel Prize for Peace in 1901. Neither a kind request from the officials nor vehement appeals by well-wishers could dislodge him from Room no 12, where he had decided to terminate his life…

1910  Age 82Yrs.

On 30th October he ended his life peacefully. According to his wishes he was buried without a ceremony.  Later it was discovered that he had not used any of the prize money for himself. He had left some for those who had cared for him in the hospital. He had gifted a free bed in the hospital for the poor.  The remainder was gifted to charity .

Thus ended the life of the man who bled his heart to paint the Red Cross on a white garb. As he was a Christian let us pray, “May his soul rest in peace”