Calcutta Medical College : 1907

In 1907, the British Medical Journal Published an article entitled: British Medicine in India. It is a long article, but full of interest. I am reproducing a part of it that pertains to the Calcutta Medical College.It gives a vivid picture of the College in that year.

The foundation of the Calcutta Medical College marked
the dawn of a new era. All the knowledge and skill of
the West was thrown freely open to the peoples of India,
without distinction of race or caste. How splendidly the,
seed sown by Lord William Bentinck has grown and
fructified is shown not only by the great development
of the Calcutta College itself, but by the others at Lahore,
Madras, and Bombay, which are, at least in a figurative
sense, its offshoots. At present the establishment of a
similar college at Lucknow is under consideration. No
greater thing was done by Lord William Bentinck for
the promotion of the welfare of the many peoples of the
vast empire under his rule than the foundation of the Calcutta
Medical College, which was his parting gift to India.
Among the first results of its foundation was the abolition
of institutions in which the Vedic and Unani systems
of medicine were taught. A report dated 1839 gives us a
glimpse of the College as it then was. It says: "The
buildings comprised a very spacious and handsome theatre,
capable of containing 500 persons, apartments for the purposes
of practical anatomy, a laboratory, museum, and a
library and hospital." The first Professor of Anatomy was
Dr. H. H. Goodeve, -who was also Professor of Medicine
and Physician to the Hospital. Under his personal supervision
dissections were regularly and systematically introduced.
" Since that period," the report goes on to say,
" this most necessary part of medical education has been
pursued with unremitting zeal by the students, and the
dissecting rooms of the Medical College of Bengal are not
surpassed by similar establishments in -any part of the
world. One of the strongest prejudices of the Hindus
has thus been overcome, and the first and most
important step to a rational system of medicine in the
East has been accomplished." These rooms existed till
about 1895, and Sir Richard Havelock Charles, in an interesting
paper read by him at the annual meeting of the
British Medical Association held at Portsmouth in 1899,
tells us that they " furnished a Fad picture of what in 1839
was considered so very fine." Sir Richard, who not long
ago retired after twenty-five years of service in India, was
Professor of Surgical and Deecriptive Anatomy in the
College, and Surgeon to the hospital attached thereto.
Gifted with the breadth of sympathy which makes a
man's heart thrill in harmony with the "s till cad music
of humanity" through all the deadening obstructions of
race, language, and creed, he gained the confidence of
native students and patients in a very unusual degree. It
has been the good fortune of the College that ever since
its foundation it has had among its teachers, such as
Goodeve, Fayrer, McConnell, and the Mac’namaras (to mention
only men of the past), men distinguished not less
for their sympathy with the people of India than by their
scientific knowledge.
One of the difficulties in the way was the Hindu prejudice
against touching dead bodies. The names of the students of
the first class who broke through the bonds of prejudice
and dared to study anatomy in the book of Nature have
been preserved. They were eleven in number, and all
passed an examination for a diploma in 1838. They had to
work under conditions which might have deterred less
eager students. As the methods of embalming at that
time were very imperfect, the rapid decomposition of
bodies produced by the Indian climate made dissection
peculiarly difficult and revolting. From a report pre-
sented by Sir Richard Havelock Charles to the Indian
Government on his transfer to the Calcutta Medical
College from Lahore in 1894, an idea may be formed
of the conditions under which anatomy had -even
at that time to be studied at Calcutta by Babus. The rooms
were totally inadequate for the accommodation of the students.
"The cutting up of the body as carried out is a loathsome
horror, the rooms are charnel houses, reeking with
a siekening stench.- The only feeling a beginner can have
is,how best to avoid this nightmare and scamp his work."
In 1895 the anatomical department at Calcutta was
rebuilt, and an entirely new order of things was established.
As is the lot of all reformers, Havelock
Charles had to fight against the indifference of a
Government which cared nothing about such things.
But, following the example of the importunate- widow
in the Gospel, he gave those in authority no rest till he
obtained grants for the establishment of proper dissecting
rooms and museums in Lahore as well as, in Calcutta.
The Calcutta anatomical department, which cost about
£10,000, is admirably suited for its purpose. The
dissecting room is a lofty, well-lighted iron and brick
building, covering an area of 9,000 square feet. It has awhite glazed tiles. Round the whole building runs a
gallery floored with the same materials as the main room,
and having a similar dado. In the building are three
tiers of windows-one in the lower portion of the building,
one in the gallery, and one just below the roof. They
are covered with wire gauze, and they can always
be kept open. Besides being aired in this way, the
building is also excellently ventilated at the roof. A
plentiful supply of water is laid on, and the floor and
walls can be flushed with a hose as often as may be
necessary. There are six marble lavatories for the use
of students. Running round the walls are brass rails,
from which hang the plates of Ellis, Wood, and Maclise,
-and Braune's sections, all framed and glazed. The
dissecting tables are of white marble and have white
enamelled iron legs, with arrangements for catching
dripping liquids. Attached to the main dissecting room
is a special one for female students; it is equipped in the
same style. There is also a prosector's room furnished
with all necessary apparatus.
Adjacent to this block is the museum, which has an
area of 3,000 sq. ft. It contains an excellent collection of
wax models, plaster casts, and preparations representing
dissections and sections of every organ and region of the
body. There is a bone room, furnished with a very complete
set of coloured osteology, and plates on the walls.
Lastly, there is a collection of skulls illustrative of the
craniology of Northern India. Opening off the dissecting
room is a yard roofed in with netting to keep off crows
and kites; its floor is made of polished blocks of cement.
In this yard is the embalming room, where there are four
marble tables for the bodies. The lecture room opens on
the dissecting room, and can seat 500. The floor is of
marble, and in the area are marble tables for the display
of subjects during lecture. There are the usual skeleton
screens for lecture diagrams, as well as a large revolving
slate blackboard for drawings in chalks. The room is
lighted from the roof. In short, in place of the clumsy
and ill-ventilated structure of 1835, there are lofty, well lighted,
and thoroughly well-ventilated buildings, fitted
up in accordance with the requirements of modern
scientific teaching.
Anatomical work in India is facilitated by an abundant
supplyof material for dissection. The anatomical class in
1899 numbered 410 students. Every one is required to
dissect the whole body twice before he can get a certificate.
Sir Richard Havelock Charles points out that the anatomy
of the Asiatic has not yet been thoroughly worked out.
Thealhaost uncanny- pliancy of the body of the Asiatic, the
-flexibility of his joints, and the deftness combined with a
strength that seems incongruous in the slender frame
qualities which, the British public has marvelled at in His
Highness the Jam of Nawanagar-would seem a priori to
point to some difference of structure. And in fact Charles
has shown that in many bones and joints the Asiatic
4structure differs from that of the European; he has also
made other observations on the muscles and ligaments.
There is doubtless much more to be discovered in this
-almost untrodden field of research; it is a line of
investigation that cannot fail to be fruitful of results of
high importance, not only to science, but to the growth of
better understanding between ourselves and our Indian
fellow subjects. If Kipling's pessimistic prophecy-
Ob, East is East, and West is West,
And never the twain may meet,
is to be falsified, that desirable consummation, will be
greatly helped by fuller knowledge of the frame of the
Oriental and the peculiarities of its mechanism and
working, and of the conditions-climatic, physical, ethnological,
social, and religious-which make up his heredity
and his environment. As Charles says: "The methods
of the Asiatic are not always understood by the European,
and the manniers of the inhabitants of the West at times
stink in the nostrils of the dwellers in Cathay." It has
been well said Tout contprendre c'est tout pardonner,
and medical science, which deals with the elemental
factors of man's being, is the surest way
to such an understanding as will lead at least
to mutual toleration. Charles concluded his paper with
the following words: " I think it will be admitted that the
money Government has spent upon Lahore and Calcutta
will be in the end amply repaid, not only by the influence
for good that a proper course of practical anatomy always
has on students; but will help, by example, in furthering
the building of laboratories and museums for the various
branches of medical study, as the benefits derived in the
anatomical side become manifest even to those who will
not see." The hope then expressed, which at the time
seemed to those in power too ambitious, has already been
to a large extent fulfilled. The College has now laboratories
of bacteriology and physiology equal to any in
Europe, and a magnificent chemical laboratory. As yet
there is none for pharmacology.
Attached to the College is a hospital which must be
distinguished from the General Hospital of Calcutta. The
former is attached to a large medical school; it is intended
for the treatment of native and European patients and for
the instruction of students of all kinds-male, female,
European, and Asiatic. The General Hospital is for the
reception of European sailors and poor white patients.
There are clinical laboratories in connexion with each
ward. A surgical annexe with eighty beds is in process
of construction, and will be completed in about
eighteen months. When the Prince of Wales was in Calcutta
in 1901, notwithstanding the manifold demands on
his time, he insisted on visiting the hospital. His Royal
Highness, who was accompanied by Sir Richard Havelock
Charles, showed a keen and intelligent interest in the institution,
Asking questions about expenditure, and generally
showing his familiarity with hospital administration. So
pleased, indeed, was His Royal Highness with what he
saw that he assigned to the hospital a considerable proportion
of a sum which had been given him to be used for
such purposes. The Prince also- expressed a sympathetic
interest in the medical profession and its work,
His attitude was in sharp contrast with the indifference
in regard to medical affairs and the jealousy of the
profession which run through Indian officialdom from
the lowest ranks to the highest.
Within the walls of the hospital the rules of caste in
which the whole system of native life is swathed, as in
mummy bandages, are suspended. There the high class
Brahmin may be seen performing menial offices for poor
sufferers whom it would be defilement for him to touch
elsewhere. Havelock Charles taught his students that
the hospital was to be regarded as a place, like the Temple
of Juggernaut, where all are equal whilst in its sacred precincts.
It is not surprising that the future Emperor of India
should have taken special interest in a place where was to
be seen so wonderful an example of the power of medicine
to break the bondage of immemorial tradition.
A striking proof of the essential unity of medicine
throughout the ages and under all superficial differences
of race and creed is afforded by a tablet which Sir Richard
Havelock Charles had put up in the entrance hall of the
hospital. It occupies nearly the whole of one wall, and is
inscribed, as may be seen from the reduced copy here
given, with the original texts and English translations of
the great codes of medical ethics, Western and Oriental.
The famous Hippocratic (Unani) oath is still accepted as
embodying the fundamental principles of medical ethics.
The Vedic is fuller, and in some respects, notably in
regard to fees and the doctor's dealings with patients,
it preaches a larger humanity. There is, however, a
curious touch of Oriental despotism in the paragraph
which enjoins that medicines should never be administered
to those who are under the displeasure of the King. The
injunction that persons of exceedingly perverse or wicked
disposition are to be looked upon as not entitled to the
benefits of medicine might perhaps be paralleled in ecclesiastical
ordinances of the Middle Ages, when doctors were
forbidden to continue attendance on patients who allowed
the third day' of a serious illness to pass without confessing
their sins, and in the harshness with which sufferers from
venereal diseases were treated in European hospitals even
in modern days. The injunction that medicines are not
to be administered' to those -who are exceedingly poor
appears to be so much out of harmony with the other
enjoining the doctor not even for his life's sake to extort
the substance of his patients, that one wonders whether it
may not have some esoteric meaning.
It has been suggested that courses of lectures on professional
ethics should- be added to the- medical curriculum.
Would not a Table of the Law placed in every hospital where
it would always be' before the eyes of the students-and of impressing on them the great rules of professional conduct?"
Extracted from BMJ 1907; 1 doi: 10.1136/bmj.1.2421.1245 (Published 25 May 1907)
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