History of Medicine with Special Reference to India      

Professor H.Roy MD

MBBS. (Calcutta Medical College-CMC)  MD. (All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS- Delhi)

Rtd. Director Professor and Head of the Department of Pathology, National Medical College- Calcutta University- India



The story of evolution of medicine is a long one, stretching from prehistoric to modern times encompassing man through different ages and phases of evolution, culture and civilization.




Study of Medical History is not only to express our debt to our predecessors but is important in understanding the advances that are now taking place in theory and practice of medicine.

Prehistoric Medicine:

The "art of healing" began thousands of years ago with the innovations of the primitive man trying to provide relief to those close to him, in sickness and suffering, motivated by feelings of sympathy and kindness.

In the absence of an obvious explanation, his limited intelligence attributed disease and other calamities to the anger of God, the invasion of the body by evil spirits or the influence of stars and planets.

As a logical sequence, the medicine he practised consisted in appeasing God by prayers and rituals and sacrifices, driving out evil spirits from the human body.

There is also evidence that prehistoric man improvised stone and flint instruments with which he performed circumcisions, amputations and trephining of skulls.

It is thus obvious that medicine in the prehistoric era (5000BC) was intermingled with superstition, religion, magic and witchcraft.

Elements of prehistoric medicine are still present in many countries.

Primitive man may be extinct, but "the supernatural theory of disease"  in which he believed is not yet extinct in our modern society.

Indian Medicine:

Hindu medicine is as ancient as Hindu Civilisation. Ayurveda by definition implies "The Science of Life".

(Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word derived from two roots:  ayur, which means life, and veda, knowledge). 

Its origin is traced back to the Vedic times about 5000BC. Ayurveda is a part of the Atharva Veda which solely deals with medicine.

Atharva Veda includes eight divisions of Ayurveda:

1. Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)

2. Salakya Tantra (Surgery of Head & neck,Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology).

3. Shalya Tantra (Surgery)

4. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)

5. Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)

6. Kaumarabhrity (Pediatric)

7. Rasayana (Anti-aging or Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation) and

8. Vajkarana (The Science of Fertility)

The Vedic Sages took passages from Atharva Veda and created separate books dealing exclusively with Ayurveda.

Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world. Atreya was the son of Rishi Atri.

Atri was the son of god Brahma and one of the seven immortal Rishis in Vedic literature.

Rishi Atri was Acharya (Teacher) of Ayurveda.

The Vedic Brahmanas were priests  who performed religious rites and ceremonies.

They were also considered as Vaidyas (Physicians of Ayurveda).

These sage physicians were the surgeons in the ancient days.

These deeply devoted holy physicians considered health to be an important part of spiritual life.

It is believed that the Vaidyas received their training of Ayurveda during meditation which were later transcribed into book form.

Beginning of Medicine and Surgery in India is thought as the gifts from god Indra to Sages Bharadwaja,

the patron saint of medicine and Dhanvantari, the patron saint of Surgery. 

These two main schools made Ayurveda a more scientifically verifiable medical system (around 1500BC).

These two scholar passed their knowledge to two worthy men Atreya and Susruta.

Both Atreya and Susruta practised around 600BC, nearly 150 years before Hippocrates.

Maharshi Atreya is acknowledged as the first great Indian Physician and Teacher.

He lived in the ancient University Taxilla about 20 miles west of modern Rawalpindi.

He learnt Ayurveda from Rishi Bharadwaja.

Bharadwaja Ashrama still exists in Prayag (in the modern state of Uttar Pradesh).

Atreya revolutionized the medical system of Ayurveda into the system we have today.

He held formal teachings with his students and established Code of Medical Ethics in India (150 years before Hippocratic oath).

- Agnivesa Samhita (800BC – 400AD):

- Agnivesa, one of the six disciples of Atreya, who recorded the teachings

of his preceptor Atreya.

- Charaka re-edited Agnivesa Samhita as Charaka Samhita in the second century (200AD).

Galen was his contemporary in the West (130 – 210 AD).

- Charaka Samhita describes Anatomy and Physiology.

- There are eight chapters dealing with Pathology (Nidanasthanam).

- Charaka Samhita deals with the symptoms, signs, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the heart, chest, abdomen, genital organs and extremities. 

Charaka mentions two cases of disease: 

1. Internal - Loss of faith in Devine which leads to suffering in spiritual, mental and physical disease.

2. External - varies with time of the day, seasons, diet and life-style.

His profound medical knowledge was evident from his instructions on building hospitals with maintenance of hygienic atmosphere for patients.

Dhanvantri resigned his Royal status as 'Prince of Kasi' (Varanasi) and retired into the forest where he dictated his Ayurveda to Susruta of Benaras. He described human anatomy in details in his treatise "Susruta Samhita".

Susruta was the first surgeon to perform rhinoplasty and ear lobe construction.

Surgeons of that time had plenty of opportunity to construct the nose.

Besides those who lost their nose in the battle, cutting the nose by the irritant "Rajas" was the common practice.

Official punishment for adultery was to cut the nose of the culprits.

The early Indians set fractures, performed amputations, excised tumors, repaired hernia and did couching for cataract.

They used over 121 different steel instruments to drain fluids, to remove kidney stones, to sew up wounds and to perform plastic surgery. Some of the instruments used in those days were very much like those of today such as scissors, saws, needle, forceps etc.

In Susruta Samhita transmission of malaria was incriminated to a biting insect, probably mosquito. This shows that they were not only well versed in Medicine and surgery but also in the prevention of disease.

They were also conversant with operative midwifery.

Original Susruta Samhita was further revised by Nagarjuna (4th century BC), the great Buddist Teacher.

The great Greek teacher Hippocrates (460-377BC) preceded Nagarjuna near about the time of Socrates (469-399 BC).

Susruta Samhita was re-edited by Chakrapani in the 11th Century. 


Ancient history of Pathology in India- Nidanasthanam

Of the six divisions of Susruta Samhita, second division consists of

sixteen chapters devoted to Pathology, mainly of surgical diseases.

Nidana developed greatly in the 7th century and was established by Madhava Kara of Bengal.

His Nidana as well as Charaka and Susruta Samhita were translated in Arabic by the order of Haran al-Rashid (786-806 AD) the Khalif of Bagdad.

According to Wilson, it is likely that it might have been translated from the translation of the book in Persian language.

Postmortem: In Arthasastra of Kautilya (other name of Chanakya, the greatest politician of the time), there is a mention of postmortem.Ashumrita parikshagara  (examination of men who recently died).

These reports of inquest were also necessary in higher courts of law (Kontaka Sodhana) during the reign of the Great Emperor Chandragupta. 

The dead bodies in cases of homicide, suicide or those who died of accidents, were kept in an examination room, which was set apart for the purpose and the cause of death had to be reported after post-mortem examination to higher authorities. 

To prevent decomposition dead bodies were preserved by immersion in oil.

The Golden Age of Indian Medicine was between 800BC to 600AD.

Learned men from different countries such as China, Tibet, Afganisthan, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians came to the Indian Ayurvedic Schools to learn about this World Medicine.

Ayurvedic texts were translated into Arabic by the physicians like

Avicenna and Razi Sempion.

Both of them quoted Indian Ayurvedic texts and established Islamic medicine "Unani System".

This Indian Ayurvedic System became popular in Europe and helped to form the foundation of the European tradition of medicine.

Ayurveda grew tremendously during Buddhist Kings like King Ashoka

(226 BC), who patronized Ayurveda as State Medicine and established Schools of

Medicine and Hospitals.

Charaka (200AD),the most popular name in Ayurveda medicine was the Court

Physician to the Buddhist king Kaniska during Buddhist time.

Due to the doctrine of "Ahinsa" (non-violence) Indian Surgery suffered a setback.

With the advent of Muslims in India,Hindu Medicine eroded due to the lack of State

help and support by the rulers.

Unani system of medicine was introduced into India by the Muslim rulers.

By the 13th,Century Unani system of medicine was firmly established mainly in Delhi, Aligarh, Lucknow and Hyderabad.

During Mughal period and subsequent years Ayurveda declined due to

the lack of state support.

With the advent of the British in the 18th Century Ayurveda system was revived in

India along with Western system of Medicine.

Chinese medicine claims to be the world's first organised body of medical knowledge dating back to 2700 BC.The Chinese system of 'bare foot doctors", and acupuncture anaesthesia have attracted world-wide attention.

Like prehistoric medicine in India, Egyptian medicine also dates from 2000BC.

Edwin Smith papyrus of 1600 BC described fractures, dislocation,

infection of wounds, tumors etc.

The best known medical manuscript is the Ebers papyrus(1500BC) found with the

Mummy on the bank of the Nile. 

It mentions coryza, disease of the bones and joints, tumors,

disease of the gastrointestinal tract, female genitalia, eye etc.

Egyptians had no foundation of anatomical knowledge.

Alexandria in Egypt had their medical schools in temples of their God of Medicine


All doctors were paid by the State.

Homer while speaking of the doctors of the ancient world, considered the Egyptians to

be the best of all.

Egyptian medicine dominated for about 2500 years when it was replaced by the

Greek medicine.

The Greek invaded Asia minor and were influenced by the medical knowledge of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Early leader in Greek medicine, Asculapius (2000BC) was the Greek god of medicine.

The staff of Asculapius with a single serpent coiled around it represents the Medical Profession.

Modern winged staff with twin snakes around a single staff is the “wand of Hermes” (Greek messenger god or Roman god Mercury).

Greatest Greek physician Hippocrates (460 - 370BC) set a high standard of moral behaviour for medical man.

When the pupil of Hippocrates became doctors they had to swear an oath:

"Thou would help the sick according to their ability and judgement, never give poisons, not tell other people what their patients had told them and keep both themselves and their profession pure".

This "Oath of Hippocrates" still goes by "International Oath".

It sets a high moral standard for the medical profession and demand absolute integrity

of doctors.

The Greek civilization fell into decay and was succeeded by the Roman civilization by

the 1st century BC.

The Roman borrowed their medicine from the Greeks.

Celsus (25BC to 50 AD) has given us the cardinal signs of inflammation.

Galen (13 to 105 AD) was the pioneer of Experimental Medicine.

He observed that the disease was due to:

- Predisposing factors

- Exciting factors and

- Environmental factors.

This is the true modern idea. His writings were accepted as standard text books in medicine for centuries after his death.

With the fall of Roman Empire, Roman school of medicine disappeared.

The practice of medicine reverted back to primitive medicine dominated by

superstition and dogma.

This  period (500 to 1500 AD.) is called the "Dark Age of Medicine". 

During this period Arabs stole a march over the rest of the civilization.

Graeco-Roman Medical literature was translated into Arabic & they developed their

own system of medicine known as "Unani System of Medicine".

They founded medical schools and hospitals in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and other Muslim capitals.

"The Golden Age of Arabian Medicine" was between 800 to 1300AD.

Medical historians admit that there was interchange of thought and experience

between Hindu, Arab, Persian, Greek and Jewish scholars.

Gradual spread of Christianity led to the establishment of religious institutions known

as "Monasteries".(Headed by religious leaders known as monks, saints and abbotts) 

These Monasteries also rendered active medical and nursing care to the sick.

As human knowledge advanced,medicine was revived by

Paracelsus (1490-1541),who removed superstition and dogma

in medicine.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) did a lot of dissections on the human body and demonstrated some of Galen’s errors.


Revival of Medicine in India:

Till the eighteenth century the teaching and practice of medicine in India was done according to the Ayurvedic or ancient Vedic Hindu system and the Unani or Arabic system based on the Egyptian and Greecian schools and brought to India by the Greek and Muslim rulers.

The wisdom and seniority of the great teachers Charaka and Susruta compared to the pioneer western physicians like Hippocrates and other famous Greek physicians were accepted universally not only in basic medical sciences, therapeutics and surgery but also in laying down the ethical code for practice of medicine and nursing.

In the early 19th century, the British Government of India could not entrust the health care of their own people in the hands of Ayurveda and Unanis and they had to bring medical men from Europe. 

The British Surgeons trained a few Indians the elementary principles of diagnosis and treatment of disease and appointed them as Native Doctors to help them as compounders and dressers. 

They received no systematic education but had to pass through tests before being entitled to higher pay and responsibilities.

The services of these dedicated men were soon appreciated by the British Surgeons and in 19th May 1822, the Medical Board of the British Surgeons wrote to the then Secretary to the Government of India for a more systematic education for the Native doctors which was formally approved on 24th May 1882.

With a Government Order dated 21st June, 1822, the first Medical School in British India was established.

The School opened in October, 1824 at Calcutta Sanskrit College with Dr. James Jamieson as the first Superintendent.

The period of training was for 3 years. The first one year was spent on lessons on Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology and Materia Medica. Medicine and Surgery were taught during two senior classes.

The students had to attend the Native Hospital, the General Hospital, the Company’s Dispensary, the Eye Infirmary and the department  of the Superintendent of

vaccination for clinical teaching.

Dissection of human body was not performed and lesions in Anatomy were learnt from dissection of lower animals and by witnessing post-mortem examination at the General Hospital.

The students also learnt side by side the great works of Charaka and Susruta as well

as those of Avicenna and other physicians of the Arabic School.


In 1833 Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor of India, appointed a Committee to make a report on the existing medical education and institutions in order to revise and improve on Indian medical education.

The Committee submitted their report on October 20th 1834.

The Committee advised immediate abolition of the Native Medical School and

suggested the formation of a Medical College for Indians.

English was chosen as the language of instruction mainly for utilisation of the immense wealth of printed work and illustrations in the Western medical literature. 

On the recommendation of the Committee, a Government Order No.28 of 28th January 1835, Medical College of Bengal was established.

This day is still celebrated as the Foundation day of the Calcutta Medical College. A small hospital consisting of 20  beds was established on  1st April 1838.  In 1840 a large Hospital for women was founded with 100 beds to afford instruction in Midwifery.

Assistant Surgeon M.J. Bramley (see image) was appointed as Superintendent with Assistant Surgeon Dr. H. H. Goodeve (see image) as his only assistant.

Pandit Madhusudan Gupta, a Baidya Professor of the Native Medical Institute was transferred with two assistants from the Sanskrit College to the New Medical College.

The period of study was for four years and the examination was conducted under the supervision of the Committee of the Council of Education.

The certificate qualified them to practice Surgery and Medicine.

The illustrious band of teachers started their work on 20th February 1835.

The designation of the Superintendent  Dr. M.J. Bramley was changed to that of Principal and his assistant  Dr.H.H.Goodeve  to Professor of Medicine and Anatomy on 5th August 1835.

William B O’Shaughnessy was appointed as the Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica.

There was no library, museum, apparatus or hospital to start with. A few books and apparatus were transferred from the abolished Native Medical Institution to the Medical College.

Deep-rooted national prejudice was the great hurdle to the study of Anatomy or dissection. Professor Goodeve started demonstration of the parts of human body using sheep’s brain, goat’s liver and human skeletons.Two skeletons were purchased through Messrs.

Bathgate and Company of Calcutta and other anatomical preparations were imported from England. Mr.Evans was appointed as the Curator of the Museum.

On 10th January 1836 Pandit Madhusudan Gupta, accompanied by four young students followed Professor Goodeve to an outhouse of the Medical College building & began to dissect a dead body with his own hands. This day will ever be marked in the Annals of Western Medicine in India when Indians rose superior to all prejudice and boldly flung open the gates of modern scientific medicine to fellow countrymen.

In less than 2 years time there was rapid advancement in the art of dissection. In 1848, Professor Goodeve remarked in his introductory lecture that his pupils have dissected more than 500 bodies.

Principal Bramley died on 19th January 1837. The teaching suffered due to paucity of staff and lack of a College hospital.

The Government considered revision of staff and a College Council was formed with Mr.David Hare, the respected Philanthropist as the Secretary and Treasurer, for the regulation of the affairs of the College. 

Other members of the College Council were:

1.   Dr. Henry Goodive, Professor of Anatomy and Medicine.

2.   Dr. W.B. Shaughnessy, Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica.

3.   Dr. C.C. Egerton, Professor of Surgery and Clinical Surgery.

4.   Dr. J. McCosh, Professor of Clinical Medicine

5.   Dr. N. Wallich, Professor of Botany

6.   Dr. R. Shaughnessy, Demonstrator of Anatomy and Chemistry.

On 1st April 1838, due to the liberality of Lord Auckland, a ward of 20 beds was opened as the nucleus of the first Medical College Hospital, from the money saved by abolition of the post of lectureship of Clinical Medicine on resignation of Dr. McCosh.

An out-patient department was also attached to this hospital in 1839. 70 patients, both European and Indian, were treated in the in-patient and 200 patients attended the outdoor dispensary daily in 1839.

The success of this small hospital induced the Government to construct a hospital on a much larger scale at later date. The construction of large female hospital for teaching in Midwifery was also contemplated.

The first examination of the New Medical College was held on the 30th October, 1838, after three and a half years' study of Anatomy,Physiology, Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Materia Medica, Botany, Physics, Medicine and Surgery with the exception of Midwifery, as there was no provision for the teaching of the subject.

Examination was conducted by: 

1. Dr. Nicholson, Surgeon General

2. Dr. Grant, Surgeon Apothecary to the East India Company

3. Dr. J. Martin, Presidency Surgeon and Surgeon.


Women in the Medical Profession:

Possibly, it was in the year 1847 that Elizabeth Blackwell from U.S.A. became the first women to graduate from Geneva Institute.

In 1850 Philadelphians founded a separate "Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia".

In 1865, Elizabeth Garatte from UK entered Middlesex Hospital and completed the course, but at the end of the year, Board of Management decided not to allow her to sit for the examination.

She obtained the Diploma of Society of Apothecaries in 1865 and opened an out-door dispensary named "Garatte Hospital" and started  private practice.

In 1870, she obtained the M.D. degree of Paris. In 1876, Sophia Jex Black received the degree from Edinburgh University, but it had to be withdrawn due to social disturbances.

Later, an Act of Parliament was passed enabling all British Medical Boards to admit women to their examinations.

Madras Medical College had the privilege of sending out four women doctors fully trained according to the regulations, in 1878.

They were Mrs.Mary Scharleib, Misses.D.White, D. Mitchell, and B. Beate. This was possible because of the constant insistence and inspiration from the Government of Madras and Surgeon General E. Balfour.

In Bengal, this question was first raised in the year 1876 and it met with favorable reception from Lt. Governor Richard Temple, but without any practical result.

In 1881, this problem was brought  before the Medical College Council by the Education Department, Government took a broad and liberal step in this matter.

It not only sanctioned the admission of women in the Medical College , but guaranteed every facility to smoothly complete their education.

A special scholarship of Rs. 20/- was awarded to every woman candidate for her five years’ studies in Medical College. In Bengal, Mrs. Kadambini Ganguly was the first native lady graduate of the Calcutta University in 1887. Mrs. Ganguly went to England and became a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery.

She was placed in charge of the outdoor patients of Eden Hospital and officiated once as Lady Physician in-charge of Dufferin Hospital.

She was placed in charge of the outdoor patients of Eden Hospital and officiated once as Lady Physician in-charge of Dufferin Hospital.

Swarnamoyee Hostel for Women - The ladies hostel of the Medical College for Indian girls was built in 1884 from the donation of Rani Swarnamoyee of Kassim Bazar.

During the year 1925 to 1931 very few lady students were admitted to the Medical College.  For lady students, it was compulsory to stay in Swarnamoyee Hostel.

Most of the Hostel students were Anglo-Indians, Christians, Brahmos, Parsis and so on.  


Evolution of different departments of the

Medical College of Bengal:



Medical College was opened on the 28th February, 1835  but the Medical College Hospital known as M.C.H. was opened in the session 1852-53. This is the oldest hospital in the premises. It was a 350-bed Hospital.  100 beds were reserved for Europeans and 250 beds for Indians.

First floor: Mutty Lal Seal Ward (MLS ward) for Indian Males.

Second floor:  Martin Ward - for European Males and Anglo-Indians.

Goodeve Ward - for Female Surgical  patients - European, Anglo-Indians and Indians.

Northern portion - Clinical Pathology Laboratory

Dr. Henry Goodive was appointed as the Professor of Anatomy and Medicine in 1835.


Up to 1894, there were only two Surgeons, one of them occupied the Chair of Surgery and was designated the "First Surgeon" and the other occupied the Chair of Anatomy and was designated as the "Second Surgeon".

Each of them had separate Surgical-wards, with 60 beds under his charge.

In 1900 the Department of Surgery was located in the MCH building, the Ezra Hospital & Chunilal Seal outdoor dispensary.

In the late 19th Century, there was only one Operation- theatre, which accommodated both the First and Second Surgeons.

Between 1860 and 1880 important major operations performed were amputations, removal of tumors and operations for bone diseases.

In those pre-antiseptic days of surgery, high mortality rate was due to post - operative hemorrhage and infection. Death after operation was mostly due to sloughing, gangrene, erysepelas, pleurisy, pericarditis, empyema, peritonitis. This is mainly due to defective application of "Listerism".

In 1876, Dr. Kenneth McLeod went to Edinburgh and saw Lister’s work with his own eyes, returned to India in 1879 and introduced  "Listerism" in its proper form.

During the year 1899, Principal G. Bomford and Surgeon Richard Havelock Charles planned to have a separate modern Surgical Hospital.

In 1910, the foundation stone was laid down for this commodious Surgical Block with 80 beds, 8 cabins and one special cabin.

The work was completed in 1921. 

This Hospital was meant to commemorate the visit of, the then Prince of Wales,to India and hence the name "Prince of Wales Hospital".

This Hospital, PWH as it was then called,was opened formally by H.E.Lady Hardinge.

Sir John Anderson,the Governor of Bengal, laid down the foundation of the "Casualty Block" and "Sisur Nivas" building which was completed in 1945 and named as "Sir John Anderson Casualty Block".



Anaesthesiology Department:


The Department of Anaesthesiology was under the Department  of Surgery.


On March, 1847, for the first time a surgical operation was performed

under ether anaesthesia by the Professor of Surgery, Dr. R. O’Shaughnessy.


First chloroform anaesthesia was administered in Ediburgh by Simpson on 15th

November 1847. 

The first chloroform anaesthesia in India was administered on 12th January 1848.


From that time onwards and for next 80 years chloroform became the sole

anaesthetic displacing ether completely.

The influence of British Raj was at its highest during this period and  all available literature upto 1928 shows that choloroform was the only anaesthetic used.

From 1880 onwards pre-anaesthetic injection of Morphine was used before chloroform anaesthesia in Medical College Hospitals (Calcutta) by Dr. Alexander Crombie.

This results in smoother anaesthesia and reduced doses of chloroform.

One Boyle’s apparatus with flowmeter was installed in the operation theatre of Medical College Hospitals between 1932 to 1934.

The first portable anaesthetic apparatus was imported in January 1835. 


Inclusion of lectures in Anaesthesia for undergraduate students could be traced in the "Rules of the Medical Faculty of Calcutta University, 1906 ".

All students were expected to administer 10 anaesthetics during their course in the 4th year class. It will be of interest to mention here that in Great Britain teaching of anaesthesia  for undergraduates started much later and only in 1918.

Obstetrics and Gynecology Department:

The enthusiasm of Sir Ashley Eden, Lt. Governor General of Bengal for the advancement of medical education made him to think for a separate maternity hospital.

The general plan and architecture  was conceived by Dr. J.Edmondstone Charles,the Professor of Midwifery (1863-1883).

It was designed by Mr.Anley under the supervision of Mr. Girdiling and foundation stone was laid in October

1879 and inaugurated by Sir Ashley Eden on 19th April 1882, with accommodation of 41 European and 42 Indian patients.

It was first occupied by patients on 17th July 1882. It housed 100 beds and offered training in Midwifery for European and Eurasian nurses for deployment at other centres.

The isolation block for cholera cases at the north of Eden Hospital was completed in 1910.Here, Sir Leonard Rogers carried out his remarkable research on cholera.

Cholera ward was shifted to Campbell Hospital and this isolation ward was converted to septic ward  for Eden Hospital and was named “Green Ward” after Col. C.R.M. Green, the Professor of Midwifery (1907-1917).

This conception of a separate septic-ward was a novel idea.

Various wards of Eden Hospital were named as:

1. G.M. Ward - Obstetric-Lying-in-Ward, named after Prince Golam Mohamed.

2. Dalhousie Ward - Obstetric-Lying-in-Ward, named after the Lord Dalhousie, who laid the  foundation stone of the Medical College, Bengal.

3. Canning Ward - Gynaecological Ward, named after Lord Canning, Governor General of India.

4. Leicester Ward- Gynaecological Ward, named after Lt. Col. J.C.H. Leicester, Professor of Midwifery. (1919-1928).

5. Mary Herbert Ward- Paying Obstetric ward.

6. Maugher Ward - M.T.P. Ward- named after Mary Helen Mauger of Darjeeling.

At the initial stage, it was difficult to get labour cases to be delivered by students.

In 1835 there were only 50 confinements, in 1993 it was 2000.

Lady students were not allowed to conduct labour cases along with the male students and they had to go elsewhere.

Lt. Col. V.B. Green Armytage (1926-1933) strongly objected to this arrangement and permitted both male and female students to conduct cases together in the Eden Hospital.

The maternity block and OPD of Eden facing Chittaranjan Avenue (Calcutta) was constructed in 1925.Eden Hospital was so renowned that the daughter of the British Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald, then living in Singapore, came here for confinement.

Opthalmology Department:

Long before the establishment of Calcutta Medical College in 1835,East India Company had a small Eye Infirmary in Halliday Street, Calcutta, with Simon Nicholson as the Ophthalmic surgeon (1816 -1825).

Eye Infirmary was shifted to Medical College Hospital in 1880.Sir James Ronald Martin (1817-1839) was the 1st Professor of Ophthalmology.

The new three storied separate Eye Infirmary was planned and opened by Col. Koppinger in 1928.

During the Second World War Eye Infirmary gained prominence by receiving and treating the casualties of the eyes from Burma front.

Ear Nose Throat (ENT) Department:

Till 1923-24 there was no ENT service in the Medical College Hospitals.

Dr.N.J. Juda who studied in Calcutta Medical College for three years and went to England, where he completed his M.B.B.S. course.

He came back to Calcutta at the end of the First World War.

In 1923-24, Dr Juda set up some facilities at the Department to examine ENT outpatients and to perform minor operations.

He sent his assistant Dr.Satyaban Roy to Edinburgh for training in ENT treatment.

After the retirement of Dr. Juda, Dr. Satyaban Roy was placed  in charge of the ENT Section.  

During the centenary year of the College in 1935, Sir John Anderson Casualty Block was inaugurated and its south-west corner was kept apart for ENT outpatients.

A miniature operation theatre was set up there. A few beds for ENT indoor patients were allotted in the MLS.

Ward and Martin Ward.

Anatomy Department:

With the foundation of Medical College in 1835, the Anatomy Dissection Room was located  near the chest Department and Ezra Hospital.

Dissection of human body was not in practice due to strong national prejudice.

At that time Dr. H. H. Goodeve was the Professor of Anatomy and Medicine.

On the 10th January 1836, Pandit Madhusudan Gupta,

Umacharan Sett, Dwarka Nath Gupta, Raj Kristo Dey, along with Prof. H.H Goodeve dissected a human body and utilised it in a lecture.

In 1857, a resolution was taken that the head of a non-clinical department would not be allowed to associate himself with a clinical department.

In 1890, Dr Daniel O'Connell was Professor of Anatomy.

From 1895 to 1905 the chair of Professor was occupied by Sir Havelock Charles.

Present Dissection hall and Lecture-theatre were constructed in 1896.

The new Anatomical and Biological Museum was constructed in 1908.

It owes a debt to Sir Havelock Charles (1895-1908) for its origin.

Physiology Department:

From 1835 to 1845, Prof. H.H. Goodeve used to teach Physiology in addition to his various other commitments.

In 1885, Prof. (Dr) J.T. Pearson took over charges as " Prof. of Physiology, Comparative Anatomy and Zoology ".

Later, Physiology became an independent discipline and the first whole time Professor of Physiology was Prof. (Lt.Col.) J.E. Ewart in 1873.

The last European Professor of the department was Prof.(Lt.Col.) Mac Gilchrist (1925-1928).

He had a major role in reshaping the syllabus, modernising it and rewriting practical notebooks for the students.

The first Indian to be appointed as Professor through Public Service Commission was Prof.(Dr) Premankur De, who served this department  between 1932 to 1948.


Pathology Department:

Department of Pathology was started in the year 1871 on publication of a General Order (No.370dated 4th April 1867.Assistant Surgeon Dr. J.E.P. Mac Connell became the first Professor of Pathology.

Pathology Museum was set up and it grew to be one of the  finest  Pathology Museum in the world, in the early part of the 20th Century.

In 1904, Pathology Department was liberally supplied with apparatus, models, and microscopes and for the first time in the history of the College, the students were provided with microscopes for practical classes.

In the same year, Colonel Sir Leonard Rogers joined as the Professor of Pathology (1904-1921) and carried out his famous work on Cholera.

Using hypertonic saline he reduced the mortality rate of cholera to about half compared to previous 11 years.

His other notable work included treatment of amoebic dysentery by various salts of emetine.

Due to his initiation, the Govt. of India sanctioned a Scheme for the establishment of the School of Tropical Medicine.

Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine was established in 1921 with Sir R. N. Chopra as the first Professor.

In 1922, Major G Shanks replaced Col. Rogers and in 1932 Dr M.N. De joined as the first Indian Professor of Pathology.

In 1925, Postgraduate classes in Leprosy was first started at the Leprosy Department of the Calcutta Tropical School.


Radiodiagnostic department started functioning with Dr. P.C. Chakrabarty as Professor who was then also the Professor of Pharmacology.

He was succeeded by Dr. Galstaun.


The Department of Radiotherapy was opened in 1910 by Lady Minto at the Lady Minto Annexure.

In 1920 the Department was combined with the Department of Radiology.

The Chief Radiologist was Professor Galstaun.


The Department took its inception with introduction of Dentistry as a special subject in May 1861 Dr. J.P. Smith was appointed as the Lecturer.

The Professorship in Dental Surgery was established in 1864.

Dr. Smith was succeeded in 1875 by Dr. W.T. Woods.

Forensic and State Medicine:

Though the Medical College was established in 1835, Medical Jurisprudence was not in the curriculum.

In 1845, the system was remodelled and Dr. F.J Mouat was entrusted to teach Medical Jurisprudence.

In 1850, an independent chair was created and Dr. C.T.O. Woodford was the first Professor (1850-1860).

During this period, Dr. Norman Chevers wrote a valuable treatise on the subject which became the college text book.

Professor S.C. Mackenzie (1879-1894) did original work on "Changes on dead bodies" in and around Calcutta, which is accepted as the guideline in establishing the time since death in Courts of Law.

The Science of Dactylography was started in Bengal and the Finger Print Bureau was started in Calcutta in 1897 with the active help of Professors of Medical Jurisprudence.

In 1892, the Central Medical Council of Great Britain recognized the medical degrees of Calcutta University.

In 1906, L.M.S.  course was abolished and from 1907 M.B. degree course was introduced. Henceforth, Medical Jurisprudence was included in Part II of the course.

The Professor of Medical Jurisprudence was also the Police Surgeon of Calcutta.

In 1938, the post of the Police Surgeon was created and the Professor of Medical Jurisprudence was relieved of the duties of the Police Surgeon.

Other Hospitals and Institutes:


Since Judaism demands special diet and religious rituals , the Jews felt very uncomfortable to stay in general hospitals.

To alleviate this difficulty, Mrs. Mozelle Ezra established the Ezra Hospital in 1886 and dedicated it to the memory of her husband.

The administration and maintenance of the hospital remained under the control of the Ezras up to 1926, and later it was handed over to the Government.

All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (Preventive and Social Medicine):

In 1931, the League of Nations Health Organization held an European Conference on Rural Hygiene.

This Conference called for the establishment of "Rural Health Centres". In India, between 1931-39, seven Model Health Units were set up.

Government of India established All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health in 1932 with assistance of Rockefeller Foundation.

The object of this Institute was to develop Human Resource in the field of Public Health, in Urban Health Centres and Rural Health Units of India.

Before Independence, teaching in the Hygiene Department of Calcutta Medical College was imparted by one of the officers of the Public Health of Writers' Buildings.

Presidency General Hospital of Calcutta:

(Now the Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research)

In 1918, Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932) identified the carrier of Malaria, the female, anopheles mosquito while working in the Presidency General hospital, Calcutta.

He was the first British to be awarded the Nobel Prize (Medicine, 1902) for his research.

Indianisation of teaching and hospital staffs: 

In 1911, for the first time in history, the chair of Anatomy

was thrown open to Indians.

Dewan Bahadur Hira Lal Basu became the first Professor of Anatomy.

In 1921,a separate chair of Pharmacology was created and Lt. Col R.N.Chopra was appointed in the post.


In 1923, Sir Kailash Chandra Bose was appointed Hony. Physician and Major Hussan Suhrawardy, Hony.Surgeon.


In 1930, Dr.M.N.De was appointed as the 1st Indian Resident Physician (R.P.).


In 1932, Dr. M.N. De joined as the first Indian Professor of Pathology.

In 1937, when Prof. M.N. De became the Professor of Clinical Medicine,Dr.B.P Trivedi  joined in his place.

Before 1930, qualified nurses for the Medical College Hospitals were supplied from European and Anglo-Indian communities.

In 1930, six Indian probationer nurses were taken into Medical College Hospital for training.

In 1933, Dr. M. N. Sarker was appointed as the first Indian Second Professor of Midwifery and later the Resident Surgeon (R.S.) of Eden Hospital.

In 1934, Dr. L. M. Banerjee was appointed as the first Indian Professor of Surgery. 


Medical science has evolved over many centuries from the pre-Vedic era to the present time.

In the late 20th century, in many medical disciplines doctors have benefited from the revolutionary

development of digital computers and their automated information management and analytical capabilities.

By using newer methods of computer and information sciences, anatomists, histopathologists and

radiologists have made outstanding contributions to science, medicine, and education.

Mastering computer sciences and informatics methods is essential for the present generation of doctors,

who will shape the future in research, clinical knowledge, and teaching.


Further Reading

- Wallac, J. R.: Calcutta Medical Gazette, 1882.

- Indian Medical Gazette, 1883 to 86, and 1894.

- Siegerist, H. : A History of Medicine, 1951.

- Bhatia S.L.: Indian J. Hist Med. 2:7,1957

- Banerjee J.N.: Indian J. Med. Edu. 5:79 ,1966

- W.H.O.: World Health, May, 1970.

- Diamond, E.G.: J.A.M.A.:218:1558,1971

- Centenary of The Medical College Bengal, 1935

- Reunion of Medical Bengal-1984

- Dharmendra: Leprosy in India, New Delhi: Central Health Education Bureau, DGHS, Ministry of Health, Government of India, 1958:55


-Evolution of surgery department

- Patterns of medical culture in colonial Bengal, 1835-1880.Bull Hist Med. 2006 Spring;80(1): 39-72.

- The western medical system in colonial India.Pharm Hist (Lond). 2003 Mar;33(1):7-15.

- The place of indigenous and Western systems of medicine in the health services of India.Soc Sci Med [Med Psychol Med Sociol]. 1981 Mar;15A(2):109-14.

- Allopathic medicine, profession, and capitalist ideology in India.Soc Sci Med [Med Psychol Med Sociol]. 1981 Mar;15A(2):115-25

- Place of the indigenous and the western systems of medicine in the health services of India. Int J Health Serv. 1979;9(3):511-9.

- Medical ethics--as prescribed by Charaka, Susruta and other ancient Indian physicians.Med Ethics. 1995 Jan-Mar;3(1):C1-CIV.

- Materia medica in ancient Indian medicine. Two of the oldest Indian medical manuscripts. I.Ceska Slov Farm. 1997 Feb;46(1):33-7

- Materia medical in ancient Indian medicine. Two of the oldest Indian medical manuscripts. II .Ceska Slov Farm. 1997 Jun;46(3):137-40.

- Sushruta Samhita (Sushruta'a Collection) (800-600 B.C.?). Pioneers of plastic surgery.Acta Chir Plast. 1984;26(2):65-8

- Susruta: a man of history and science.Int Surg. 1968 Nov;50(5):403-7.


- Ethics, morality and practice of medicine in ancient India.Childs Nerv Syst. 1997 Aug-Sep;13(8-9):428-34

- Head and neck diseases in an ancient Indian surgical text (The Sushruta-samhita). Med Hist. 1971 Oct;15(4):393-6

- Susruta of ancient India. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2003 Jun;51(2):119-22

- The professionalization of ayurvedic and unani medicine. Trans N Y Acad Sci. 1968 Feb;30(4):559-72

- Differences of degree: representations of India in British medical topography,1820-c.1870.Med Hist Suppl. 2000;(20):51-69.

- D D Cunningham and the aetiology of cholera in British India, 1869-1897.Med Hist. 1998 Jul;42(3):279-305.

- Leprosy in British India, 1860-1940: colonial politics and missionary medicine.Med Hist. 1996 Apr;40(2):215-30.

- Hippocratic therapies for gynecologic diseases. Popular medicine or science?]Gesnerus. 1999;56(1-2):5-28. German.

- St. Apollonia: the patron Saint of Dentistry.J Hist Dent. 2005 Nov;53(3):97-100.

- The historical roots of popular practices in oral health: Pistacia lentiscus in Cartagena, Murcia (Spain). J Hist Dent. 2005 Nov; 53 (3):109-12.

- Dentistry and Ayurveda--II. Basic principles.Indian J Dent Res. 2003 Jul-Sep;14(3):132-40.

- Dentistry and ayurveda--1.Indian J Dent Res. 2003 Jan-Mar;14(1):1-5.

- Panduroga: a medico-historical study.Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 2000 Jan-Jun;30(1):1-14

- Diseases of Annavaha Srotas (gastroenterology): historical view point.Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 2002 Jan-Jun;32(1):15-30

- Historical review of Vicharchika as per Ayurvedic classics.Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 1997 Jul;27(2):119-25

- The biology of aging (JARA): an ayurvedic approach.Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 2001 Jul-Dec;31(2):161-79

- Sushruta: the father of Indian surgery and ophthalmology.Doc Ophthalmol. 1997;93(1-2):159-67

- Medical science in ancient Indian culture with special reference to Atharvaveda.

- General medicine in Atharvaveda with special reference to Yaksma (consumption/tuberculosis).

- The politics of gender and medicine in colonial India: the Countess of Dufferin's Fund, 1885-1888.Bull Hist Med. 1994 Spring;68(1): 29-66.

- Anatomy teaching: ghosts of the past, present and future.Med Educ. 2006 Mar;40(3):243-53

- The kidney from Galen to Vesalius -- a first approach.J Nephrol. 2006 May-Jun;19 Suppl 10:S4-8.

- [Illustration of humans in the anatomy of the Renaissance: Andrea Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, Basel 1543]. Ann Anat.1996 Aug;178(4):375-84.

- Not Available. Vesalius. 1999 Jun;5(1):41-7

- Herophilus of Alexandria (325-255 B. C.). The father of anatomy.Spine. 1998 Sep 1;23(17):1904-14

- Human anatomical science and illustration: the origin of two inseparable disciplines.Clin Anat. 1999;12(2):120-9

- Anatomia practica: features from the history of early patho-anatomy.Dan Medicinhist Arbog. 2002;:9-24

- The historical outline of Vilnius pathological anatomy in the first half of the 19th century.Pol J Pathol. 2004;55(2):75-81



Photo essay:   History of Medicine in the Ancient World by Dr Sampurna Roy MD

Hippocrates - Father of Medicine-A brief review by Dr Sampurna Roy MD










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