The early history of King Edward Medical College is inextricably linked with the inception of Western medical education in the Indian Subcontinent. Although some Indians had worked under the British doctors as apprentices, their education and training were not systematic and organized.
On the 21st of June 1822, the East India Company Government issued a general order directing the establishment of a medical college at Calcutta (now Kolkata). It directed that, 20 Indian students should be admitted and that they be recruited by the superintendent surgeon. He was further instructed to translate medical books into local language and instruct the students in those language. The students were to receive a stipend of Rs.8 per month during their education. After qualifying, if they choose to join government service, they were required to serve the army or civil department for 15 years and, were to be paid Rs.20 per month with an extra allowance of Rs.5 while on field duty.
This template was used with minor changes in the next two medical colleges that were established at Madras (Madras Medical School and College) in 1835, and Bombay (Grant Medical College) in 1845.
Because of the difficulty in imparting a western medical education in native languages, it was decided to make English language the medium of instruction in medical colleges. A committee appointed by the government recommended that students entering a medical college should be proficient in THE English language, that they should be able to read, write and enunciate with fluency in English, and be able to analySe a passage in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Robertson’s Histories, or other classical works. (I wonder if any incoming medical student will qualify to enter medical college according to these criteria.)
Efforts had been made as early as 1837 to open a medical school at Lahore. The appointment of Sir John Lawrence (of the Lawrence Gardens fame) as the British Resident (chief commissioner) of Punjab in 1853 gave impetus to the idea. But the idea did not come to fruition until 1860 because of the unrest due to the First War of Independence otherwise known as the Mutiny of 1857.
When Lahore Medical School was started in 1860 the English-0only rule was set aside. Two groups of students were to be admitted, to be taught in English and Urdu.
Dr. J.B. Scriven was recruited as the principal of the new school. He had previously served as medical superintendent of General Hospital, Calcutta.
In November 1860 an admission examination was conducted, and 20 students were selected for an Urdu-medium class, but no one qualified for the English medium class. A second admission examination was conducted a few months later and this time five candidates were selected for the English-medium class and an additional 24 candidates were selected for the Urdu class. High school graduation was the minimal requirement for admission.
The school was started in the Artillery Barracks, located at the time where Government College now stands. The first hospital was started in the stables of Raja Suchet Singh in Tibbi Bazar about a mile from the Artillery Barracks. The hospital had open wards and catered to the medical needs of 90,000 citizens of Lahore City.
In 1886, the authorities decided to have a medical college as well as a medical school on the same premises. The idea was to teach Western medicine, Unani medicine and Ayurvedic medicine in Urdu at the Lahore Medical School and to teach Western medicine in English at the Lahore Medical College. Students from both institutions used Mayo Hospital for clinical training
To instruct in English was relatively easy because most of the textbooks were in that language. For the Urdu-medium class, textbooks and other course material had to be translated from English into Urdu. While translating English texts in Urdu started in earnest, the first Urdu class of Lahore Medical School must have procured Urdu texts that were used in Calcutta and Bombay.
At the start, the school the staff consisted of the principal, a professor of medicine, a professor of surgery, a professor of chemistry, a superintendent of Urdu class, an assistant demonstrator in anatomy, a resident house surgeon, and an apothecary (pharmacist). Since the students had only high school education, the premedical science subjects like chemistry, biology and physiology were taught in the medical school. Most of the teachers worked in more than one capacity and taught multiple subjects. In 1863, 27 students graduated from the Urdu class and only one from the English class.
Construction of the College and Hospital Buildings
The hospital was constructed close to Sarai Ratan Chand on a track of land known as Hari Singh Gardens. Hari Singh Nalwa was a trusted general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The hospital construction began in 1867 under the supervision of Rai Bahadur Kanhiyya Lal Hindi who was in government service as an executive engineer. It took three years to complete the project at the cost of Rs.155,000. Upon completion the hospital was called Government Hospital but later it was renamed as Mayo Hospital after Richard Southwell Bourke, the 6th Earl of Mayo and at the time the Viceroy of India.
The college was moved from the Artillery Barracks to its present location near Anarkali Bazar in 1870, just about the same time when the new hospital started functioning.
Lahore Medical school starts the teaching of indigenous medical systems
The time between 1870 and 1882 marks a rather bizarre period in the history of medical education in Lahore, as classes were started in Ayurvedic Medicine and Unani (Greek) medicine.
Here is the variety of diplomas on offer:
Type of Course
Designation in Service
Western Medicine English-medium
Licentiate in Medicine
Western Medicine Urdu-medium
Licentiate in Medicine
Unani Medicine taught in Urdu
Umdat-ul-Hikma / Zubdat-ul-Hikma
Ayurvedic Medicine taught in Urdu
Bhishak / Maha Bhishak
In 1886, the authorities decided to have a medical college as well as a medical school on the same premises. The idea was to teach Western medicine, Unani medicine and Ayurvedic medicine in Urdu at the Lahore Medical School and to teach Western medicine in English at the Lahore Medical College. Students from both institutions used Mayo Hospital for clinical training. The school was separated from the college in late 1880s and subsequently in 1920 it was shifted to Amritsar. In 1890 the school dropped teaching of indigenous medicine and issued the diploma of Licentiate of Medicine and Surgery (LMS). The College awarded the degree of Bachelor of Medicine (MB), that was changed in 1912 to Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).
The trajectory of what is now King Edward Medical University is interesting. For the first 26 years between 1960 and 1886, it was called Lahore Medical School. From 1886 to 1910, it was called Lahore Medical College. In 1910, upon the death of King Edward, the college was named after him. In 2005 it became King Edward Medical University.
While it was easy to teach in English, it was a formidable task to translate English texts in Urdu. The job was done by many bilingual teachers at the school. Not only current medical textbooks were translated, but articles from leading medical journal Lancet were also translated and published in Urdu Medical journals. It is amazing that in the late 1870s, there were three journals published and widely distributed to all government hospitals and dispensaries in Punjab and what later became North West Frontier Province.
1. Bahar-e-Hikmat was a monthly journal published by Lahore Medical college. The journal carried articles on timely topics, some of them serialized over many issues. Translation of lectures given by visiting professors were also given space. Every issue carried letters to the editor section where comments, criticism and new discoveries were reported.
2. Ganjina-e-Tibabat was published under the patronage of Dr. S. H. Brown, Principal of Lahore Medical College. This journal quoted liberally the medicine-related news from Great Britain and published innovative techniques and treatments reported by subscribers. A section in the journal reported promotions, transfers, and grant of leave for government-employed doctors in the Punjab Province.
3. There was also a journal Risala-e-Tibb-e-Adalat (Journal of Medical Jurisprudence) that dealt with medicolegal issues.
The story of Lahore Medical School morphing into King Edward Medical College is fascinating. Whilst living in the present, we tend to forget the distance an institution has traveled and the obstacles it has encountered to attain its current status. Today we see more because we stand on the shoulders of those giants who paved the way for us.
Jacques Barzun, a towering cultural historian (1907-2012) had famously said:
“The pioneers, the first who struggle out of the established systems and who form new and useful conceptions, appear only half right, incomplete; and their names stay remote. But they are perhaps more to be cherished than those who come after, who clear off the debris and offer a neater, more full-blown view.”
Author’s Note: This article is based on a lecture delivered at King Edward Medical College on the 125th anniversary of the College on 17 December 1985.
Next Week: Profile of a swashbuckling first graduate of the Lahore Medical School