Hyderabad was first to set up Medical School in India; Urdu was medium of instruction


Adapa Satyanarayana

Hyderabad Medical School (HMS) was established in 1846 during the reign of IV Nizam, Mir Farqunda Ali Khan, Nasir-ud-Daula. It was the precursor of the Osmania Medical College (OMC) founded by the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan in 1920.

Osmania Medical College has long been a government institution and is one of the oldest medical schools in India, perhaps in Asia.

Historically, HMS was the first professional medical institution in British India where the vernacular language was the medium of instruction. The then Diwan/Prime Minister of the Nizam convinced the nobles to send their children to HMS in Gun Foundry. Till 1846, the traditional Indian medicine including Unani and Ayurveda were common in medical practice. Even after the arrival of the British, given the cultural temperament at that time, the nobility and common people were reluctant to accept Allopathy as a mode of treatment for diseases. To begin with, it was the illness of Fourth Nizam that led to the founding of HMS. With the establishment of the medical school spread the allopathic system of medicine in Hyderabad State. When Nasir-ud-Daulah was fell ill no Unani or Ayurveda practitioner was able to cure him. The British Residency Surgeon, William Campbell McLean used allopathic treatment and cured the Nizam’s ailment. Thereupon the ruler bestowed ‘Khilat’(Royal Robes) on him and said, “If this science is taught to the people of our kingdom our dear subjects will be greatly benefitted.” The Nizam was fascinated by the new treatment and the Hyderabad Medical School (HMS) came into existence.

Dr William Campbell Maclean
Founder Principal of Hyderabad Medical School. 1846-1855

On the recommendation of the British Resident, J.S. Fraser, Dr William Campbell Maclean was appointed as the first Principal of the medical school. The British Medical Journal remarked, “He [Dr. Maclean] organized a medical school, which was the first of its kind in India where native youth were instructed in Western medical sciences in their own vernacular. He threw his heart into this enterprise, which was entirely successful.” Consequently, HMS paved the way for the foundations of the allopathic practise, medical education and development of public health systems in the Nizam’s Dominions.

The main objective of the Hyderabad Medical School was to teach European Medicine to native youth through the medium of Urdu, making it a first successful vernacular medical school in India. The idea was also to train and prepare a group of allopathic practitioners of medicine and surgery who were capable of assuming independent medical charge for the Nizam’s government. Modern medical education and public health institutions in Telangana State owe a lot to the Nizams because the children of the nobility were sent to the HMS for training in medicine.

The British Resident in Hyderabad praised the Nizam for the establishment of the medical school, with Dr Maclean as it first Superintendent.  He noted his ability as a medical officer, conciliatory demeanour and attachment to the natives of India.  He also said that all these qualities render him eminently qualified for the duties of the institution.

The Resident suggested that “Intelligent young men of good character whether Christian, Mohammedan or Hindu, of respectable family and connections who have already received a tolerable education and possess sufficient means, should be admitted.

At that period of time it was not possible to introduce teaching in the English language it was not favoured by the local population. Under these circumstances, the only channel through which the knowledge of Western medicine could be introduced to the pupils was Urdu.

In the beginning, the number of students admitted was limited to thirty. There was no discrimination in admission on the basis of religion or caste. Dr Maclean took a keen interest, threw his might and heart into the development of the medical school. His method of teaching Western medicine in Urdu to students unacquainted with English was novel and appreciated by the British authorities.

His teaching consisted of the repeated recapitulation of the lessons supported by daily examination. The lectures were compiled from standard books in medicine and translated into Urdu. He was assisted in this task by Sub-Assistant-Surgeon Dr Murray who had a good knowledge of Urdu, and by a munshi Meer Ahmed Ali. Dr Maclean added material, from his own experience and each student copied the lectures. This exercise was difficult and slow and required considerable patience and perseverance on the part of the teacher as well as students, particularly in the earlier stages.

The technical terms which could not be conveniently translated into Urdu were retained and taught in the original Latin. How well the school had begun functioning within a short period was evident from Examining Committee’s Reports submitted to the Court of Directors, in London. The satisfactory manner, in which the students answered the questions and their knowledge of the subject bore creditable testimony to their own industry and intelligence and also the interest with which their studies had been directed by the teacher. The success bore witness to the immense efforts put in by Dr Maclean. It was a good omen for the future. The interest displayed by the students testified his immense energy and abilities as a teacher. In the beginning, the medical school was located in a rented building at Gun Foundry and was later shifted to the new premises in the compound of Residency. In 1848 clinical instruction was given in the Residency Dispensary (now called Sultan Bazaar Hospital).

Through the hard of Dr Maclean and his associates for two decades books on medicine were translated into Urdu.  Within that short period, forty textbooks in the different branches of medicine had been prepared.  These books that had been prepared for the use in Hyderabad Medical School were copied and sent to other medical colleges in India.

Dr Edward Lawrie, Principal of Hyderabad Medical School, 1887-1901

The other important landmark in the history of Hyderabad Medical School was the appointment of Dr Edward Lawrie as the Principal. He put the college on the world medical map. In 1883, the medium of instruction in the school was changed from Urdu to English by the then principal Surgeon-Major Thomas Beaumont. It was continued by Dr Lawrie. The old Board of Examination from Secunderabad was replaced by the Board of Examiners of Madras Medical College. As the Chief Surgeon of Afzalgunj Hospital (established in 1866) and as the Principal of Hyderabad Medical School he encouraged research on Chloroform as an anaesthesia agent. This could be possible only through the generous support of the VI Nizam, Mir Mahabub Ali Khan. Medical education brought worldwide recognition to Hyderabad. The two Chloroform Commissions confirmed Dr Lawrie’s research and he became internationally famous. The leading medical journal Lancet also recognized his research findings. His students were sent to England to demonstrate Chloroform anaesthesia to patients in several British Hospitals and one of his students, Dr Rupabai Furdoonji became the world’s first woman anaesthetist. Dr Lawrie worked with a rare spirit of service to the poor patients in the hospital. A fund was endowed for the benefit of the poor.  Through this fund milk and other food items were supplied to the needy patients.  The Hyderabad Medical School attained glory under the leadership of Dr Lawrie. It progressed to become a center of excellence in the field of medical education and development of public health institutions in the erstwhile Hyderabad State.

Under the patronage of the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan and the Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, medical education thrived in the State of Hyderabad. In fact, there are hardly any precedents in the way the Nizams promoted teaching, research and innovation in medical education which was never seen anywhere else in India at that time.

To reiteration the point, modern medical education in Hyderabad began in the mid-19th century with the founding of the Hyderabad Medical School with Afzalgunj Hospital serving as a teaching facility, under the patronage of the Nizams.

Hyderabad Medical School is now known as the Osmania Medical College and Afzalgunj Hospital was renamed as Osmania General Hospital when the present structure came up in 1925.

Since its inception in 1846, Osmania Medical College has become and remained one of the most prestigious and pioneering medical institutions in the country.

Meanwhile, Osmania Medical College also has a rich history of medical innovations and its long-established legacy is marked by landmark achievements, such as the Hyderabad Chloroform Commissions in 1888 and 1889. It definitively established the safety of chloroform use in humans. For the first time in the world, chloroform was used as an anaesthetic in Osmania Hospital. It is said that Queen Victoria gave birth to a child using chloroform anaesthesia and Hyderabad Cap. The world’s first female anaesthetist, Dr Rupabai Furdoonji, who worked under Sir Lawrie in the late 1880s went on to work at Johns Hopkins Medical University in the US. At the same time, Sir Ronald Ross’s Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the malaria parasite in the gut of the mosquito was made at the Institute for Tropical Diseases which now bears his name.

Currently, with a hospital for every speciality (the crown jewel being Osmania General Hospital, the apex tertiary care and super speciality centre in the Telangana State), the state’s first human milk bank at Niloufer Hospital for Women and Children (a pediatric centre for excellence that has documented some of the rarest cases in the world) and new research labs are on the cards.

Osmania Medical College is also well known for its impeccable community health services, rigorous medical training, award-winning research and distinguished alumni who have gone on to become world leaders in their respective fields. Osmania is the only medical college in India (and perhaps in the world), where each medical speciality has a separate training hospital. It is also the only medical college in south India to offer a postgraduate course in endocrinology.

For this, undoubtedly the credit goes to the rulers of Hyderabad, the Nizams.

Prof.  Adapa  Satyanarayana is a retired professor of  History from Osmania University. His area of research is modern Indian and Telangana.


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