The General Hospital
The General Hospital

This is one of those institutions whose comprehensive history probably needs several books. Believe it or not, the history of the Government General Hospital goes back to 1644 or so, and it has been at the present location from 1772! And that is not all. Between those two years the hospital had nine incarnations, making the present one the tenth, or more accurately the eleventh, if you include the reconstruction of 2002!

Since we are dealing with the present location, we will confine our history to the period beginning from 1771 when the then site of the hospital was Armenian Street. The decision to shift had been taken ten years earlier and a new location had been identified – the land on which the Company’s Garden House had stood in the 1680s, on the lower slopes of Nari Medu or Hog’s Hill (most of today’s Central Station and its environs). But no action resulted for a while.

The hospital building was constructed at this site by John Sullivan at a cost of 42,000 pagodas and was formally open to patients from October 5, 1772. The Town Wall had an entrance fronting this and became known as the Hospital Gate from then on. The next major expansion was in 1859 followed by yet another in 1893 and a third in 1928, all of which resulted in the structures that are seen in the photograph above. At the conclusion of that third phase of expansion, Dr. Sir A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, the then Principal of the Madras Medical College, declared that “the Madras General Hospital now presents an inspiring pile of buildings of which Madras may well be proud and which delights the eye of every professional visitor to this city.” Over the years, the hospital grew, acquiring its neurology, cardiology and other speciality blocks from the 1960s onwards. The architectural styles of these largely detracted from the dignity of the main buildings that Dr Mudaliar had praised. The most major reconstruction to date was in 2002 when the two main blocks were pulled down to make way for the modern building seen today. The two chattries or domed structures that flank the entrances and house the statues of Dr. M. Guruswami Mudaliar and Dr. S. Rangachari are the only remnants of the inspiring pile of the 1930s. There are, however, several old structures still standing within the complex, with varying degrees of antiquity. All of them suffer from indifferent maintenance.

The hospital’s earlier nomenclature appears to have been Government Hospital and in 1692, Dr Edward Bulkley was appointed as its head. The next year he performed the first medico-legal autopsy in India when a senior Company official was killed owing to his medicine being prepared in an improperly cleaned dish that previously contained arsenic. Bulkley is also remembered for the first leave certificate on medical grounds, the first injury certificate and, more notoriously, for abetting in a sentenced man feigning illness and moving from the prison to a hospital, this being John Nicks, whose wife was a close friend of Elihu Yale and probably the first woman entrepreneur of Madras. It has since been a frequently used excuse especially by political prisoners! Rather appropriately, Bulkley is buried on land facing the hospital. The large granite tomb, not cared for in any way by the State’s Archaelogical Survey under whose protection it is supposed to be, is now within the Ordnance Lines that have come up across the hospital.

While the hospital’s move to this location in 1772 is fairly well recorded, the presence of a medallion near the Superintendent’s office stating ‘Hospital founded in 1753’ is intriguing. This is a plaque commemorating an earlier shift and which moved along with the hospital to its present site. It was only in 1842 that the G in the name began to stand for General when the facility became open to Indians. The hospital became a wholely civilian institution in 1899.

The GH takes pride in Col C Donovan’s discovery in 1903 of the organism that caused the dreaded Kala Azar. By the time the news was transmitted to England, the organism had also been identified by Dr Leishman, leading to Donovan having to share the honours. The bacteria was, therefore, named Leishman Donovani. But, the organism was most probably isolated by Donovan at the Royapettah Hospital of which he was in charge at the time of the discovery. Not so well known is Dr. W J Niblock, who documented in India the first successful gastrojejunostomy for gastric outlet obstruction due to peptic ulcer at the GH on March 2, 1905. He is also the one who wrote the widely quoted article on “Epidemology of cancer in India” as early as 1902. Niblock’s work on gastroenterology was to be brought to public notice by Dr N Rangabhashyam in 1975 when under his guidance the GH acquired a gastroenterology department. It is not clear if Ronald Ross worked at the GH or elsewhere in Madras during his short tenure here but his close associate John Maitland worked at the GH and did pioneering work on filariasis. He became Senior Surgeon at the hospital in 1896, holding the post till his death in 1908.

The GH was headed by a Superintendent from 1858 onwards, the first incumbent being Lt Col William Evans of the Indian Medical Service. The first Indian to hold that post was Lt Col M N Choudhri ims. The post of Dean of the Government General Hospital and Medical College, Madras, was created in 1950, with the first occupant being Dr. R V Rajam.

A busy hospital today, the GH has the same problems that face all Government-run health facilities – bureaucracy, overcrowding and a perpetual battle in which facilities are forever in a process of being geared up to face an ever-increasing demand. But this is where the not so privileged can readily go for medical treatment, confident that their illnesses can be attended to at a fraction of what it will cost at a private hospital. To them it is always the GH, irrespective of whatever be its present official name, necessitated by political consideration/or convenience about a decade ago.

You may want to read the following stories on other landmarks of the city:

Government Hospital for Women and Children, Egmore

<a href=”…i-guindy-races/”>The Guindy races</a>

<a href=”…rk-institution/”>Victoria Technical Institute</a>

<a href=”…-aasi-building/”>The AASI building</a>

<a href=”…-lost-landmark/ ‎”>Moore Market</a>

<a href=”…egmore-station/”>The Egmore Railway Station</a>

<a href=””>The Meenambakkam Terminal </a>

<a href=”…gn-chetty-road”>The Gurudwara on GN Chetty Road
<a href=”…ivanar-arangam/”>Kalaivanar Arangam</a>

<a href=”…orporation-zoo/”>The Corporation Zoo</a>

<a href=”…-victory-house/”>Victory House</a>

<a href=”…gemini-studios/ ‎”>Gemini Studios</a>

<a href=”; title=”Old Woodlands Hotel”>Old Woodlands Hotel </a>

<a href=”; title=”Lost Landmarks of Chennai – The Hotel Oceanic”>The Oceanic Hotel</a>

<a href=”; title=”My Ladye’s Garden – another surviving landmark”>My Ladyes Garden</a>

<a href=”; title=”The Connemara Hotel – an enduring landmark”>Connemara Hotel</a>

<a href=”; title=”Lost landmarks of Chennai – Airlines Hotel”>The Airlines Hotel</a>

<a href=”; title=”Lost Landmarks of Chennai – Everest Hotel”>Everest Hotel </a>

<a href=”; title=”Lost Landmarks of Chennai – Modern Cafe”>Modern Cafe</a>

<a href=”; title=”Lost Landmarks of Chennai – Dasaprakash”>Dasaprakash</a>

<a href=”; title=”Eastern and Western Castlets of de Havilland”>The Eastern and Western Castlets</a>

<a href=”; title=”de Havilland and The Madras Bulwark”>The Madras Bulwark</a>