Indian Medical Gazette (1866-1955)

In 1941, the British Medical Journal celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Indian Medical Gazette. Launched in 1866, the Gazette was by this point the longest-running medical journal on the subcontinent. Reflecting on the state of periodical literature in British India, the BMJ remarked that, ‘[d]uring the past century dozens of medical journals have sprung up […] and had their brief day, usually petering out after a few years and now forgotten’.[1] The Gazette was an important exception, a journal which gained a firmer foothold, running until 1955.

Indian Medical Gazette

The first issue of the IMG in January 1866.

The Gazette was a medical monthly produced in Calcutta, the capital of British India until 1911. Its content and format resembled that of its British contemporaries. It included original communications and notes from hospital practice, as well as editorials, news items, and correspondence columns. However, it was also shaped by a specifically imperialist agenda. The Gazette conceived its aim as ‘the ennobling, by every possible means, of the Medical Profession in India’ and announced its commitment to rendering ‘good [to] suffering humanity’. It drew on common tropes, portraying the Indian population as backward and debased, in need of the supposedly civilising influence of Western medicine. At the same time, it was concerned about the lack of status and prestige attached to colonial medical service.[2]  The Gazette also addressed the perceived challenges facing medical journalism in India, questioning whether the stagnation of periodical literature was due to the ‘enervating’ climate.[3]

According to the BMJ, the Gazette’s ultimate success was attributable to its longest-running editor Kenneth McLeod (1871-1892) and one of his successors, Walter Buchanan (1899-1918). Both held senior appointments in the Indian Medical Service (IMS), an institution which had its antecedents in the East India Company and which continued under Crown rule after 1858. The IMS provided both military and some civilian medical services. While the Gazette did not explicitly identify itself as an IMS publication, it was widely regarded as official in character. When the BMJ reviewed the journal in 1874, it noted that the Gazette’s editors were IMS officials and that its contributors ‘belong[ed] chiefly, although far from exclusively, to the Indian service’.[4] In a future blog post, I will examine one of the Gazette’s rivals: the Indian Medical Record. The Record accused the Gazette of receiving state subsidies and presented itself as a staunchly independent alternative.

The Gazette often imagined its readers as British-born men employed in colonial medical service. Its first issue featured an article on ‘Professional Co-operation’ which looked at the challenges facing the young medical officer upon his arrival in India. It described how he ‘may be sent at once to do battle with disease as it occurs among men whose constitutions, customs, diet, and prejudices are new and foreign to him’.[5] Like British journals, the Gazette portrayed India as a strange, unfamiliar and alien space. Many practitioners employed in the IMS and Army Medical Corps were British men who arrived in India after being trained and examined on their home soil.

This article emphasised the Gazette’s commitment to promoting sympathy between medical men and encouraging the exchange of clinical and sanitary information so that ‘[t]he service we owe to Government and India may thereby also be amplified and rendered more useful while, as a consequence, our influence in the country will be more readily acknowledged and respected’. The article noted the ‘difficulties and discouragements to professional zeal and advancement’ that were thought to characterise colonial medicine.[6] Practitioners in India were often accused of apathy and as being less industrious than their British counterparts.

The production of high-quality clinical research was seen as one way of overcoming this prejudice towards colonial medicine. Anne M. Crowther and Marguerite Dupree suggest that, from the outset, the Gazette sought to ‘prove that the IMS could contribute significantly to medical knowledge’.[7] When the BMJ reviewed the Gazette, it judged the journal chiefly in terms of its clinical content. It reassured its readers that the periodical would ‘bear a favourable comparison with contemporary journals, not only in England, but in Europe’.[8] There is a sense that Indian periodicals had to prove their worth by asserting their equality with their European counterparts.

As indicated, the Gazette was shaped by the colonial context, which included an ethnically diverse readership. The IMS had long employed indigenous peoples, chiefly (though not exclusively) in low-status positions. In 1876, the journal published a leading article reflecting on its first decade of existence. It claimed that one of its original intentions was to cement ‘a bond of union by means of which medical men working in India of whatever service or creed or race [….] should be brought together for mutual edification and improvement’.[9] This implied that both British and ‘native’ readers would be enriched in tandem and united through their shared readership of the journal.

The Gazette remarked that it received contributions from native practitioners – working in the IMS as Assistant Surgeons, Apothecaries, and Hospitals Assistants, and as private doctors – with ‘pleasure’. Bound volumes of the Gazette typically open with a list of contributors for the year, and from this it is possible to conclude that native practitioners actively supplied clinical material. The Gazette designated their communications evidence of ‘laudable ambition’ and expressed its hope that publishing such material would dispel prejudices that these men were ‘incapable of original research’ or that they were content with a ‘life of stagnation and inertness’.[10] Even more so than British men in IMS employment, practitioners of Indian, Eurasian and Anglo-Indian descent were charged with apathy.

The Gazette framed itself as the champion and supporter of men from different ethnic backgrounds but it also adopted a paternalistic approach and was often deeply patronising. The journal commended itself on ‘develop[ing] the literary industry’ of native practitioners and suggested that their contributions showed ‘the soundness of the education which they receive’. This reduced the men to passive recipients of Western medicine’s supposedly enlightening influence. Although the Gazette welcomed the way in which it could help challenge negative stereotypes, it also urged its ‘native brethren’ to ‘quicken their will and effort’ so that they could ‘entirely obliterate the stain’ against their name.[11] This loaded language hints at the prejudice faced by these readers.

The journal’s diverse readership also encompassed female practitioners. In 1882, the Gazette published an article on ‘Women Doctors for India’, which criticised the movement for medical women. The writer denied that there was any appetite for them among female patients who observed veiling or segregation. It claimed that ‘the picture of excessive obstetric and uterine suffering [in the zenanas] has been overdrawn’.[12] However, the journal’s stance softened in following years, particularly after the establishment of the National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India (commonly known as the Dufferin Fund) in 1885. This formalised women’s involvement in the provision of colonial medicine. The Gazette soon overturned its objections and enthusiastically reported the achievements of medical women, as well as printing their clinical contributions.[13]

Florence Dissent article

A clinical report from Florence Dissent (December 1891).

Ultimately, the Gazette suggested that medical men and women, of both British and Indian descent, had complementary roles to play in imperial medicine’s mission. As indicated, it believed that greater professional co-operation would help to elevate the status of colonial practice. Nevertheless, the journal’s dominant editorial voice reinforced hierarchies, largely foregrounding the experiences of white men while representing non-white and female practitioners as occupying subordinate or separate roles. Thus the journal reveals both the ambitions and tensions of the colonial medical profession.

[1] ‘Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Indian Medical Gazette’, BMJ, 3 May 1941, p. 679.

[2] Mark Harrison, Public Health in British India: Anglo-Indian Preventive Medicine, 1859-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

[3] [Editorial], IMG, 1 January 1866, p. 1.

[4] ‘Review: The Indian Medical Gazette’, BMJ, 20 June 1874, pp. 808-9 (p. 808).

[5] ‘Professional Co-operation’, IMG, 1 January 1866, pp. 6-7 (p. 6).

[6] ‘Professional Co-operation’, p. 6.

[7] M. Anne Crowther and Marguerite W. Dupree, Medical Lives in the Age of Surgical Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 304.

[8] ‘Review: The Indian Medical Gazette’, BMJ, 20 June 1874, pp. 808-9 (p. 808).

[9] ‘1875’, IMG, 1 January 1876, pp. 12-23 (p. 19).

[10] ‘1875’, p. 20.

[11] ‘1875’, p. 20.

[12] ‘Women Doctors for India’, IMG, 1 July 1882, pp. 184-5 (p. 184).

[13] See, for example, Florence Dissent, ‘Mirror of Medicine: Two Cases of Large Uterine Polypus’, IMG, December 1891, p. 334.

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