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Welcome to Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Kolkata
English Dutch French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish
Welcome to Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Kolkata

Brief History

During the regime of East India Company, the first properly organised hospital, the Calcutta General Hospital, was established in 1790 in Calcutta. This was followed in 1792 by the opening of the Calcutta Native Hospital, The former is now represented by the present Presidency General Hospital, the latter was rebuilt and renamed as the present Mayo Hospital which was opened 1874.

The Calcutta Native Hospital appears to have been the first institution to provide scientific treatment for diseases of the eye, and even now, in spite of more up-to-date hospitals in Calcutta, the Mayo Hospital still carries the tradition among the inhabitants of Bengal as a place from which blind persons return with their sight restored.

Centuries before the introduction of the European system of medicine into India, the treatment of eye diseases was in the hands of quacks and couchers, better known as mals, rawals, or hakims. Cataract and eye diseases being very prevalent in India., these quacks abounded every where, Some of them attained a considerable amount of skill and established reputations for the cure of cataract.

Old records are available which relate that officials, business men and planters, suffering from eye diseases were apt to consult established mals and even in the early days, when European medical treatment was available, a man named Sham Charan flourished in Bengal in the early days of the East India Company and his named can be traced in the office records.

It was for the successful mal to score over the European surgeon in those days, and no wonder , as the former would travel from one end of the country to another with his instruments and paraphernalia, leaving in his trail a certain amount of success and happiness, though more often failure and sufferings produced by his handicraft, which were attributed to the work of evil spirit or bad luck.

In the year 1798,Dr. J. Shoolbred the then superintendent of the Calcutta Native Hospital, published in the annual transaction of the hospital the treatment two cases of cataract. 20 cases of phlegmon of the eye, and 30 cases of ophthalmia. The number of eye cases reported in the hospital transactions treated in the institution steadily increased from year to year.

In the year 1816, Dr. Luxmure, an assistant surgeon in Calcutta, petitioned the Governor-General in Council for an endowment to extend and improve his private eye hospital which was situated in Chowringhee and which was apparently opened two or three years previously. In his application he states, ''The various opportunities I have had in the treatment of cataract have afforded me the pleasing gratification of rendering the operation so successful as generally to restore sight to those who were blind from any species of cataract. from the infant born in that state to the adult at an advanced period of life provided there was no other defect in the organ of sight." His petition was forwarded to the Medical Board and Director R. Leny, Secretary of the Medical Board, replied that, "Many eye cases are at present cured in the Calcutta Native Hospital which the operation for the cure of cataract is performed with great skill and success and where professional assistance for these kind of cases is never refused. The Government by granting an additional pecuniary aid to the Native Hospital would enable the Governors of that institution to construct an exclusive ward for diseases of the eye." Since that date the Calcutta Native Hospital kept a separate ophthalmic department was opened.

In the year 1828. the Hon'ble Directors of teh East India Company in London senr Doctor  C. Egerton to Calcutta to establish an eye hospital there. He is mentioned as having been trained in Ophthalmology in London under Dr. Travers who was the leading eye doctor in England at that time.

The Eye Hospital situated at the junction of Wood Street and Theatre Road, Calcutta, on the present site of the Saturday Club and mentioned in old records, was probably started by him.

From the year 1800-1850 mention is made in official records of the following surgeons who carried out treatment of diseases of the eye:-

Doctor J. Shoolbred1794-1821
P. Breton1801-1830
J. Jameson1807-1820
T. Luxmure1813-1825
Simon Nicholson1816-1855
J. R, Martin1817-1839
C.C. Egerton1824-1847
E.W.W. Raleigh1839-1845
R.O. Shaughnessy1841-1845
J. Jackson1845185

Dr. Peter Breton was superintendent of the first Native Medical School in Calcutta. He was a very versatile author and among his writings was an article on the native method of couching published in 1826. He died in Calcutta in 1830.

Dr. James Jameson was the first superintendent of the Calcutta Native Medical School in 1822. He died in Calcutta in 1832

Dr. Thomas Luxmure died in Lucknow in 1828.

Dr. Simon Nicholson was one of the original fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and died in Calcutta in 1855 having given 48 years service, His picture in oils is in the rooms of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta.

Dr. James Ronald Martin was Surgeon Superintendent of the Calcutta Native Hospital from 1830-1839. He was one of the original fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1844 and was the first President of the Medical Board of the iNdia office in 1864. He was a fellow of the Royal Society in 1885 and was knighted in 1860, and was a writer of repute.

Dr.C.C Egerton was aso one of the original fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Dr.E.W Raleigh was an original fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Dr. John Jackson was an original fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1844 and become a fellow of the Royal College of Phycisians of London in 1859. He was an author of repute.

Doctors Breton, Jameson and Nicholson are also mentioned in connection with the teaching of medical in diseases of the eye.

In the year 1835, the Calcutta Medical College was established and in the records the earliest eye work mentioned was in the yaer 1840 and the name of Doctor Martin is associated with it. He was the first part-time Professor of Ophthalmology. An actual separate eye department in connection with the Medical College Hospitals was established the year 1860 in Halliday Street at the site now called Mohomed Ali Park, south of the present Fire Brigade and Ambulance Station on Chittaranjan Avenue. Dr. Archer was the first surgeon in charge and in addition was also part-time Professor of Ophthalmology in the Calcutta Medical College. He introduced more modern Ophthalmic methods in diagnosis and treatment. He adopted the extraction operation for the cure of cataract, the iridectomy operation for glaucoma, condemned the operation of couching as practised by mals and kabirajs and introduced the ophthalmoscopic examination of the eye with Libreichs, ophthalmoscope. Many other improvements, including the regular use ofchloroform anasthesia in intraocular operations are attributed to him.

In 1867, Dr. Archer was succeeded by Major N.C MacNamara, I.M.S., who later made for himself a great reputation as an able ophthaolmic surgeon and teacher as well as a great administrator. Due largely to his initiative and energy, the present Mayo Hospital was built and opened in 18747. He was the first professor of Ophthalmology in the Calcutta Medical College.He was a pupil of Sir William Bowman, F.R.S. and studied under many of the laeding ophthalmic surgeons in Europe at that time, and can be considered as the father of modern ophthalmic teaching in Bengal. It is now of interest to know that he disagreed with the then prevalent theory that the lens was composed of tubular fibres and cataract was due to molecular changes taking place in the lens. He taught his students that cataract in very many cases was due to fatty degeneration of the lens fibre and this condition mau be induced by cayses affecting its nutrition whether arising from alteration in the blood, from defective innervation, mechanical separation, or lastly inherent defects in the germinal matter from which the fibres of the lens are formed. He advocated and practised the removal of the cataractous lens by linear extraction with a horns scoops without iridectomy for all forms of cataract affecting the inhabitants of India whether European or Indian. He forcefully condemned the operation of reclination which was at that time discarded by the majority of surgeons in Europe but nevertheless still had its advocates as well as being the method of adoption by the kabirajs and mals in India. He advocated removal of the lens in its capsule in cases of immature cataract, causing considerable impairment of vision so that none of the soft and transparent coetical matter might attach itself ti the iris.

In 1867, the year that MacNamara become the first whole time Professor of Ophthalmology, the Senate of the Calcutta University insisted on students coming up for examination not only producing certificates of having attended an ophthalmic hospital and lectures on the subject, but that each should pass a clinical as well as a written examination so that the test entailed practical acquaintance with the principles of ophthalmology.

In MacNamara's time, cocaine had not come into use in ophthalmoc surgery, the operations being done without an anaesthetic or under chloroform. He was a great advocate of doing all eye operations under chloroforms and disagreed with Von Graefe who did nit approve of chloroform. Ether anaesthesia was then thought to be impracticable in warm climates. He described the technique to prevent vomiting after operation which was the great argument put forward against chloroform.

Dacryocystitis and mucocele which are very common diseases in Bengal were at that time treated paliatively by the use of probes and more radically by destruction of the lacrimal sac by chemicals, which was followed later in some cases by the removal of the lacrimal sac.

In 1874, MacNamara retired to practise in London, where he quickly become a prominent ophthalmologist, was appointed to the staff of the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital and later become Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

In 1867, he published an excellent textbook on ophthalmology based on the lectures he delivered to the students of the Medical College. This work was subsequently translated into Bengali by his able assistant Dr. Lal Madhab Mukherjee.

Major Caley I.M.S., succeeded MacNamara as professor of ophthalmology and it was in his time that the Halliday Street Eye Hospital with 20 beds was abolished, and its equipments, apparatus etc., were transferred to a portion of the Medical College Hospitals in the Building in which the present emergency and observation wards are located.

Major Caley was succeeded in 1886 by Major R.C Sanders, I.M.S., and form this year to the early years of the present century, Sanders dominated the ophthalmic world in Bengal and waa the most prominent ophthalmic surgeon since MacNamara. He was a very skillfull surgeon and built up an extensive private practice. He is still widely remembered by many of the older residents of Bengal, some of whom owe their eyesight to his handiwork. He was not, however , a good teacher. I n his time, in the year 1891, the Shama Charan Law Eye Infirmary was opened with 57 beds at the junction of Colootollah and College Streets due to the munificence if Babu Shama Charan Law. The Medical College Eye Department was shifted to this hospital from this year.

In 1901, Sanders retired from the Professorship of Ophthalmology but continued to reside and practice in Calcutta. The Marwari Population in Calcutta built the present Marwari Hospital on Harrison Road in the year 1902 and he was the first surgeon in charge and popularised that institution as a centre for the treatment of eye diseases.

In 1901, Lt.Col.J.Lewtas, I.M.S. succeeded sanders as professor of ophthalmology and remained for four years. Lewtas is still remembered as a very pious man who prayed in the Board Room of the Mayo Hospital before starting the work of the day.

In 1905, he was succeeded by Major Maynard, I.M.S., who was later to follow in the footsteps of MacNamara and Sanders in making a great reputation both in and out of India and with other distinguished ophthalmologist of his time in India. Lt. Cols. Elliott, Herbert and Smith, add renown to Indian ophthalmology.

In 1910, Maynard pointed out the necessity of anew, enlarged and modern eye hospital and school which would be worthy of such a large city as Calcutta. He drew up the plans of the present Eye Infirmity and due to his enterprise, energy and skill, his proposals were finally approved by Government in 1916. Owing to the great war and lack of sufficient funds, Maynard was destined not to see the fruit of his labours completed as he retired in 1919 and the new eye infirmary was not finished till 1923. It was finally opened for the reception of patients in September 1926 during the perios thay Major KIrwan, I.M.S., was officiating as professor of ophthalmology.

Maynard was writer of repute, his best works prahaps being two manuals of ophthalmology published in 1929 and based on the systenatic course of lectures he delivered to the students of the Medical College Calcutta.

In 1919, Major W. V. Coppinger, I.M.S., succeeded Maynard, and during his time ophthalmology entered upon a new phase with the advent of the Gullstrand slit lamp and the corneal microscope. The present Eye Infirmary was equipped with every modern apparatus. The special pathological department of the Infirmary alone lagged behind, this part of ophthalmology continued to be carried out by the Department of Pathology in the Medical College.

In 1928, two honorary ophthalmic surgeons were appointed to the visiting staff of the Eye Infirmary, Dr. S. K. Mukherjee, F.R. C. S. E., and Dr. T. Ahmed, F.R.C.S.E., and remain still on the staff.

In In 1929, the present Professor, Lt.-Col. E. O' G. Kirwan, I.M.S., succeeded Coppinger, and is still in charge.

During the last five years ophthalmology has undergone considerable progress and change the work of the Eye Infirmary shows an ever increasing popularity.

The preset Eye Infirmary of the Medical College Hospitals consist of 139 beds in the intern department and a huge out patient department which is a capable of handling up to 400 patients a day for the treatment of Eye diseases nad refraction errors. Here also is located the office of the Association for the prevention of Blindness, Bengal, the only Association of its kind which exists in India.

The magnificent work carried out by Indian Ophthalmologists in the advance nad progress of ophthalmology in Bengal must not be overlooked. In the early days in Bengal, they were trained  by the European doctors practising eye diseases and had much to contend against in the way of kabirajs, mals and quacks of all kinds. From the year 1860 onwards, the name of Dr. Nil Madab Halder appears in official records as an eye doctor of repute, and his name is still remembered. Later, Dr. Lal Madab Mukherji who was assistant to Lt. Col. MacNamara established a great reputation as a surgeon, teacher and writer. From 1870 onwards, Dr. Khirode Nath Dutta was also a prominent eye doctor practising in Calcutta. He was attached for 45 years ti the Mayo Hospital, retired in the year 1927 and died only recently in 1934 in hos 80th year. His brain remained very clear up till the end, and he was present at the Third Conference of the All India Ophthalmological Congress held in Calcutta in 1933. It was of great interest to hear from him that in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century ophthalmic practise consisted more in prescribing remedies than in doing tntracular work.

Other prominent Bengali Doctors who flourished about the end of the last century were Doctors Monmohan Bose, Atul Bose and K.K Bagchi.

In the g\history of the Ophthalmolgy of Bengal, the name of Dr. M. N. Chatterjee must not be overlooked. He was formerly on the staff of the Mayo Hospital for seven years, was the founder of the Eye Department in the Carmichael Medical College, Belgachia and still remains in charge.

Besides the Eye Infirmary in the Mediacal College, there are Eye Department in the following hospitals where modern ophthalmology is carried out by experienced ophthalmic surgeons.

  1. Carmichael Medical College
  2. The Mayo Hospital
  3. The Campbell Hospital
  4. The Sambhunath Pundit Hospital
  5. The Howrah General Hospital
  6. The National Medical Institute Hospital
  7. The Calcutta Medical Institute