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Indian Medical Service

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Title: Indian Medical Service  
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Subject: List of Victoria Cross recipients of the Indian Army, 1936 Birthday Honours, 1923 Birthday Honours, List of medical recipients of the Victoria Cross, Indian Medical Service officers
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Indian Medical Service

Unidentified members of the IMS in France, during World War I.

The Indian Medical Service (IMS) was a military medical service in British India, which also had some civilian functions. It served during the two World Wars, and remained in existence until the independence of India in 1947. Many of its officers, who were both British and Indian, served in civilian hospitals.

The Raj set up the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine between 1910 and its opening in 1921 as a postgraduate center for tropical medicine on the periphery of the Empire. [1]

Among its notable ranks, the IMS had Sir Ronald Ross, a Nobel Prize winner, Sir Benjamin Franklin, later honorary physician to three British monarchs and Henry Vandyke Carter, best known for his illustrations in the anatomy textbook Gray's Anatomy.

The IMS was one of the routes to becoming a Political officer in the Indian Political Department[2]


The earliest positions for medical officers in the British East India Company (formed as the Association of Merchant Adventurers in 1599 and receiving royal charter on the last day of 1600) were as ship surgeons. The first three surgeons to have served were John Banester on the Leicester, Lewis Attmer on the Edward and Robert Myssenden on the Francis. The first Company fleet went out in 1600 with James Lancaster on the Red Dragon and three other ships each with two surgeons and a barber.[3] This was the voyage on which the serendipitous experiment on lemon juice as a cure for scurvy was carried out. With the establishment of trading posts, "factories", around India, more surgeons and physicians found employment not only with Europeans but in the service of wealthy natives. These men of medicine included Nicholas Manucci, a Venetian born in 1639 who served Dara Shikoh before studying medicine in Lahore where he served Shah Alam from 1678-82. He then settling in Madras. An Armenian named Sikandar Beg served as surgeon to Suleiman Shikoh, son of Darah Shikoh, and there are records of several Dutch and French physicians in courts across India.[4]

Surgeons were often assigned on diplomatic missions to various courts and they were found to be very influential. The first surgeon at Calcutta was an unknown Dutchman who resigned in 1691.William Hamilton was particularly famous.[5] John Zephaniah Holwell who came to Bengal as a Surgeon in 1732 was appointed as Zamindar of Calcutta. He was captured in 1756 by Siraj-ud-Daulah and survived the Black Hole. Holwell was noted as a careful student of native customs and it has been suggested that if he had been in charge of Fort William, the entire incident would not have happened. He returned to England became an advisor on various matters of government.[6] Surgeons were also often spared in wartime. William Fullerton was the sole survivor in 1763 at Patna when the English fought Nawab Mir Qasim.[7][8]

[9] Jean Martin served Haider Ali and a Jean Castarede served under Tipoo Sultan.[10] John Martin Honigberger from Transylvania served Ranjit Singh around 1830 and later at a hospital set up by Sir Henry Lawrence at Lahore.[11] Benjamin Simpson captured numerous photographs during his service in the second half of the 19th century.


A hierarchy was introduced into the establishment of the East India Company in 1614 with the appointment of a Surgeon General, the first to take the position being John Woodall.(17) Woodall was however accused of embezzling pay from apprentices that he would hire. With continuing complaints and a financial crunch Woodall was retrenched in 1642.[12] Another Surgeon Walter Chesley was sent home from service in Sumatra for drunkenness, while a Dr. Coote was removed from Bencoolen for debauchery in 1697.[13]

The establishment of the East India Company in India was greatly aided by one doctor but a lot of fiction may have been introduced into accounts relating to this. A certain Gabriel Boughton saved Shah Jahan's daughter princess Jahanara from injuries due to burns. In reward he was given duty-free trading rights and this document was utilized by the East India Company to obtain farman or rights for itself from the ruler in Surat. Boughton married a Muslim woman, who outlived him to marry William Pitts and after his death a third English husband, Richard Moseley.[14] As more factories were established around India, new positions were made for surgeons and physicians.

The first signs of organization began with the establishment of the Bengal Medical Service on 20th October 1763 with fixed grades, rules for promotion and service. Similar services were established by 1764 in both Madras and Bombay.[15] In Bengal increasing military actions required the separation of Military Surgeons from Civil Surgeons. Each non-native regiment had a surgeon and over time the strength of the Medical Service grew. The Bengal service had 382 in 1854 while Madras had 217 and Bombay 181.[16] For a while the military service also required combat service and upon promotion they could choose one branch either as Captain or Surgeon. The Medical Services of the Presidencies were united into a single Indian Medical Service after 1857.


  1. ^ Helen Power, "The Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine: Institutionalizing Medical Research in the Periphery," Medical History (1996) 40#2 pp 197-214.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Crawford I:1-3
  4. ^ Crawford 1:7-9
  5. ^ Crawford 1:116-127
  6. ^ Crawford 1:150-176
  7. ^ Crawford 1:180-196
  8. ^
  9. ^ Crawford 1:16
  10. ^ Crawford 1:11-14
  11. ^ Crawford 1:15-16
  12. ^ Crawford 1:24-25
  13. ^ Crawford 1:34
  14. ^ Crawford 1:37-57
  15. ^ Crawford 1:197-198
  16. ^ Crawford 1:201-222

Further reading

  • Donald McDonald, Surgeons Twoe and a Barber (London: Heinemann, 1950) online review.

External links

  • Roll of the Indian Medical Services, 1614-1930 by Lt.-Col D. G. Crawford
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