Oct 192020

Royal College of Physicians, 11 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JQ

Royal College of Physicians

When Kadambini Ganguly received her BA from the University of Calcutta in 1883, she became the first woman to graduate in India. This was monumental, since Calcutta Medical College had initially refused to admit her because of her gender. In 1893, she travelled to Edinburgh and studied for the Scottish Triple at the Royal College of Physicians. At the time, travelling to the UK to study was limited to a small but growing wealthy elite in India. At the college, she took courses in medicine, therapeutics, surgery, anatomy, midwifery, and medical jurisprudence. Ganguly continuously challenged society’s expectations of her. Her decision to study medicine abroad as a married woman provoked backlash from the upper-caste Bengali community, and when she received her diploma she was the only successful woman candidate in her cohort. When Ganguly returned to India, she practiced obstetrics and gynecology at Lady Dufferin Hospital in Calcutta, combining her medical work with political activism. She was one of six women delegates to the fifth session of the Indian National Congress in 1889, and organized a Women’s Conference in Calcutta in the aftermath of the 1906 partition of Bengal (which separated the majority Muslim East from the largely Hindu West).

Kadambini Ganguly
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Oct 192020

Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh EH1 2LX

Assembly Hall

In 1952, Assembly Hall was the location of protest meetings against the Central African Federation (CAF), where Edinburgh alumni Julius Nyerere and Hastings Banda, later Presidents of independent Tanzania and Malawi respectively, spoke. The CAF was a colonial federation of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) between 1953 and 1963. Those in favour claimed the territories were economically interdependent and thus vulnerable individually. However, Afrikaners and Black Africans were vehemently opposed to a white minority rule of a few Europeans over millions of Africans. In Scotland, Nyerere and Banda mobilized opposition to the Federation. In February 1952, they spoke out against the Federation at Assembly Hall. The Scotsman newspaper described Banda’s claims “that the federation of these territories was not in the best interests of the people…They would lose the right to form their own Government within the Commonwealth.” Nyerere condemned the Federation as “another example of white domination over Africans.” The meeting at Assembly Hall passed a unanimous resolution against the Federation and resulted in the Scottish Council on African Questions, “set up to combat racism and colonialism in Africa.” The CAF was dissolved when Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia gained independence in 1963.

Administrative divisions of the CAF
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Oct 192020

Royal College of Surgeons, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DW

Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

In 1937, Hastings Banda, who became the first President of independent Malawi in 1966, travelled to Edinburgh to study medicine. At the time, the Royal College of Surgeons was one of Britain’s only non-university institutions providing a respected medical qualification, the Scottish Triple. Taking his final examinations in 1940, Banda passed all his courses except Surgery and Midwifery. He passed on his fifth attempt, however, and was finally awarded his diploma in July in 1941. In 1977, President Banda donated £350,000 to the College, receiving an honorary fellowship in return. A plaque commemorating Banda was erected outside, but during the campaign for multi-party democracy in the early 1990s, Banda came under widespread criticism. He was an absolute ruler who had outlawed all other political parties and owned 45% of Malawi’s GDP. Despite this, the College refused to take a political stance when asked to return Banda’s donation to Malawi. Dr. Paul Reece noted that no “donations should have been made by the President to a royal college in the UK when there are all the problems in Malawi itself. When I was there we were having adults admitted with starvation.” The College refused, but the plaque has been removed.

Hastings Banda (left) and Julius Nyerere (right).
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Oct 192020

15 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN

15 Buccleuch Place

Dr. Agnes Yewande Savage was born at 15 Buccleuch Place in 1906. Her father, Richard Akinwande Savage, had been vice president of the Afro-West Indian Society at Edinburgh and, in 1900, attended the first Pan-African Congress in London. Savage was probably the first West African woman to qualify in medicine. She graduated with a first, winning awards in skin disease and forensic medicine. In 1929, she was awarded the prestigious Dorothy Gilfillan Memorial Prize for the best woman graduate. Savage nevertheless faced huge institutional barriers due to her race and gender. When appointed in 1930 as a junior medical officer in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Savage was paid discriminatory wages and lived in servants’ quarters. Andrew Fraser, headmaster at Achimota College, recruited her as a teacher and a medical officer in 1931. Savage also supervised the establishment of the Nurses Training School at Korle Bu, Accra, where a ward is now named after her. Finally, in 1945, Savage was given the same terms of employment, salary, and retirement as her white colleagues. Historian E. Keazor asserts that Savage “left one of the greatest legacies for Nigerian women. […] Her life shows that hard work and self-belief can allow one to break barriers.”

Agnes Yewande Savage
Richard Savage Sr. with the Students Representative Council
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Oct 192020

15 Melville Terrace, Edinburgh EH9 1LY

15 Melville Terrace

Born in 1886, Jung Bahadur Singh was an advocate for marginalized colonial subjects in British Guiana (now Guyana). While his time at Edinburgh is poorly documented, we know that he lived with his wife, Alice Bhagwandy Singh, and their children at 15 Melville Terrace. After the abolition of chattel slavery, Britain began to recruit indentured labourers as a substitute. Indentured labourers were paid to work in the Caribbean but were expected to return to South Asia after a 5 year period. Singh had close and personal experiences with indenture – both of his parents were indentured labourers in British Guiana, and between the ages of 16 and 28, he had worked as a medical dispenser on immigration ships. As a result, he became dedicated to representing the plight of diasporic Indians, and when he enrolled to study medicine at Edinburgh in 1914, he became a prominent member of the Edinburgh Indian Association. When Singh completed his studies and returned to British Guiana, he fought for the rights of the Indo-Guyanese to participate in their own governance, to have their non-Christian rites legally recognized, and to receive better pay.

Jung Bahadur Singh and Alice Bhagwandy Singh
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Oct 192020

The Confucius Institute for Scotland, 1 Marchhall Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 5HP

Wong Fun Statue at the Confucius Institute for Scotland

The Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh promotes the “educational, economic, and cultural ties between Scotland and China.” In the 1850s, the University of Edinburgh was one of the first destinations for Chinese students pursuing overseas study. This statue depicts Dr. Wong Fun (Huang Kuan), who was educated as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh between 1850 and 1855. The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS) granted financial support to overseas students studying medicine in Scotland, and aided Dr. Wong financially from 1852. Upon completing his studies, Dr. Wong became the first Chinese student to graduate from any institution across the whole of Europe, as well as the first Western-trained doctor in China. Dr. Wong’s thesis was entitled ‘On Functional Disorders of the Stomach’ and Yung Wing, a former classmate and one of the first Chinese students to graduate in America, remembered him as “one of the ablest surgeons East of the Cape of Good Hope.” After his graduation, Wong was appointed as a clinical clerk to Professor James Miller in the New Surgical Hospital, and later took a position in a missionary hospital in Kum-Lee-Fow.

Wong Fu
Wong Fu’s thesis.
A Plaque to Wong Fun also stands at 8 Buccleuch Place.
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Oct 082020

7 Grange Road, Edinburgh EH9 1UH

7 Grange Road

South African Kesaveloo Goonam Naidoo lived with the Dewar family at 7 Grange Road in the early 1930s. In her autobiography, Goonam fondly remembered “the cold wintry evenings spent cuddled up with Aunt Mary near the glowing fire, listening to her tales of Scotland.” When Goonam graduated from Edinburgh’s Medical School, she became the first Indian female doctor in South Africa. Reflecting on her time at the University, Goonam remembered Edinburgh’s Indian students as “intensely patriotic, highly critical of the British, and passionately supportive of Gandhi.” When she returned to South Africa in 1936, Goonam galvanized women’s involvement in Indian nationalist activities. She was the first woman to attain the vice-presidency of the Natal Indian Congress, and became a leading political force in the Passive Resistance Campaign, launched in 1946 by fellow Edinburgh alum Dr. Monty Naicker against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Representation Bill. This Bill, enacted by the South African Parliament, “declared war on (South African) Indians” by segregating them into ghettos, and thereby earning the nickname “the Ghetto Act.” When Goonam passed away at 92, Nelson Mandela offered his condolences, saying that South Africa had lost a great freedom fighter and an outstanding champion of democracy.

Kesaveloo Goonam graduated from Edinburgh in 1936.
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Aug 102020

High School Yards, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ

surgeon's square
High School Yards with Old Surgeon’s Hall.

The four buildings inside High School Yards have a long history of medicine and surgery within Edinburgh. Old Surgeons’ Hall (OSH), built in 1697 by Scottish architect James Smith, was designed as an anatomy theatre and the first public dissection occurred in 1703. By 1832, the surgeons moved to New Surgeons’ Hall on Nicolson Street and OSH and the New High School building (where the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation is currently located) were converted to surgical hospitals. The current School of Geoscience was built in 1853 as a surgical hospital. Known as Drummond Street Surgical Hospital, it was built as part of the Royal Infirmary. When the Royal Infirmary moved to Lauriston Place in 1879, the already established surgical hospitals and Chisholm House were converted into medical facilities for contagious patients. Under the control of Sir Henry Littlejohn, Edinburgh’s Medical Officer, this group of buildings became known as the City Fever Hospital. In 1903 the City Fever Hospital moved to a new location on Coliston Mains and the buildings at HSY were sold to the University of Edinburgh.

Postcard of a painting by J Sanderson of the old Royal Infirmary Edinburgh building at Infirmary Street.
An etching (published in 1829) of Old Surgeon’s Hall and adjacent buildings.
Perspective View of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at Infirmary Street.

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Aug 102020

20 W Richmond St, Edinburgh EH8 9DX

Andrew Duncan

The current MacKenzie Medical Centre was once the site of the Royal Public Dispensary of Edinburgh, Scotland’s first public dispensary. In the early 1770s, Andrew Duncan taught at the University of Edinburgh, using chronically ill patients unable to pay for treatment. As the number of patients at these sessions kept increasing, Duncan proposed a public dispensary that would provide free healthcare in large numbers to the poor. When the dispensary opened in 1783, teaching was a key element of its practice and, as practical experience became a requirement in medical education, from 1890 onwards it was compulsory. In 1963, the dispensary building was donated to the University of Edinburgh. It is now a GP training practice, where students still have the opportunity for hands-on experience.

Mackenzie Medical Centre in 2017 (CC-SA by David Hawgood)
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Jun 222019

1 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh, EH7 5DY; marked with a blue plaque

1 Hillside Crescent (with a blue plaque)

Thomas Henderson (1798-1844) became the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1834. He was also appointed Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and worked at the nearby Calton Hill Observatory until his death. His scientific achievements include the calculation of the parallax of a fixed star (the angle describing the difference in the position of a star on the night sky as measured six months apart), leading him to be the first person to measure the distance to Alpha Centauri, one of a group of nearest stars to the Sun. Unfortunately, delaying the publication of his results led to German astronomer Friedrich Bessel and Russian astronomer Friedrich Struve receiving credit for first measuring stellar parallaxes. Throughout his time in Edinburgh, he lived at 1 Hillside Crescent and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard (very near the memorial in stop number 13 on this tour).

Thomas Henderson

Thomas Henderson’s memorial/graveside at Greyfriars Kirkyard

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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