Imperial medicine and the
‘civilising mission’
Week 8
The White
Man’s Burden
“Take up the White Man's
burden-Send forth the best ye
breedGo, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives'
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild-Your new-caught sullen
Half devil and half child.”
Rudyard Kipling, ‘The White
Man’s Burden’, 1899
WHOSE burden?
"The White (?)
Man’s Burden"
The "white”
colonial powers
being carried as
the burden of their
"colored” subjects.
First printed in Life,
March 16, 1899.
Imperialism and ‘Progress’
Defining Characteristics of Imperial
and Colonial Medicine
• universalising claims
• creation/reproduction of race and gender stereotypes pathologizing
the bodies of colonial peoples
• used as a source of political authority and social control, legitimation
• profound role of environment in determining medical priorities,
interpretations, policies
• medicine state-oriented, state-dependent, expressive of imperialist
• close links with military establishment
• often enclavist, privileging European health over that of natives
• sanitary and public health measures have strong component of
population control
• aimed at creating and reinforcing European hegemony, cultural,
political and social
Case Study: Smallpox, Sitala,
and the Civilising mission
From inoculation to vaccination
A case study in colonial medicine: chronology and context of
vaccination in India
Time frame -- This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive chronology, but
merely aims to suggest the context and phases of colonial medicine in India.
1763 Britain defeats France in India
1780s Indian Medical Service begins to expand (IMS)
1784 India Act puts India under parliamentary control (administered by East India
Company [EIC]); Asiatic Society of Bengal founded
1803 Mughal Emperor accepts British protection
1804 First attempt to ban variolation, and impose vaccination (unenforced,
1813 Charter Act forces EIC to accept responsibility for education of the Indian
people, particularly in ‘Oriental and Occidental science,’ as counterpoise
to missionary education
1818 First vernacular newspaper started (by missionaries)
1822 Native Medical Institution founded in Calcutta, to train Indians in w. med. for
army/civilian govt.
1827 Calcutta Madrasa and Calcutta Sanskrit College offer classes in unani and
ayurveda respectively
1828 Brahmo Samaj, an org. supporting western-style education and the printing
of Hindu works in vernacular, founded by native reformers;
1833 East India Company monopoly revoked
1835 Official policy supporting Western-style education and westernization (esp in
languages, science and medicine); support withdrawn from Madrasa,
Sanskrit College, NMI, and Calcutta Medical College founded instead,
offering English-language medical training
1836 first dissection in modern times performed by an Indian vaidya (formerly a
medical instructor at Sanskrit College)
1840s Conquest of Sind and Punjab
1844 Calcutta Medical College founded
1853 India loses dominance in cotton textiles and becomes importer of Lancashire
cotton cloth; first railway line opens
1857 Universities established in the three Presidencies; two would subsequently
exclude vernacular languages from their courses of study
1857-8 ‘Mutiny’ or first Indian Uprising
1860s Medical men calling for regulation of native Indian medical practitioners;
Contagious diseases Act, just passed in Britain, swiftly enacted in India as
1864 Sanitation Boards established in each Presidency
1865 Govt of Bengal prohibited variolation in Calcutta
1868 Indian Pharmacopoeia published, aimed at IMS personnel
1869 Suez opens, hugely facilitating trade and travel between Europe and India
1870-71 rumours of compulsory vaccination spark riots in Delhi
1877 Govt. of Bombay passes Vaccination act, making vaccination compulsory for
1880 permissive legislation passed allowing local govts to mandate vaccination
1885 1st Indian National Congress
1890s plague epidemics
1897 Plague Act granting Govt. draconian powers over people, property, trade,
pilgrimage, sanitation, passed over heads of Indian local, regional
governments, in order to suppress plague (which was threatening
European trade with India). Legislation and subsequent actions provoked
unprecedented civilian resistance and violent rioting (Chairman of Plague
Committee assassinated)
1905 1st mass agitation
1909 Indian Councils Act, making majority of legislative council seats directly
elective, w/ separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus. India
representatives to viceroy’s council and to secretary’s council in UK.
1917 policy promoting Indian self-government first announced; deemed inadequate
by Indian nationalists
1919 ‘anti-sedition’ laws enabling detention without trial etc., for Indian nationalist
activists; influenza epidemic and mass famines; sanitation and education
matters transferred from Governor’s portfolio to Indian ministers
1920 first non-cooperation campaign and boycott on British goods
1935 Government of India Act
1947 Independence and Partition.
Medical Mandates and Civilising
• “In no country does the public health more urgently demand
the aid of that science. But the ignorance, prejudice, and
suspicions of the people on one hand, and the vast demands
upon the revenues for more visibly and perhaps more urgently
needed public works on the other, do not leave sanitation a
chance.” India, 1872 (in response to epidemic cholera)
• “The basis of all sanitary achievement... must be a knowledge of the
people and the conditions under which they live, their prejudices,
their ways of life, their social customs, their habits, surroundings
and financial means...” Sir Harcourt Butler, November 1911.
Letter of donation of a Tropical Medicine Laboratory to the Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum,
Sudan. 1901, from Sir Henry Wellcome to General Sir Reginald Wingate KCMG, KCB, DSO etc. Governor
General of the Sudan.
September 28th,1901,
I beg to offer for the acceptance of the Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum , a complete equipment for
Chemical and Bacteriological Laboratories for Analytical and Research Work. The Laboratories would be
•To promote technical education.
•To undertake the testing and assaying of agricultural, mineral and other substances of practical interest
in the industrial development of the Sudan.
•To carry out such tests in connection with waters, food stuffs and sanitary matters as may be found
•To aid in criminal investigation in poisoning cases (which are so frequent in Sudan) by detecting and
experimental determination of toxic agents , particularly those obscure potent substances employed by
the natives.
•To study bacteriologically and physiologically tropical disorders especially the infective diseases of both
man and beast peculiar to the Sudan, and to render assistance to the officers of health and the clinics of
civil and military hospitals.…
It is anticipated that the work of the laboratories will prove beneficial to both the European and native
population. It is my desire that the laboratories be made as far as practicable self-supporting, by the
charging of such reasonable fees as will aid in covering the cost of maintaining them. …
In the event of your doing me the honour of accepting my offer, I propose that the equipment shall be
delivered either at Alexandria or Port Said, as you may prefer.
I have the honour to be, Sir
your obedient Servant.
(signed) Henry S. Wellcome

Imperial medicine and the ‘civilising mission’