'I have a notion of going off to India': Colonel Alexander Porter and Irish recruitment to the Indian Medical Service, 1855-96.
One of the many ways in which Irish colonial servants helped to build, consolidate and extend Britain's empire was in the field of colonial medicine. However, in stark contrast to British--particularly Scottish--medicine, relatively little has been written about the global impact of the Irish medical profession and its vast diaspora. Yet, Irish doctors and the medical colleges that trained them played an important role in the expansion of the medical profession throughout the Anglophone world. (5) It has been estimated that during the second half of the nineteenth century alone, over fifty per cent of doctors who qualified from Irish medical colleges emigrated within five years of graduation. The majority of these (28%) went to Britain where they worked in public health, hospital medicine and private practice, but a substantial percentage (19.6%) also chose to join the uniformed medical services of the Army, Navy and India, where they were disproportionately represented for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (6)
The popularity of the uniformed medical services amongst Irish graduates is not surprising given the long and distinguished tradition of military service which existed within Ireland's medical fraternity. As early as 1788, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was granted the right to examine and licence doctors for the Army Medical Service, an honour which was further enhanced by the establishment of specialised courses in military hygiene and surgery in 1846, the only official military medical education until the establishment of the Army Medical College in 1860. (7) The demand for this type of training led William Stokes, professor of physic at Trinity College Dublin's School of Physic, to establish the UK's first diploma in state medicine in 1870. Under Stokes's tutelage, medics were trained in the 'application of medical science to the health and well-being of the masses', or those subjects which army, colonial or public health doctors might be required to master during their careers such as preventative and tropical medicine. (8) By the turn of the century, the symbiotic relationship between Irish medicine and empire had become so important that leading academics conceptualised the role of Irish medical education within an imperial context. Giving evidence to the Royal Commission on Education in 1902, Professor James Lindsay of Queen's College Belfast claimed that Irish medical schools were training grounds of 'men, not for Ireland only, but for the British Empire'. The imperial trajectory of Irish medicine was, Lindsay asserted, a 'legitimate object of statesmanship in a country where other careers are comparatively restricted'. (9)
By the end of the century, the influence of empire was not just reflected in the curriculum taught throughout the Irish medical colleges. It was also evident in the networks that Irish graduates formed, whether through professional bodies such as the British Medical Association or through alumni organisations such as the Irish Medical Schools and Graduates Association (IMSGA). Based in London, the IMSGA sought to promote the interests of Irish graduates in Britain and awarded the prestigious Arnott Memorial Medal, which honoured individual acts of heroism or distinguished service in either civilian life or in the military. (10) Although meant to recognise those who served either at home or abroad, this award was very much orientated towards empire with examples of recipients including leading army and Indian medical officers such as Alexander Sinton and T. J. Crean (both recipients of the Victoria Cross), Sir Arthur Keogh and Sir Peter Freyer honoured alongside scientists like Sir Almroth Wright.
Graduate organisations such as the IMSGA reflected the ease with which Irish doctors moved between Ireland, Britain and empire. This freedom of movement was perhaps most pronounced in the ranks of the uniformed medical services. In the Army Medical Service--by far the largest military medical department--Irish graduates accounted for anywhere between 34 and 50 per cent of annual recruits during the period 1858 to 1898. (11) A similar pattern of recruitment extended also to the ranks of the Indian Medical Service (IMS) which underwent sweeping changes during the 1850s. Long the preserve of Scottish medical graduates, the IMS experienced an unprecedented influx of Irish trained doctors following the introduction of competitive examinations in 1855. (12) This change was so great that, having comprised less than five per cent of appointments in the decade prior to 1855, the percentage of Irish recruits rose to upwards of 40 per cent from 1866 to 1875 before falling back to 27 per cent in the decades leading up to 1896. This Hibernicisation of the Indian Medical Service reflected wider patterns of Irish professional recruitment to the other uniformed medical services as well as the Indian Civil Service and the Public Works of India. However, despite increasing scholarly interest in the latter, little is known about Irish medical officers; their social backgrounds; their reasons for joining, or their role in the spread of western scientific medicine and the consolidation of colonial rule. (13)
This article examines the motivations, experiences and career outcomes of Irish doctors who joined the Indian service. It will examine, as its principle case study, the life and career of Colonel Alexander Porter, an Irish officer who served as Principal of the Madras Medical College before retiring as Deputy Surgeon General of the Madras Medical Establishment in 1895. (14) A keen diarist, Porter kept a detailed record of his professional, personal and social life as a leading medical officer in the British Raj. Arranged in twenty-five volumes, the un-catalogued diaries are held by the University of Texas at Austin, where they had lain un-consulted since their acquisition in the early 1970s. They begin with life as a medical student in 1863 and end in 1911--seven years before his death. The Porter diaries represent a unique and invaluable source and are the only known set of participant diaries from an Irish IMS officer to have surfaced. Although diaries should be treated with caution, Porter was very much writing for his own personal consumption and his diaries thus reveal much about the motivations, expectations and experiences of an Irish doctor who served in colonial India.
Alexander Porter was born in 1842 to a tenant farming family in Monlough, County Down, a rural townland ten miles south of Belfast. The family farm was a modest sized holding consisting of 56 acres of good agricultural land which would have produced a comfortable living. (15) However, their circumstances diminished following the death of Porter's father in 1856, leaving both himself and his sister reliant on the financial support of older brothers David, who succeeded to the family farm and John, a Unitarian minister. Despite these difficulties, Porter was academically gifted, eventually obtaining a scholarship to study medicine at Queen's College Belfast where he excelled, graduating in the top three from amongst all the constituent colleges of the Queen's University in Ireland.
A first generation professional from a rural farming background, Porter was broadly representative of the Irish medical officer class in India. The IMS, like many branches of the colonial services, drew its personnel largely from the aspirant middle-classes. Irish recruits were no exception with the sons of doctors, clergymen and gentleman farmers accounting for upwards of 70 per cent of Irish medical officers. (16) Porter certainly shared many of the characteristics of his fellow Queen's College graduates and Indian Medical Service recruits. However, his background was far from typical. For example, unlike many of his colleagues, Porter was very much at the lower end of a rural farming spectrum dominated by the sons of land-owning, 'gentlemen farmers'. In terms of religion, Porter was also unusual. Although a Protestant--like the majority of Irish IMS officers recruited during the second half of the nineteenth century, Porter was raised in the Unitarian wing of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of which his brother was a minister. (17) The combination of his religious affiliation and socio-economic standing placed him at the margins not only of a Protestant community dominated by mainstream Presbyterianism and the established Church of Ireland, but of the professional middle class as well, a fact which Porter remained very much conscious of throughout his life. (18)
Nevertheless, Porter managed to build a highly successful career in India which spanned the thirty years from 1865 to 1895. Following his graduation, Porter joined the Army Medical College in Netley where he was placed second and third respectively in military hygiene and surgery, earning him a commission in the medical establishment of the Madras Presidency. It was here that his career began to take off. Rather than the compulsory two years of military service, Porter completed only six months before obtaining a transfer to the more prestigious and lucrative civilian department. Assigned the role of civil surgeon of Akola in the central Indian province of Berar, Porter was able to combine private practice with his official responsibilities for public health and the district jail. Indeed, it was here that Porter developed an abiding interest in the dietary requirements of prisoners, which he later applied in his work as relief officer during the Madras Famine of 1876-78.
By all accounts, Porter conducted himself with exceptional professionalism and was rewarded with a series of promotions including that of Acting Sanitary Commissioner of Berar and Civil Surgeon of the 4th Madras District. However, the majority of Porter's thirty year service centred on the Madras Medical College, where he was part of an Irish professoriate which stretched back to the incorporation of the college into the University of Madras in 1857. (19) There he held professorships in chemistry, medical jurisprudence and medicine before becoming college principal in 1886. As an academic and clinician, Porter published articles in journals such as the Indian Medical Gazette and the Dublin Journal of Medical Science as well as two books on the effects of famine and famine-related diseases on human mortality. Apart from two furloughs to Ireland and England, his only departure from academic life was in 1890, when he volunteered for active duty in Burma. By distinguishing himself in the field, Porter managed to turn a relatively minor conflict into a promotion, finishing his career as a colonel and deputy surgeon general of the Madras Presidency.
Porter's success was not just in the professional realm. His career enabled him to acquire substantial assets. Having saved and invested wisely in Indian securities, Porter retired in 1895 with considerable wealth, enabling him to spend the remaining years of his life between London, Cheltenham, Switzerland and the south of France before eventually passing away in the fashionable London borough of Kensington in May 1918. Porter's career, although in some ways atypical, demonstrates the important role that the empire played in achieving both the personal and professional ambitions of the aspiring middle classes. It also raises many questions regarding Irish engagement with empire. For example, why did Irish doctors like Porter, many of whom were raised in families with no immediate connections to India or empire, choose to forge a career in the Indian Medical Service? Were their decisions informed by a strong sense of patriotic duty, or imperial ethos? Or did they do so for more utilitarian reasons? Unravelling the complexities surrounding such personal decisions is never straightforward, but Porter's voluminous diaries provide some clues as to his decision making process and those of his fellow medical graduates.
Porter's diaries begin in his final year of university, where he began to experience an existential crisis familiar to most undergraduates. As final exams approached, Porter was increasingly obsessed with the question of what to do with his life. Porter had felt no such angst two years earlier when he finished with top marks across all three Queen's Colleges at his first medical examinations. He was feted in the national papers, and it seemed as though first class honours and a glittering career beckoned. However, though unable to maintain his first, he still finished in the top three students across all three colleges (no one awarded a first that year). (20) Writing in his diary, Porter admitted waking in the middle of the night 'dissatisfied' that he had not achieved first class honours and knowing that he was the intellectual better of those in his class. (21) Porter's frustrations were further compounded by his diminished career prospects. Porter wrote in his diary that 'this time last year I thought that I might be pretty sure of nearly 1,000[pounds sterling] a year, but now even 100[pounds sterling] seems uncertain'. This shocked Porter into seeking the advice of Professor Redfern, Chair of Anatomy at Queen's College Belfast. However, Porter was less than enthusiastic with Redfern's advice that he should consider beginning his career as a dispensary doctor in one of Ireland's Poor Law unions. Porter scoffed at the suggestion that any 'man should be content with 80[pounds sterling] in a dispensary in Connemara', before rejecting the idea out of hand. (22)
The remarks about remuneration are quite instructive. Porter's diaries reveal deep seated anxieties over the accumulation of capital, class and social status. On several occasions, he confessed that the 'subject of making a fortune engrosses my thoughts a great deal'. At other times, depressed and overwhelmed, he spent many a night 'walking the streets of Dublin alone for my own edifice... brooding on my poor prospects' and contemplating the 'long hard struggle' to improve them. (23) That such issues were important should not be surprising given his humble upbringing. Rather, they forced Porter to weigh up his desire to stay in Ireland and open his own practice with the realisation that doing so often required both the necessary capital and the right connections. Over the course of his final semester, Porter eventually dismissed the idea of staying in Ireland as fantasy. 'When looked at objectively', Porter wrote, 'I cannot see how it could practically commence.' He concluded he was 'too young' and that 'money is the whole go'. (24)
These misgivings about success were not based on financial considerations alone. Porter's diaries are introspective and self-critical, particularly with regard to his career. He was especially worried that the fact he had 'few, if any, friends' meant that he 'would not get on well in private practice'. Such concerns were well founded. Building a medical career was notoriously difficult even for those with established connections to the profession. Porter's self-confessed difficulty with functioning in polite society was inherently problematic in a profession which often depended on 'keeping up appearances... and ingratiating [one]self with local society'. (25) Torn between a desire to stay at home and the need to advance his career, Porter recorded how he 'spent the bitterest hours of [his] life over these things... without much satisfactory result'. (26) As his studies neared their end, Porter became increasingly convinced that his elevation to the status of a gentleman could only be achieved outside of Ireland. Writing in his diary in February 1864, he asserted that 'money cannot be easily accumulated here, and a man without money is little thought of'. (27)
Like many of his contemporaries, Porter first considered England, where he believed that it was possible to open one's own practice free from the social and economic constraints of rural Ireland. However, he was deterred by the fact that the English profession had become too crammed with Irish doctors and offered far too little by way of reward. Instead, Porter began to show a keen interest in India, writing about the 'easy gentlemanly life of the Army'. He even went so far as to keep a record of former classmates and acquaintances who joined the uniformed services and researched the Army and Indian Medical Services. (28) He spoke to friends and studied the pages of the Dublin Medical Press and the Lancet. What he found, especially in the Irish journal was generally quite positive. But, he was dismayed by editorials in the Lancet that 'depreciated the army with a vengeance', while describing the Indian Medical Service 'as utter madness'. Writing in his diary, Porter confessed that 'the fact that you can't make your fortune in no time at all tends to dishearten me a little'. Depressed, he 'gloomily cogitated' on the matter, before accepting that 'perhaps the prospect is less bleak when taking a glass of wine and a tart'. (29)
Notwithstanding the apparent drawbacks accompanying life in India, Porter was encouraged by new opportunities that were emerging for IMS officers especially in the areas of medical education and public health (medical college professorships, public health officers and sanitary commissioners). (30) These were exactly the type of career that Porter aspired to. According to his diaries, he had already begun preparing by taking extra classes in 'botany, materia medica and natural science'. Expertise in these fields, he rationalised, would help him to attain a 'professorship [in India] or, at the very least, some other civil office which might pay'. (31) However, just to be sure, Porter made a final visit to Professor Redfern which left him with the impression that 'there is nothing for me but India'. It was there that Porter believed he could both 'make a fortune and improve his status', returning to Ireland as a gentleman, and perhaps even obtaining an academic post in one of the Queen's Colleges, Trinity or the Army Medical College at Netley. (32)
While much of Porter's rationale for going to India was about achieving a serviceable career and social advancement, it was also intrinsically linked to his emerging masculinity. Porter's diaries reveal much about the connections between masculinity, class and status in mid-Victorian Ireland. To be expected, Porter took courtship very seriously, and assiduously recorded all social events he attended. However, Porter's encounters with women, more often than not, served only to exacerbate his frustration with Irish society more generally. (33) He blamed his lack of success at society balls on his family's financial standing, and found it difficult to reconcile this with his ascent to the professional classes. In his diaries, he questioned whether or not it would have 'been better to have stayed all my days as a farmer than to hold this false position in society'. (34) While such thoughts undoubtedly reflected Porter's social insecurities, they also illustrate the difficulties that middle-class men had in negotiating female spaces. Courtship was one of the areas in which women exercised power as social gatekeepers, enforcing rank and status. Porter's inability to attract a potential spouse and finance a home, a key stage in the transition from adolescence to adulthood, meant that marriage had to be postponed until economic prospects improved. For Porter, this was an important consideration and he did not believe that he could achieve this in Ireland. (35) Instead, he looked to India. It was there that, free from the pressure of kith and kin, he could reinvent and transform himself from Irish provincial to gentleman professional, concluding finally: 'I see it absolutely necessary that I must look sharp and remodel my pronunciation and to India I am bound.' (36)
For young middle-class professionals like Porter, the empire (and India above all) not only represented a chance to earn a living, but provided an opportunity to free oneself from the social confines of rural Ireland. In Porter's case, this reinvention involved both adopting a more refined accent and conforming to mainstream Anglicanism. However, as Porter's diaries reveal, escaping one's past was not altogether possible given the networks of Irish colonial servants which permeated Madras and colonial India. (37) Indeed, Porter spent his career cultivating Irish connections and embraced a broad notion of Irish identity common amongst his peers in the colonial elite. In 1866, he recounted spending New Year's Day with a group of fellow Irish surgeons drinking punch, singing and toasting to the 'success of old Ireland' and 'down with the Fenians' and trying to convince one of his colleagues to 'talk Irish'--a rare reference to the Irish language. (38) Although religion and politics were seldom discussed in his diary, Porter was very much conscious of class and regularly made social distinctions between good and 'bad' Irishmen. These--often enlisted men lived up to the hard-drinking agricultural stereotypes and were contrasted with the gentlemanly officer classes to which he belonged. These fellow officers were described as convivial and upstanding members of colonial society and typified by Sir Henry King. Porter regarded King, the Louth-born and TCD educated Surgeon General and Principal of the Madras Medical College, as a 'sympathetic and true Irishman', as well as his close friend and confidant. (39)
By identifying with and befriending the likes of Sir Henry King, Porter was able to distance himself from his rather humble upbringing. But, it also enabled him to simultaneously adopt the accepted and well-defined identity of the Irish colonial officer. Porter's assimilation into the colonial officer class was further enhanced by his marriage to Maud Mary D'Arcy Atherley in March 1879. Maud, the eldest daughter of General Mark Kerr Atherley, retired commander of the Gordon Highlanders and a grandson of the Marquess of Lothian, provided Porter with a new degree of social respectability. (40) In the context of colonial Madras, with its endless circuit of dinners, dances, garden parties and social outings, this was very important. Porter's diaries corroborate the numerous historical accounts of colonial life suggesting that imperial servants had an inordinate amount of leisure time. Porter spent much of his time at parties and dances or indulging in more masculine pursuits such as shooting (often in the Guindy Park), the Madras races, cricket and regimental dinners. But, perhaps most important, was the Madras Club, an institution which formed the social epicentre of colonial masculine gentility, providing food, drink, entertainment and above all, a social outlet free from both the indigenous population and the European women who determined the city's social calendar. For Porter this was a sanctuary that sustained him during his thirty years in the city and enabled Porter to participate in the right social networks and access the upper echelons of government.
As a high ranking medical official, Porter also cultivated the role of a public intellectual through his role as an academic. As well as being a Fellow of the University of Madras, Porter was a founding member of the Madras Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA) and an office holder in the Madras Literary Society. Like any would be intellectual of the period, Porter was a voracious reader. His diaries record how he kept up with professional literature through Sydenham Society publications and periodicals such as the Lancet, the BMJ and the Dublin Journal of Medical Science as well as current affairs. However, literature was his real consuming passion. Porter recorded virtually every book he ever read and was not shy about his opinion of them. For instance, shortly after arriving in India, he records reading Thackeray's Vanity Fair, a novel whose depiction of colonial Madras and the colourful Irish colonial officers who governed it, was vivid if not altogether flattering. (41) Nevertheless, Porter describes Thackeray's account as 'all too true'--without specifying the exact passage to which he referred to. But Porter did not just read novels. Rather, he also went through phases of reading theology, commenting on works by Newman and Kingsley. He was reading so much that he even considered resigning from the Madras Literary Society to focus on his professional work. For example, the quantity of books read was usually around a hundred a year. For 1894, 114 are recorded which range from a biography of the Indian leader Tipu Sultan to Kipling's The Jungle Book and Bernard Shaw's Fabian Essays in Socialism. (42) While Porter's reading list is quite interesting in itself, it also emphasises the importance of literature and learned institutions like the Madras Literary Society and the BMA to the maintenance of western society within the Presidency.
While institutions like the Madras Literary Society and the BMA provided both a social outlet and a focal point for the intellectual life of the colony, they also highlighted the degree to which the upper echelons of colonial society had been influenced by the Irish professional classes--in fact, so much so that they even became a forum for public disputes. A case in point was Porter's relationship with Charles Sibthorpe. A graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the son of a prominent Dublin merchant family, Sibthorpe was a talented young officer who shared the same ambition as Porter. Both were leading officers within the Madras Medical Service and founding members of the Madras Branch of the British Medical Association. Both were also elected fellows of the Senate of the University of Madras and were academic staff members at the Madras Medical College. (43) And, on the whole, the two had a cordial working relationship. However, this changed dramatically in 1886 when Porter--then Principal of the Madras Medical College--became embroiled in a dispute with his superiors over the promotion of Charles Sibthorpe over his head.
Unsurprisingly, this eventually affected their personal and professional relationship. Porter resented the fact that Sibthorpe was rewarded for volunteering in a relatively minor conflict, openly referring to this as 'Siby's promotion for nothing' while he had worked diligently and waited his turn. The real issue was not that Sibthorpe was rewarded for his service during the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885-86, but that his promotion did not follow seniority and came at Porter's expense. (44) Porter was so outraged that he brought it to the attention of friends and colleagues at the Club, the University of Madras Senate and the local branch of the BMA. While sympathetic, many of his friends counselled restraint, with William Smyth Fox (another leading Irish doctor in the Madras Presidency) arguing that Porter 'should have volunteered for Burma and got something out of it instead of sitting quiet and letting the young fellows walk all over you'. (45)
Nevertheless, Porter continued to publically oppose Sibthorpe on a range of issues. For example, when Sibthorpe proposed to the University of Madras Senate in 1887 that all doctors applying to become health officers to local or municipal bodies in India be required to hold a bachelors or licentiate of science, Porter opposed the motion. Siding with Surgeon General Bidie, Porter argued that such a requirement would not lead to improved standards of health, but a class of local health officials 'more vain-glorious and arrogant than before'. (46) Moreover, Porter even went on record to add his opinion 'that this proposal is premature... since the Government of Madras shows a marked preference for those who lack such special qualifications', a less than subtle reference to being passed over for the post of sanitary commissioner despite his being more qualified than the appointee. (47) Although Porter remained sensitive to perceived slights, he did learn the importance of showing initiative. As a result, when a punitive military campaign was again dispatched to Burma in 1890, Porter was one of the first to volunteer, resulting in his promotion to Colonel and Deputy Surgeon General of the Madras Presidency.
Porter's diaries reveal the importance of the social hierarchy of the colony, and it is therefore unsurprising that ordinary Indians do not feature largely in his diary. To be sure, there are occasional references with regard to certain upper-class Indian patients, whose manners he described as rather brutal. Even Porter's descriptions of the Madras Famine of 1876-78, which claimed over three million lives, contained little reference to the plight of those suffering around him. Rather, they were very clinical, centring on his work as a relief officer and director of a famine relief camp. This perhaps reflected the fact that Porter was under serious pressure from his superiors not only to conduct scientific research into the effects of famine and related diseases on human mortality, but to continue with a full teaching and administrative load in the College. Yet, despite his complaints over the disruption to his daily life and postponement of his furlough, Porter understood the importance of research to his career. He also found the work interesting, drawing on his own experiences as well as medical research carried out during the Irish famine by ordering back issues of the Dublin Journal of Medical Science and critiquing the methodology of various contributors. Porter's The Diseases of the Madras Famine of 1877-8, published in two volumes, and Note on the Pathology of Famine Diseases, 1878, represented two of the first of such studies published in India. (48) Critically, they were well received, with the Lancet labelling the former a work of permanent value to the fields of pathological anatomy and tropical disease, prefiguring the works on famine and nutrition undertaken by other Irish IMS officers including Sir John W. D. Megaw and Sir Robert McCarrison. (49)
Despite protests over the laborious nature of his research, its importance was not lost on Porter. Porter wrote on several occasions how he believed that his research and expertise could help him to obtain a professorship at home in one of the Queen's Colleges, Trinity College Dublin or even the Army Medical College at Netley. This, of course, reflected a desire to return home. But, it also demonstrated the growing influence of military and tropical medicine on the Irish medical curriculum. Already by 1870, the School of Physic of Trinity College Dublin had become the first medical college in the United Kingdom to institute a diploma in state medicine--which focused on public health and hygiene, and included lectures on diseases of warmer climates. By the close of the century, the Queen's Colleges in Belfast and Cork had both hired professors with imperial experience including Professor Marcus Hartog who was assistant director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Ceylon, before joining QCC in 1882 and James Moorehead, a retired IMS major, who briefly served on the faculty of QCB from 1898 to 1902. This development mirrored the establishment of the great schools of tropical medicine in Liverpool and London in the late 1890s. (50) But, it was also very much a reflection of local demand, with Cork medical students going so far as to launch a public protest at their college's failure to appoint a full-t ime lecturer in tropical medicine before their sister institution in Belfast.
Porter's diaries reveal much about the lives of Irish medical graduates in colonial India, and the integral roles they played in the administration and expansion of colonial medicine in India during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. (51) By the time Porter retired in 1895, over forty of this fellow countrymen served in senior positions within the IMS administration including the post of Director General. At the same time, an equal number were involved in the delivery of medical education, with Irishmen comprising over half the professorships of the Madras Medical College and a third of those in Bombay and Calcutta. The knowledge and expertise these gained in India began to filter back to Britain and Ireland through the appointment of leading academics to influential academic and administrative posts. A case in point was the decorated Cork-graduate, Sir Richard Henry Havelock Charles, who presided over the expansion of the Calcutta Medical College and the establishment of medical colleges in Lahore and Poona, before retiring to senior positions within the Indian Office Medical Board and the London School of Tropical Medicine--a trend which continued well into the twentieth century. (52)
Case studies of careers like that of Alexander Porter demonstrate how--for Irish doctors and indeed colonial servants more generally--the empire was not just an important social safety valve but widely viewed as a legitimate field for social, economic and political endeavour. For example, even the writings of archetypal imperialists such as Sir Michael O'Dwyer--who as Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab defended the brutal crackdown of protestors at Jallianwala Bagh--suggest that the practicality of being one of fourteen children was perhaps more important in the decision to enter colonial administration than any deeply held imperial ethos. (53) Patrick Heffernan (a major in the IMS) offered a similarly nuanced view. In his memoirs, Heffernan cited the lack of opportunity in Ireland as a major reason for joining the IMS. But, he also noted how middle-class Catholics bought into a 'cosmopolitan' Irish identity--often propagated by elite secondary schools such as Blackrock and Clongowes--which encouraged active participation in a 'liberalised and democratised empire'. (54) According to Heffernan, the empire offered middleclass professionals the chance to find 'a metier in which we could lead satisfying lives, and perhaps contribute a share, great or small, to human progress and human civilisation'. (55)
What is perhaps most interesting about Porter, is that affinity to empire does not appear to be a rationale for joining the Indian Medical Service. In fact, Porter's writings contain few if any references to empire and appear to be entirely lacking in a sense of imperial mission. Rather, he viewed the empire pragmatically as a vehicle for material and social advancement. Colonial medicine served as a means to an end, providing him with the financial independence and social status he so desired. By the time of his death in 1918, Porter had managed to amass over 24,000[pounds sterling] excluding land and property assets, a fortune that his siblings could only dream of. (56) In so doing, Porter joined an elite group of Irish surgeons who were able not only to succeed in India, but to amass great wealth: individuals such as Sir Peter Freyer, a pioneering urologist and graduate of Queen's College Galway, whose fortune was in excess of 130,000[pounds sterling], and John Campbell Fullerton from Ramelton, Co Donegal who left nearly 50,000[pounds sterling] when he died in 1928. (57) These examples further support the conclusions of Ackroyd and Brockliss, et al., whose study of British Army surgeons during the Napoleonic period found that the uniformed medical services enabled even those from the most modest of circumstances to make substantial fortunes and establish themselves as gentlemen. (58) Of course, the majority of IMS surgeons left more modest estates, but the impact that successful Indian careers had on the professional middle classes reached far and wide. By the end of the century, even remote villages such as Timoleague, in rural west Cork, were connected to empire through numerous family and professional links to the army as well as the Indian civil and medical services. Indeed, it was within the family itself where this relationship with the uniformed services was perhaps more acutely felt. It was there that the career choices of fathers and elder siblings had a lasting impact on the lives of younger relations, including that of Porter's own son, who joined the Indian Army. (59) The above cited example of Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who followed his elder brother Malachi (an IMS surgeon) to India, is another case in point. (60)
The fact that Irish doctors--many of whom had few if any established connections to empire or to the professions--were able to carve out successful, high profile and lucrative careers as doctors, administrators and academics is quite revealing. The Irish experience contrasted sharply with the portrayal of the Indian service in the contemporary Scottish and English press which, according to Porter's own diary, described the Indian Medical Service 'as utter madness'. (61) The Indian Medical Service was, to be sure, notoriously slow at promoting talent and adapting to new ideas as studies by Arnold and Harrison demonstrate. But, the experiences of Irish doctors like Alexander Porter reveal that the IMS neither was a career of last resort, nor recruited from the least intellectual graduates. Rather, the fact that it attracted the likes of Porter (who ranked in the top three in his class across all Queen's Colleges), and multiple medal winners such as Sir Havelock Charles and Sir Peter Freyer suggests that the IMS provided advantages for economic and social advancement not easily obtainable at home. (62)
Porter's diaries articulate many of the universal dilemmas which were faced by thousands of aspiring medical graduates during the second half of the nineteenth century. For some, a career in the empire was clearly a means to end, but for others, a sense of imperial pride was also evident. But, whatever their motivations, most Irish medical graduates who joined the IMS believed that India would provide them with at the very least a serviceable career, if not a pathway to wealth and status. Porter's medical school career demonstrates that Irish medical students were very much attuned to the opportunities, or lack thereof, which existed at home, in Britain and in the empire. As medical students, they made conscious decisions about their future, selected appropriate electives, read leading medical journals and even consulted with their professors. As a case study, Alexander Porter's life and writings demonstrate just how strong a pull factor India had on the Irish middle classes. Like the educational institutions which catered to their needs, the uniformed medical services enabled young middle-class professionals like Porter with little capital and no clear route into the professions at home an opportunity to escape the narrow confines of Victorian Ireland and carve out successful careers in the empire, a trend which would continue well into the twentieth century.
(1) The author would like to thank Professor David Dickson for his constructive comments and guidance in developing this research as well as the generous support of the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Trinity Long Room Hub, the Institute of Irish Studies, QUB and the School of Asian Studies, UCC.
(2) See B. Crosbie, 'Ireland, Colonial Science and the Geographical Construction of British Rule in India, c. 1820-1870', Historical Journal, 52:4 (2009), 963-87; T. Foley and M. O'Connor (eds), Ireland and India: Colonies, Culture and Empire (Dublin, 2005); S. B. Cook, 'The Irish Raj: Social Origins and Careers of Irishmen in the Indian Civil Service, 1855-1914', Journal of Social History, 20:3 (1987), 506-29; K. Kenny (ed.), Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2004); K. Flanagan, '"The Rise and Fall of the Celtic Ineligible": Competitive Examinations for the Irish and Indian Civil Service in Relation to the Educational and Occupational Structure of Ireland, 1853-1921' (D.Phil. dissertation, University of Sussex, 1978).
(3) See for instance, J. Mackenzie, 'Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English Worlds? A Four-Nation Approach to the History of the British Empire', History Corn-pass, 6:5 (2008), 1,244-63.
(4) B. Crosbie, 'Networks of Empire: Linkage and Reciprocity in Nineteenth-Century Irish and Indian History', History Compass, 7:3 (2009), 994.
(5) L. Geary, 'Australia Felix: Irish Doctors in Nineteenth-Century Victoria', in P. O'Sullivan (ed.), The Irish in the New Communities (Leicester, 1997), pp. 162-79; L. Miskell, 'The Heroic Irish Doctor: Irish Immigrants in the Medical Profession in Nineteenth-Century Wales', in O. Walsh (ed.), Ireland Abroad: Politics and Professions in the Nineteenth Century (Dublin, 2003), pp. 82-94; G. Jones, '"Strike out boldly for the prizes that are available to you": Medical Emigration from Ireland 1860-1905', Medical History, 54:1 (2010), 55-71.
(6) Jones, 'Strike out boldly', 60. For the Army in particular, see S. H. Brown, 'British Army Surgeons Commissioned 1840-1909 with West Indian/West African Service: A Prosopographical Evaluation', Medical History, 37:4 (1993), 411-31.
(7) For more on the Napoleonic period see M. Ackroyd, L. Brockliss, M. Moss, K. Retford and J. Stevenson, Advancing with the Army: Medicine, the Professions and Social Mobility in the British Isles, 1790-1850 (Oxford, 2006).
(8) According to Stokes's plan, this included a wide range of subjects including preventative medicine, medical topography, psychological and forensic medicine, and vital and sanitary science, including tropical diseases such as cholera. See Trinity College Dublin MUN/MED/11/2, fo. 145.
(9) Evidence of Prof. James Alexander Lindsay in Royal Commission on University Education (Ireland) [cd. 1229], Appendix to the Third Report, p. 35.
(10) Based in London's Cavendish Square and Harley Street, the IMSGA was the oldest Irish medical society in Britain. Founded in 1878, it aimed to 'improve the status of those holding Irish degrees or diplomas in medicine in Great Britain'. See Irish Journal of Medical Science, 6:1 (1931), 5; British Medical Journal, 20 May 1950, p. 1214; ibid., 1 April 1905, p. 750.
(11) Statistics compiled using data for the years 1858 and 1897 in H. Howell (ed.), Johnson's Roll of Commissioned Officers in the Medical Service of the British Army, Who Served on Full Pay Within the Period Between the Accession of George II and the Formation of the Royal Army Medical Corps (Aberdeen, 1917), pp. 406-20 and 578-9.
(12) See chapter 1 in M. Harrison, Public Health in British India: Anglo-Indian Preventive Medicine, 1859-1914 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 6-35.
(13) IMS officers were not only responsible for the health of the Indian Army and the European population, but were also intrinsically involved in the provision of medical education. See Harrison, Public Health in British India, pp. 17-20.
(14) Porter's service record can be found in the British Library, see Alexander Porter File, British Library India Office Records L/MIL/9/399/14v-15.
(15) Griffith's Valuation of Ireland (1864) available online at www.askaboutireland.ie/griffithvaluation/.
(16) These three groups accounted for over half of Irish recruits to the IMS. This broadly reflects the work carried out by Mark Harrison on the Indian Medical Service which suggests that the majority of IMS doctors as a whole came from middle-class medical, clerical or farming families. See Harrison, Public Health in British India, p. 30.
(17) Analysis of available records of Irish doctors serving in the Indian Medical Service reveal that Protestants accounted for upwards of 73 per cent of Irish doctors, with the overwhelming majority denomination being the Church of Ireland.
(18) Porter was not ignorant of the implications this might have on a colonial service career, which in no small way led to his eventual decision to join the Anglican Church upon arriving in India, a not uncommon practice amongst Irish dissenters.
(19) This included H. B. Montgomery, Professor of Botany and Materia Medica from 1857 to1864. Montgomery was a regular contributor to medical journals both in Ireland and India and was a founding editor of the Madras Journal of Medical Science. His devotion to medical education led him to donate 187 volumes of his own personal medical books to the College in 1865, which formed the basis of its student medical library. See Selections from the Records of the Madras Government: Annual Report of the Madras Medical College, XII (1864-65), p. 4.
(20) Rt Hon. Maziere Brady, Report on the Condition and Rrogress of the Queeris University in Ireland for the Year 1864-5 (Dublin, 1865), p. 13.
(21) Diaries of Colonel Alexander Porter, Indian Medical Service (hereafter Porter Diary), Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin (no reference number), 1 October 1864.
(22) Porter Diary, 15 February 1864.
(23) Ibid., 3 August 1864 and 15 February 1864.
(24) Ibid., 31 October 1864.
(25) W. J. Reader, Professional Men: The Rise of the Professional Classes in Nineteenth Century England (London, 1966), p. 191.
(26) Porter Diary, 18 February 1864.
(27) Ibid., 18 February 1864.
(28) Ibid., 31 October 1864.
(29) Ibid., 31 October 1864.
(30) See chapter 1 in Harrison, Public Health in British India, pp. 6-35.
(31) Porter Diary, 31 October 1864.
(32) Ibid., 30 April 1864.
(33) For example, see ibid., 26 May 1864.
(34) Ibid., 26 May 1864.
(35) J. Tosh, 'What Should Historians do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth Century Britain', History Workshop Journal, 38 (1994), 182.
(36) Porter Diary, 21 December 1864.
(37) For example, the arrival of a young officer in 1877 caused Porter distress as he not only knew Monlough but went to the same school and spoke openly to colleagues about Porter's humble background. See ibid., 12 February 1877.
(38) Ibid., 1 January 1866.
(39) Sir Henry King's son, Sir Lucas White King also served in India as a member of the Indian Civil Service before he married into the Harmsworth publishing dynasty and later became professor of Indian history at Trinity College Dublin.
(40) Interestingly, Maud had strong connections to Ireland through her mother, Martha J. Bowen, who was originally from Belturbet, County Cavan.
(41) Thackeray's Vanity Fair described many figures and scenes which would have been familiar to Porter including the annual marriage market, as young debutantes were introduced into colonial society with the hopes of finding a suitable husband. It also included leading Irish characters including Colonel Sir Michael O'Dowd, his wife Lady Peggy O'Dowd and her sister Glorvina that 'handsome, black-haired, blue-eyed young girl who could ride a horse, or play a sonata with any girl out of the county Cork'. See William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero (London, 1853), p. 362.
(42) Porter Diary, 1894.
(43) Sibthorpe who later become Surgeon General of Madras, was an early supporter of Ronald Ross who singled out Sibthorpe for praise in his Nobel Prize address. See R. Ross, 'Researches on Malaria' (Nobel Lecture delivered on 12 December 1902 at the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm), p. 47.
(44) Sadly, this episode features in Sibthorpe's obituary. According to the BMJ, his promotion 'over the heads of so many officers, some of whom were distinguished men, was an undoubted hardship to those who were superseded, and caused a good deal of sore feeling then and for some time afterwards'. See 'Surgeon-General Charles Sibthorpe' in British Medical Journal, 26 May 1906, pp. 1257-8.
(45) Porter Diary, 8 February 1887.
(46) See anonymous article entitled 'New B.Sc. Degree', Journal of the Madras Medical College (April 1887), 3.
(47) Ibtd., 3-4.
(48) B. Crosbie, Irish Imperial Networks: Migration, Social Communication and Exchange in Colonial India (Cambridge, 2012), p. 201.
(49) Lancet, 15 February 1890.
(50) In Queen's College Cork, Prof. Hartog's laboratory was particularly well regarded, drawing former graduates such as Charles Donovan, Professor of Pathology at the Madras Medical College, who used his furloughs to study the latest advances in laboratory techniques and bacteriology. See A. K. Dutta, 'The Pursuit of Medical Knowledge: Charles Donovan (1863-1951) on Kala-azar in India', Journal of Medical Biography, 16:2 (May 2008), 72-6.
(51) This tradition ended with the retirement of Cork-graduate Colonel Edward Cotter from his post as Director of Public Health for the Government of India in 1947. See obituary entitled 'Edward Cotter, C.I.E., M.B., B.Ch., D.P.H.', British Medical Journal, 17 June 1971, p. 1,767.
(52) For example, the establishment of the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine owed much to the work of Sir John W. D. Megaw (a protege of Sir Leonard Rogers) who later took up a senior posts as medical adviser to the Secretary of State for India, President of the India Medical Office, and lecturer in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. See H. Power, 'The Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine: Institutionalizing Medical Research in the Periphery', Medical History, 40:2 (1996), 197-214.
(53) Interestingly, by the time Michael O'Dwyer, son of a Catholic landowning family from Barronstown, Tipperary entered Balliol College as an Indian Civil Service probationer in 1882, two brothers had already joined the Jesuits while another joined the colonial administration in India (IMS). See Sir Michael O'Dwyer, India As I Knew It: 1885-1925 (London, 1925), p. 6.
(54) See chapter 2 in S. Paseta, Before the Revolution: Nationalism, Social Change and Ireland's Catholic Elite, 1879-1922 (Cork, 1999), pp. 28-52.
(55) See P. Heffernan, An Irish Doctor's Memoirs (Dublin, 1958), p. 7.
(56) Porter's will was probated in London on 14 February 1919, granted to Matilda Mary D'Arcy Porter, Widow by Francis James Ore, Solicitor for effects worth [pounds sterling]24,279 11s 3d. In stark contrast, both of his brothers (John Porter and David Orr Porter) died with less than [pounds sterling]500. See PRONI Wills Calendar, available online at http://applications.proni.gov.uk/DCAL_PRONI_ WillsCalendar/WillsSearch.aspx.
(57) Another example from Donegal was Samuel Haslett Brown, who was worth an equally impressive [pounds sterling]42,000 at the time of his death in 1933. Interestingly, both Fullerton and Brown left substantial portions of their estates to charity, and both were the subject of contentious legal proceedings brought by beneficiaries. See Irish Independent, 12 June 1929 and 6 March 1935.
(58) See Akroyd, et al., Advancing with the Army, pp. 292-3.
(59) For example, three members of the ffrench-Mullen's, a Catholic family from County Galway, joined the Indian Medical Service during the 1860s while a fourth, St Laurence ffrench-Mullen joined the Navy. The latter brother, St Laurence ffrench-Mullen, was the father of Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, an advanced nationalist who as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, fought during the Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916. See D. Bryan, 'Madeleine ffrench-Mullen', in J. Maguire and J. Quinn (eds), Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009), online edition.
(60) For a comprehensive treatment of this case, see K. Kenny, 'The Irish in Empire', in K. Kenny (ed.), Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2004), pp. 90-122.
(61) Porter Diary, 31 October 1864.
(62) This point is backed up by Mark Harrison who notes that there were fewer prospects for advancement in Ireland and Scotland, thus partly explaining the popularity of the uniformed services amongst the 'Celtic fringe'. See Harrison, Public Health in British India, p. 31; David Arnold, Colonising the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-century India (London, 1993).
University College Cork
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|Publication:||Irish Economic and Social History|
|Article Type:||Case study|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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