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Friday, May 1, 2020

Dr. Pulney Andy in Calicut

Calicut has had a long list of distinguished visitors. We all know about the visit of Ibn Batutta, Cheng Ho (Zheng He), and Vasco da Gama, as their visits had been well- advertised and documented. Then there were some who did not choose to publicize their visits. Among them were Somerset Maugham, the poets Laurence Hope, Keki Daruwala and Virginia Jealous, and most recently, writer Aravind Adiga ( frequently).

Then there are those who came to Calicut for work and distinguished themselves later. One of them was Lachlan Macquarie who was a junior captain of the British army posted in Calicut. He built a house here ( Staffa House, named after his native village in Scotland) and settled down with his young wife Jane. He had no inkling that he would, later on, become the Governor of New South Wales and be honoured as one of the architects of modern Australia. (more on him at

Dr Pulney Andy was one among them. He came to Calicut in 1860 as the Inspector of Vaccination, but within three years he had published some research papers and sorted out his spiritual and emotional dilemma by seeking conversion to Christianity and even founding a new nationalist church!

In these times of the pandemic Covid 19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2, it is important to recall that the world had been ravaged by many epidemics even before the first pandemic was recognized in the shape of the Spanish Flu (1918-20). In fact, before the flu, smallpox was the major epidemic which used to decimate large segments of the population in Malabar, as in the rest of the world. Although smallpox was worshipped as the gift of Goddess in some parts of the country, it was also treated as a disease for which indigenous remedy existed in the shape of variolation.

Representation of Smallpox

Variolation was the practice of infecting humans with tiny bits of smallpox pustules so as to gain immunity. This was practised in Eastern India from time immemorial and was probably introduced from China. Itinerant Brahmins, mostly from Odisha, were the traditional practitioners of this form of inoculation.

We had come across the surgeon John Zephania Holwell (1711-1798) in another context as the grossly untruthful survivor and narrator of the notorious 'Black Hole of Calcutta' which provided an excuse for the East India Company to stage-managed event called the Battle of Plassey in 1757.(Please see
However, the Irish surgeon was more truthful in his description of the practice of variolation in East India. 
The paper published by Holwell in 1767 describing the practice of variolation in mid-eighteenth century Bengal is believed to be the most influential account of the practice. According to Holwell, variolation was conducted by a specific group of itinerant Brahman inoculators. Up to a month before variolation the “patients” were prepared through a diet that excluded fish, milk and ghee (clarified butter). The Brahmans preferred to variolate males in the arm and females in the shoulder, and the operation itself was described as follows:
The operator takes a piece of cloth in his hand … and with it gives a dry friction on the part intended for inoculation, for the space of eight or ten minutes; then with a small instrument he wounds by many slight touches, about the compass of a silver groat, just making the smallest appearance of blood. Then opening a linen double rag, (which he always keeps in a cloth round his waist,) he takes from thence a small pledget of cotton charged with the variolous matter, which he moistens with two or three drops of the Ganges water, and applies it to the wound, fixing it on a slight bandage, and ordering it to remain on for six hours without being moved, then the bandage to be taken off, and the pledget to remain until it falls off itself.

Variolation picked up in Malabar also. From a mere 859 cases covered between 1800 and 1802, the coverage increased to 4408 in the next two year. However, it was with the introduction of cowpox (brought out in 1798 by Edward Jenner) that the speed of vaccination picked up all over India including Madras province under which Malabar fell. Alexander Mackenzie, the garrison surgeon at Fort St. George, Madras showed missionary zeal in ensuring that not only the European troops but every Indian civilian should be covered by the vaccine. This culminated in Mackenzie being appointed the first Superintendent of Vaccination for the Madras Presidency. 

As the campaign got more intensive, an Inspector of Vaccination for Malabar was appointed and Dr Pulney Andy was ordered to proceed to Calicut to occupy the position. 

But, who was this Dr Pulney Andy? He was born as Palaniandy at Trichinopoly in 1831. After passing his FA ( equivalent to the Intermediate course) from Madras Christian College, he joined the Madras Medical College for a medical degree. Between 1850 and 1857, the medical degree awarded was known as Medicinae Baccalaureus et Chirurgiae Magister (MBCM). It was only from 1857, when the Madras University was founded, that the degree of MBBS came to be awarded. 
At the Madras Medical College, Andy came under the influence of Dr Hugh Francis Clarke Cleghorn who was the Professor of Botany and Materia Medica.  The Scotsman is more renowned as the person who developed Forestry as a science in the Madras Presidency. Andy proceeded to Scotland after his graduation and obtained the MD degree from the University of St. Andrews in 1870, just five months after his arrival in the UK. He also qualified for Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS).

But those five months were sheer torture for Andy. He used to unburden his travails in long letters he would send to his mentor Dr Cleghorn which are preserved in the 'Cleghorn Papers' at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He was short of money and had approached his people in Madras. Instead of sending money, his relatives threatened him that he would be excommunicated if he did not preserve his caste! He had to borrow from his mentor to arrange his admission in Scotland. He faced many prejudices from his teachers as well. He desperately wanted to join the Indian Medical Service, but he was not even invited for the examination. Ultimately, he managed to get an appointment as Inspector of Vaccines, Calicut, a post specially created because of the severity of the epidemic in the area.

The series of disappointments did not deter him from working towards alleviating the misery of the local population. Apart from launching a vigorous vaccination campaign, he found time to undertake original research in the curative properties of local herbs. In this, he was probably influenced by the keen interest showed by his mentor in the field of botanical research. 

He published a booklet entitled 'The protective influence of vaccination', a paper on 'The use of margosa leaves in smallpox ( published in the Madras Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Vol eleven, 1867), and a paper titled 'On branched palms in southern India,' published in the Linnean Society of London (1869).

 His paper on Margosa (neem) gives an idea of how meticulously he had researched before announcing his findings. He was then working as the Vaccination Superintendent of Travancore and he noticed the large number of smallpox cases in Alwaye. He picked up a few cases where the relatives had abandoned the patients to their fate, by leaving them in thatched sheds away from habitation. Andy tried a concoction of neem leaves and liquorice root and made pills to be administered to the patients. As per his paper in the Madras Quarterly Journal, out of the 14 patients administered this pill, 12 had not only survived but had a less painful recovery. Of the two who died, one had other complications, while the other was already in a very advanced condition before treatment could be initiated by Andy.

While Andy was engaged in his professional tasks, often beyond the call of duty, he was also going through considerable emotional and spiritual stress. He had promised his mother before leaving for the UK that he would remain a Hindu as long as he was abroad. Despite this, his family continued to taunt him for having given up their caste by crossing the seas. 

Frustrated, he left his religion and got baptised at the Basel Evangelical Mission at Calicut in 1863. At least, this one gesture pleased his mentor, Cleghorn. On hearing about Andy's conversion, he wrote to his friend ( and probably Andy's benefactor), John Balfour who was the Keeper of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh:

My dear Balfour
By this mail I send you the Report of the Basel Evangelical Missy. Society for 1863 – at p. 45 you will see a notice of the baptism of Dr Pulny √Éndy – Inspector of Vaccination & formerly one of my pupils in the Madras Medical College – I recd. the intelligence a fortnight ago – and it has filled my heart with joy – Perhaps you remember my receiving several letters from him, when I was under your roof in 1861. He was then in London in pecuniary difficulties – his Hindoo relatives having cut off his allowance because they were told that he lived in lodgings in Smithfield and they intimated that he cd. not recover his caste on return to Madras. After consulting you and Mr W. Elliot I sent him £5 – and wrote several times expressing a hope that his visit to England might be blessed to him – I afterwards found him out in London & again in Madras – and we hear that he appears to walk worthy of his calling and to set a bright example to his countrymen. He long ago repaid the money wch. was required to pay his graduation fees at St Andrew's.
H. Cleghorn

Andy soon got disenchanted with the Western traditions of Basel Evangelical Mission. In an attempt to wean away Christianity from such practices, he established his own National Church of India based on  Indian symbolism and culture. This was much before the National Movement which had started in a modest manner with the establishment of a western-inspired Indian National Congress in 1885. However, this brave act of reformation was short lived. By 1898 Andy's church faded almost into oblivion.

Andy's frustration increased with the failure of his experiment as much as with the continued hostile attitude of his near ones. He sought retirement in 1886 and left for England where he settled down after marrying an Englishwoman. However, he still kept in touch with his National Church which did not survive his death in 1909.

Andy was survived by a son Stephen Andy who lived in Pondicherry and a daughter. He passed away in England in 1909.

1.   Variolation, Vaccination and Popular Resistance in Early Colonial South India; Niels Brimnes, Ph.D
2. 'Pathbreaking Indian doctor'; Muthiah, The Hindu, 11 March 2013
3. 'First Indian doctor with foreign degree', A Raman, Madras Musings, Feb 16-28, 2013
4. Madras Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Vol.eleven, 1867 


  1. Thanks for this interesting post.

    Palaniandi was quite a character. Interestingly he was forced to sell his land to make way for the Egmore station for a tidy sum. Even more interesting that he purchased it with the savings from the post at Calicut.

    I still remember our smallpox vaccinations as a child, they used to have those sharp circular objects which punctured the skin for variolation.

  2. Thanks CHF for this very interesting post. Palaniandi had a fascinating career, and eventually went on to make a lot of money (how, i wonder) and acquire properties such as the land where the Egmore station stands, which he was forced to sell!

  3. So glad you have revived the blog of Calicut Heritage Forum. We will once more have an opportunity to be educated on the little-known aspects of Malabar and Kozhikode in particular. Like the above article posted on Andy.

  4. Many thanks, Maddy for your comments. Andy was indeed a colourful person. We did not dwell on his Chennai shenanigans, as it was not relevant. In fact, the Presidency College, Chennai still awards a Pulney Andy Gold Medal for Botany, instituted by University of Madras. There used to be an Andy Road near the Royapettah Hospital. And, as pointed out by you, he owned part of the land on which the Egmore Railway Station now stands. Even the fact that he was the first Indian to get an overseas Medical Degree is hardly highlighted. The likes of Anandibai Joshi (1886) and Kadambari Ganguly (1892) qualified later.


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