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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 165-167

Mountford Joseph Bramley: A pioneering thyroidologist and the first principal of Asia's oldest medical college

1 MBBS student, R.G.Kar Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
2 Independent Researcher, University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
3 Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication12-Dec-2014

Correspondence Address:
Subhankar Chatterjee
R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2230-8210.146875

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Mountford Joseph Bramley was one of the educationists whose sincere efforts are undeniable in the making of modern India. After achieving the Member of the Royal College of Surgeons diploma, he joined the Malta Garrison as a Hospital Assistant and was soon promoted to the rank of Assistant Surgeon of the Rifle Brigade. Following his arrival in India in 1826, he held several important medical posts in the British service. He was one of the early researchers to investigate the role of iodine in the causation of goitre. He was appointed as the first Principal of the Medical College of Bengal, the oldest medical college in Asia, in 1835. Bramley was an educationist from the very core of his heart, and he always wished for the betterment of his students. He died early at the age of 34 years. His legacy as a pioneer in the fields of medical education and endocrinology, specifically thyroidology, has largely been shrouded in a miasma of time.

Keywords: Endocrine research, medical biography, medical education, medical history, thyroid research

How to cite this article:
Chatterjee S, Datta A, Chatterjee P. Mountford Joseph Bramley: A pioneering thyroidologist and the first principal of Asia's oldest medical college. Indian J Endocr Metab 2015;19:165-7

How to cite this URL:
Chatterjee S, Datta A, Chatterjee P. Mountford Joseph Bramley: A pioneering thyroidologist and the first principal of Asia's oldest medical college. Indian J Endocr Metab [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Jan 16];19:165-7. Available from: https://www.ijem.in/text.asp?2015/19/1/165/146875

"You may rely upon it, that, with whatever other faults our tenure of this country may be chargeable, that posterity will gratefully acknowledge the noblest of all our acts: The enfranchisement of native intellect from the darkness of ignorance, and the yoke of superstition which is ever its concomitant."[1]

These are the words of the pioneering Englishman, Dr. Mountford Joseph Bramley, spoken on the occasion of the inauguration of Calcutta Medical College. A leading medical educationist of the day, he has largely been lost in the pages of history. Although the modern reader may detect a hint of paternalism tingeing the altruistic motive of liberating the masses from the darkness of ignorance and superstition, one has to remember the socioeconomic setting of early 19 th century India of which it speaks. Dr. Bramley seems to never have quite got the due credit he deserves for his contribution to the development of the medical education system in British India, thus paving the path toward the making of modern India.

Mountford Joseph Bramley was born on April 16, 1803 in London, England, to Hollingworth and Juliana Bramley. As a teenager, Bramley had spent about 18 months in Geneva, Switzerland, as a student. [2] He obtained his Member of the Royal College of Surgeon in 1825. On the 24 th of November of the same year, he joined the Malta Garrison as the Hospital Assistant and was promoted to the rank of Assistant Surgeon of the Rifle Brigade on January 5, 1826. On the 12 th of that month, he landed in India with his regiment and carried out his regimental duties until early 1828. On 11 th June, he resigned from the post and joined as an Assistant Surgeon in the East India Company Service, Bengal on 29 th August. From 20 th April to 6 th October in 1830, he remained in the medical charge of the Governor General's Body Guard. He undertook medical charge of the Residency of Kathmandu on October 6, 1830. [3]

Although his service records bear a glittering testimony to his skills and dedication, he was not just a service physician involved with clinical work; Bramley was also one of the early researchers in the subcontinent who investigated the role of iodine in the causation of goitre. He extended his research from "the plains of Hindoostan … to the north-western frontier and north-eastern confines of the Chinese empire". The results of the research work he conducted between 1830 and 1832, during his posting in Kathmandu were published under the title "Some account of the bronchocele, or goitre of Nipaul, and of the Cis and Trans-Himalayan regions" in a Calcutta journal in 1833. [4] This was the first epidemiological study conducted in India that revealed the association of prevalence of iodine deficiency thyroid disorders and Northern hilly areas of Indian subcontinent. This work of his was covered in several authoritative texts of the time, including the tome on Medical Review edited by John Forbes, which prefaced the critique of his work with the following eulogy: [5]

"We shall now turn to Mr. Bramley, whose position, as surgeon to the ambassador at Nipaul, offered many facilities for extending his enquiries into the surrounding regions, through the numerous travellers who meet in this intermediate post between the east and west of Asia. This lamented physician has the glory of having founded, and almost matured, the first medical school in which the natives of Asia are instructed in all branches of European medical science; and his varied acquirements and his knowledge of bronchocele as it occurs in Switzerland, peculiarly qualified him for the enquiry, and has enabled him to produce a most instructive memoir."

Toward the end of 1833, the government of Lord Bentinck in Bengal appointed a Committee to look into the state of the native medical education. The Committee that was presided by Dr John Grant and had JCC Sutherland, CE Trevelyan, Thomas Spens, Ram Comul Sen and MJ Bramley as members, recommended the foundation of a college for "for the education of the natives". [6]

Thus, the Medical College of Bengal came into being on 28 January 1835 after Government Order No 28 was issued. [7] The College started functioning officially from 20 February 1835 and classes started on 1 June with 49 pupils, making it the oldest teaching medical college in Asia. Dr. Mountford Joseph Bramley was appointed as Superintendent and his designation ultimately changed to principal on 5 August 1835. [8]

Dr. Bramley delivered the introductory address on March 17, 1836, in front of a full house of Englishmen, honourable Indians and medical students, where he lauded the effort of the British in setting up a system of modern education in India: [1]

"Finally, I would fain say no less to you, my young friends, than to natives of every denomination; you may believe me when I assert, if ever there was a truly wise and liberal measure adopted, by authority, for your good, it is that which has called into existence amongst you an Institution for instructing you in Medical Science".

Principal Bramley prepared the initial scheme of the working of the college and along with his fellow doctor-professors started instructing the students on Anatomy, Physiology, Theory and Practice of Physic, Hospital Attendance, Practical Pharmacy, Chemistry and Materia Medica, Medical Botany, Clinical Medicine and Surgery. The classes of Practical Pharmacy took place under the superintendence of Dr. Bramley. [7]

He regarded the good practitioner as "the cheer of the dejected, the friend of the wretched, and the sublunary hope of the despairing". [1] Bramley was an educationist to the core of his heart and he always wished for the betterment of his students, academically, physically and mentally. His object was to teach his pupils "the value of self-respect and a real devotion to their profession". To quote him, "I have endeavoured to prove to them that I am not only their instructor but their anxious friend, ready to advise and assist them, and desirous not less of their moral improvement and general welfare, than to see them succeed, under the instructions of my colleagues and myself, in the honourable profession they have made a choice of". [9]

The teaching in the College suffered due to lack of a College hospital. In his report to the General Committee of Public Instructions, Bramley expressed his desire to have clinical wards attached to the Institution. [9]

He prepared a medical dictionary, "A Dictionary of Terms and Technicalities, in Anatomy, Pathology, Physiology, Surgery: Abridged from the Latest Edition of the French and English Dictionaries, and Other Works on the Medical Sciences; and Adapted for the Use of the Students at the Calcutta Medical College" which was published in 1836.

He was a member of the Asiatic Society [10],[11] and was a great friend of David Hare. Bramley regarded his advice and assistance most valuable in the scheme of development of the education system of native India. [12],[13]

Bramley died in Calcutta on 19 January 1837 and was buried at the North Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta. [3] He was survived by his wife Harriett Charlotte Bramley. A tablet, erected by his students at the college, reads.

"In memory of Mountford Joseph Bramley, late Principal of the Medical College of Calcutta, this tablet is erected by his grateful pupils to record their sense of the zeal and ability with which he watched over their private interests and those of their country, and the courtesy and kindness with which he won their affections, which improved their minds. Aged 34 years, died 19th January, 1837". "Why has worth so short a date - while villains ripen grey with time."

   Acknowledgment Top

We are grateful to the Reference Services at the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections for answering our queries. We acknowledge Dr. Tamoghna Biswas, MBBS from Medical College, Kolkata for reviewing the manuscript prior to submission.

   References Top

Bramley MJ. Introductory Address Delivered at the Opening of the Calcutta Medical College, March 17, 1836. Calcutta Monthly Journal and General Register of Occurrences Throughout the British Dominions in the Eastforming an Epitome of the Indian Press. Third series. Calcutta: Samuel Smith and Company; 1837.  Back to cited text no. 1
Miles M. Goitre, cretinism and iodine in South Asia: Historical perspectives on a continuing scourge. Med Hist 1998;42:47-67.  Back to cited text no. 2
Regimental Surgeons of the Malta Garrison. Available from: http://www.maltaramc.com/regsurg/b/bramleyjm.html. [Last accessed on 2012 Aug 24].  Back to cited text no. 3
Bramley MJ. Some account of the bronchocele, or goitre of Nipal, and of the Cis, and Trans-Himalayan regions. Trans Med Phys Soc Calcutta 1833;6:181-264.  Back to cited text no. 4
Forbes J. The British and Foreign Medical Review: A Quarterly Journal of Practical Medicine and Surgery. Vol. VIII. Soho, London: John Spriggs Morss Churchill; 1839. p. 116.  Back to cited text no. 5
Sen SN. An Advanced History of Modern India. India: Macmillan; 2010. p. 1888.  Back to cited text no. 6
History of Medicine-India. Available from: http://www.surgical-pathology.com/ebook5.htm. [Last accessed on 2012 Sep 01].  Back to cited text no. 7
Bhattacherje SB. Encyclopaedia of Indian Events and Dates. 6 th ed. New Delhi: Sterling Paperbacks; 2008. p. 99.  Back to cited text no. 8
Report of the General Committee of Public Instruction of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal; 1836.  Back to cited text no. 9
Princep J, editor. The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press; 1836. p. 5.  Back to cited text no. 10
Indian Culture: Tradition and Continuity. Dept. of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India; 2002. p. 252.  Back to cited text no. 11
Trustees of the Victoria Memorial. Bulletin of the Victoria Memorial. Kolkata, India: Victoria Memorial; 1975. p. 9.  Back to cited text no. 12
Ray PC. Life and Experiences of a Bengali Chemist. Vol. 2. Kolkata, India: Chuckervertty, Chatterjee and Co. Ltd.; 1932. p. 53.  Back to cited text no. 13


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