Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 7, July 16-31, 2018

Thanks to an American, Henry Phipps

by Dr. A. Raman


The Pasteur Institute, Coonoor.

The Indian Empire: A Brief Description of the Chief Features of India and Its Medical and Sanitary Problems edited by Christophers includes the following remark on the Pasteur Institute of Southern India, Coonoor (p. 298):

“The establishment of a Pasteur Institute at Coonoor was rendered possible by the generosity of Mr. Henry Phipps, an American, who gave ‘several lakhs of rupees to the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. One lakh was handed over to the Madras Government to help in the establishment of a Pasteur Institute in Southern India. At the time it was considered essential that Coonoor was agreed upon as the most suitable location, being cool and on the railway and fairly central. The Institute was opened for the reception of patients on I April 1907.”

Henry Phipps (1839-1930) grew up in poverty-stricken conditions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) another immigrant to the US from the UK. Phipps’s close association with Carnegie led him to invest in 1861 in a steel-works operation the Carnegie Company. In 1901, this operation became the US Steel upon sale to J.P. Morgan. At this point of time, Phipps retired, far wealthier than what he expected to achieve in his life. He spent the rest of his life donating generously to scientific efforts made both within the US and elsewhere. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, commemorates the generosity of Phipps. Phipps was of the conviction that those who acquired great wealth should return it for public good’ and create institutions dedicated for that purpose.


Henry Phipps.

An unverifiable Internet-site note indicates that Henry Phipps came to India in 1903 to witness the Delhi Durbar, planned by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India celebrating the coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra as the emperor and empress of India. Whatever that be, Phipps’s visit to India enabled him to perceive the pains of famine, which had swept India on a massive scale during 1899-1900. Phipps volunteered to support embellishment of the science of agriculture in India, which he thought would enable educating the people of India towards achieving food security. Historians rate Phipps as a practical genius, who was in the active habit of dealing with industrial questions all through his working life. Phipps found a congenial friend in Curzon, who valued Phipps’s remarks on Indian administration and in solving problems that worried him. Phipps provided £20,000 (c. US$ 100,000) to which he later added another £10,000 (c. US$ 50,000) to be spent for public good, which the Viceroy would consider relevant and useful to Indians and India. Remarkable among the several developments that occurred out of Phipps’s support was a college with an experimental farm and a research laboratory in Pusa (then in Bengal, now in Bihar) on a land tract of 1,280 acres in June 1903. The Pusa facility, from 1874, was modest and included a small cattle-breeding farm, a tobacco-experimental site, and a model dairy. Worthwhile it would be to recall that this college-farm-laboratory facility at Pusa later developed into the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, now in New Delhi.

Phipps’s concerns were particularly stimulated by the number of people of lower social strata, who died of snake bites and wild-animal bites without appropriate medical attention and support. At that time, only the Indian Pasteur Institute at Kasauli, Solan District, Himachal Pradesh; presently known as the Central Research Institute existed. IPIK functioned from August 1900 treating people, who suffered dog bites and similar problems; David Semple was its first superintendent.

However, the distance to Kasauli from southern India was so far that it could not be reached easily without several days of travel. The second contribution of £10,000, which Phipps gave Curzon, was at the behest that a hospital and a Pasteur institute be established in southern India at a highly accessible location for the treatment of people suffering animal bites, and a laboratory be developed for research to develop antidotes and remedies for poisons of animal origin.

Based on Curzon’s decision, the new Pasteur Institute was to be situated in the Madras Presidency. The Government of Madras offered to provide a site and undertook the responsibility of maintenance, whereas the central government agreed to grant an annual subsidy corresponding to thevalue of the services rendered to soldiers sent there for treatments.

The (PISIS) Pasteur Institute of Southern India started functioning in Coonoor from 6 April 1907. John Wolfran Cornwall of the Indian Medical Service was the first Director, who served for many years, Anderson H. McKendrick, also of the Indian Medical Service, was the Assistant Director, M. Kesava Pai served as the Assistant Surgeon and S. Ramasamy Aiyar was the Hospital Assistant. J.W. Cornwall, T.H. Gloster, K.R.K. lyengar, H.W. Mulligan, M.L. Ahuja and N. Veeraraghavan were its successive directors.

Up to 1922, all persons bitten by rabid animals had to go to Coonoor for treatment. Because carbolised vaccine did not undergo any appreciable loss of immunising power in the plains, several centres which used the vaccines prepared and sent out from the Institute, were started. By 1922, more than 60 centres were established in hospitals in Madras and in other Indian states. The vaccine was sent out in sealed ampoules. Instructions were clear that vaccines could not be used after 14 days from the date of dispatch. One key development of this process, was decentralisation, which was brilliantly effective.

In addition. to routine work on preparing and administering vaccines for rabid dogs, PISI did extremely well in investigating kala-azar, filariasis and aspects of medical entomology, which were regularly published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research.

A news item in Nature London indicates the following:

‘The annual report for 1931 of the Director, Major Iyengar, of the Pasteur Institute of Southern India, which has only recently been received, states that Semple’s carbolised sheep vaccine was in use throughout the year, and that 130, 821 doses of anti-rabic vaccine were issued. The number of patients treated at the Institute was 545 and 8,056 persons were treated at the centres. The deaths from hydrophobia in these two groups numbered 7 and 60 respectively, giving mortality rates of 1.28 and 0.74 per cent. Hydrophobia is still very prevalent in the Madras Presidency, no less than 661 deaths from this disease being reported during 1931.’

The Pasteur Institute of Southern India was renamed as the Pasteur Institute of India (PII), and was authorised to function as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi from 10 February 1977. PII is administered by a governing body.

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