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

Vol. XXIX No. 12, October 1-15, 2019

Little-known Italian doctors in Madras in the 1830s

Few Italians have come to Madras in earlier centuries. Notable among them are the Jesuits Constanzo Beschi (Viramamunivar) and Roberto de Nobili. But there were more…

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Nicolò Manuzzi (1639-1717; read as Manutchi) was a non-Jesuit who came to India from Venice on turning 17. He is believed to have accompanied Richard Coote (the Earl of Bellomont), an Irish lord. Manuzzi arrived in Delhi in 1655–1656 and first worked as a soldier in Dara Shikoh’s (Shah Jehan’s son) artillery. After Dara’s murder in 1659, Manuzzi practiced medicine in Goa. Where and how he trained in medicine is still a question. Therefore, some consider Manuzzi a quack. For a short period, he served in the Deccan artillery, under Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Between 1671–1678, Manuzzi practiced medicine in Lahore and served as a physician in the court of Shah Alam, a son of Aurangzeb between 1678–1682. He arrived in Madras in 1686 and remained here for the next 30 years — till his death. In 1640, the only Englishman living outside Fort St. George was Clarke (Thomas, John?), who built a house for himself at a site on the Popham’s Broadway–Esplanade Road (Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Road) junction, close to the sea. Glyn Barlow in The Story of Madras (1921) refers to a stream that flowed where the Broadway tramlines held their course in the 1920s and this stream watered Manuzzi’s Garden, which was famous at that time for the medicinal plants it harboured. When Clarke died in 1686, Manuzzi married Clarke’s widow Elizabeth in Pondichéry, and thus he inherited Clarke’s house. A hearsay story is that Manuzzi treated Satguru Gobind Singh in 1708.

Pasquil Maria Benza (1788–1839), a qualified medical doctor, served in the Madras Medical Establishment (MME) between 1832 and 1839. After qualifying for MD from the University of Palermo (Italy) in 1811 and after acquiring the membership of the Royal College of Surgeons of London in 1822, he worked as an Assistant Surgeon in Corfu Island, a British Protectorate then (now a part of Greece) between 1829 and 1831. From Corfu, he came to Madras to join the MME in 1832. Benza died in England in 1839. His first name is variously spelt: ‘Pasquale’ and ‘Pasquil’ in different documents. Nothing much is known of his contributions to medical science, but he was an enthusiastic geologist and mineralogist. He has published papers pertaining to the geology of the Nilgiris. In a slim book captioned Saggio sul’ uso interno del carbone (An Essay on the Internal Use of [Char]coal), published in Palermo in 1814, and authored by Giovanni Mackesy (Principal Surgeon, University of Palermo), Benza’s name figures as the English translator, although I could not find any translated passages in that edition I could access.

Dr. A. Raman

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