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

Vol. XXXI No. 15, November 16-30, 2021

A papier‑maché human anatomical ­model in the Madras Medical Establishment – II

by Ramya Raman and Anantanarayanan Raman

(Continued from last fortnight)

Gunning S. Bedford, a senior surgeon and a gynaecologist–obstetrician attached to the Albany Medical College & Hospital, New York, translated several reports pertaining to Auzoux’s efforts into English and published them in America (1840). In pages iii–iv (preface), Bedford refers to Auzoux’s creations as ‘excellencies’.

He says, Dr. Auzoux had succeeded in throwing a fascination around the study of Anatomy, which it never before possessed; free as he made it from the loathesomeness of the dissecting room, it could be pursued by all classes of society without the fear of encountering the putrescent atmosphere of the dead.

The Bedford edition also includes comments of several other leading medical practitioners of France, such as, René Theophile Laennec on Aujoux’s creations. Olry (2000) indicates that Auzoux, in later years, worked on models representing human embryology, comparative anatomy of non-human animals, and plants. A short report on a life-size human frame by Auzoux exhibited in London in 1831 is available (The Athenaeum, 1832). In response to the request from Henry Halford, the personal physician to King George III of England, that such models would be highly useful as a means of instruction in British medical schools, George III requested Auzoux to supply one, newly prepared model to be given away as the King’s gift to the King’s College, London. During this exhibition in 1831, George Knox of the Madras Medical Establishment, on a furlough in England, saw Auzoux’s exhibit, also seen by George III, and ordered another piece for teaching purposes at the Madras Medical Establishment.

Reasons for Auzoux’s creation of models

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, in Europe in general and in Britain in particular, untrained anatomists practised selling human bodies and body parts in public for various reasons. At least two infamous incidents led to the proclamation of the Anatomy Act of 1832 by the British Parliament. The first was the William Burke and William Hare case involving the murder of 16 humans in Edinburgh to supply body parts for the anatomy classes of Robert Knox in 1827–1828. The second was John Bishop and Thomas Williams killing of an Italian boy for similar reasons in 1831. The Anatomy Act of 1832 licensed doctors, teachers of anatomy, and genuine students of medicine to dissect ‘donated’ cadavers. Growth of newer and more skilful surgical procedures and their relevance in treating human-health problems necessitated a better understanding of the human body, organs, and tissues, which, in turn, encouraged recognition of the validity of anatomy as a critical medical discipline. The appearance of Surgeon John Bell’s multi-volume book entitled Engravings of the Bones, Muscles, and Joints of the Anatomy of the Human Body published in London (1810) reinforces this point.

The Anatomy Act of Britain 1832, ended public dissections, which, naturally, encouraged seeking of alternate pathways. One was to build precisely depicted models using various materials, including wax. It would be pertinent here to recall the elegant wax models of popular humans created by Marie Tussaud (née Grasholtz) (1761–1850). Tussaud’s creative artistry could have been one force prompting Louis Auzoux to think of designing models. But he needed to think differently, since he contemplated their easy dismantling and re-assembly. He could have thought that the amenability of his creations for that reason was critical for medical students to learn details of internal organs in an interactive manner. The other key driver was the lack of donated cadavers in European medical schools. Auzoux’s creations were generally received well by medical personnel. However, many British medical teachers shunned using models in classes and preferred cadavers. To a Parisian physician, Charles Nicholas Halmagrand, such models were fit for non-professionals only.

Concurrent similar interests in human anatomy in Tanjavur and Travancore

Sarabendra Bhupala Bhosle (1778–1832) (popularly ‘Serfoji II’, ‘Saraboji’), a later titular ruler of the Tanjavur Maratta kingdom was a multi-faceted scholar. Viswanathan–Peterson (1999, 2008) and Nair (2012) speak of Sarabendra’s life, rule, and contributions to science, arts, and medicine. The Dhanvantari Mahal (a hospital for general public, which included western-medicine trained doctors, Indian vaidyan-s, and Unani-Tibbi-practising Hakim-s), and the Saraswati Mahal (a library housing several book and palm-leaf collections) are remarkable contributions of Sarabendra. Nair (2012, p. 290) speaks of an ‘artificial eye’ – “an apparatus made to illustrate the application of spectacles for long and short sight with the eye completely dissectable”– held by Sarabendra in his Kunstkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) in 1805. The purpose of referring to Sarabendra’s medical skills in an article on the model received in Madras in 1834 is to remind us that Sarabendra possessed a complete human skeleton, not of bones, but an exact replica made of ivory. Nair (2015) provides extensive notes on the making of this skeleton in India by skilled artisans of Kerala for Sarabendra to acquaint himself with medicine. Nair (2015) also remarks that Uttram Tirunal Mardanda Varma (1814–1860), titular ruler of Travancore, also held an ivory skeleton, similar to what was held by Sarabendra in Tanjavur c. 50 years earlier.


We are aware that we have considerably deviated in this narrative from the point with which we started, viz., Morris’s notice (1834) on the anatomical model brought to Madras by George Knox in 1834. We also recognise that we have talked more about details other than the model that came to Madras. But we are strongly hopeful that the sidebars we have set around the human model brought to Madras will be useful.

At the end of his note Morris (1834, p. 274) indicates that the model was handed over to the Government. He continues to say,

… we cannot but entertain hopes that the opportunity will not be lost, which from the revolting nature of its study (sic Anatomy), has hitherto, chiefly been confined, to those whose professional pursuits have obliged them to acquire it.

Hugh Cleghorn, who taught Materia Medica at the Madras Medical College in the 1850s utilized students (e.g., P. Murugesa Mudaliar) trained at Alexander Hunter’s Madras School of Arts in creating artworks of human anatomy and plants (Noltie, 2016). This leaves us wondering what happened to Aujoux’s model in Madras within the next decade and half. May be this model was used only during early days of Madras Medical School. Similar to several other curious objects of medical science of the erstwhile India, which have disappeared, this item too, has obviously met with an unfortunate end of being lost leaving no trace. Nonetheless, we are happy that we could at least chronicle this event and record some details of this curious object, which Morris describes as ‘an ingenious anatomical figure’ and its existence in Madras in the 1830s.

Notwithstanding the above on Aujoux’s anatomical model in Madras in the 1830s, what impresses us is the enthusiasm of physicians and teachers of medicine of those days in making learning of medicine as innovative as possible within the limited resources they had, differing strongly from the kinds of resources we have presently. Today, we have progressed to developing and using teaching resources involving 3-D models, both in the virtual medium and in print, constructed based on CT imaging.


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