Another Madras first

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Spencer’s pharmacy in the 1930s
Spencer’s pharmacy in the 1930s

If there are any more firsts for Madras, it will be that most ardent fan of this column, Dr. A. Raman of New South Wales, who will find them, I’m sure. He’s just informed me that the first pharmaceutical society in India was founded in Madras. And the two pioneers who laid the foundation, I was happy to hear, were two men I had known in my childhood: Wilfred Pereira of Wilfred Pereira Ltd., Vepery, and A.N. Lazarus of Spencer’s, both introduced to me by a tutor of long, long ago, Mrs. Smith, who was Wilfred Pereira’s mother-in-law.

Searching for the roots of the society took me back to 1860 when the Madras Medical College introduced a class in pharmacy. This was meant for those studying for medical degrees or diplomas or hospital assistantships. In the 1870s, the College started a diploma class for chemists and druggists. This class was the only one of its kind in India, it is recorded. It was diploma-holders from this class who got together to found the Pharmaceutical Association in 1923. Two years later, they changed the name of the association to The Pharmaceutical Society of India and declared that its aims were to improve the quality of pharmacy practice in India and to establish qualification norms.

The suggestion to form such a society had first been made by an India-based European chemist, J.T. Bilney. He urged the establishment of branches of such a society in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. By 1913, the European pharmacists in India had begun to buy into the idea and the Pharmaceutical Society of India was formed with Walter T. Grice of Smith Stanistreet & Co., Calcutta, as its first President. But the Society folded up almost before it began. The hospital assistants of Madras, by then titled sub-assistant surgeons, organised an all-India conference in the city in 1916 and at the sessions resolved to establish a Pharmaceutical Section in their association. But this ‘section’ too does not appear to have survived for long. This was when Pereira and Lazarus stepped in and spearheaded the formation of the Pharmaceutical Association. In the years that followed, they were content to remain vice-president and secretary of the Association that then became the Society. The President appears to have always been the senior medical officer in Madras. A Lt. Col. Newcomb is mentioned as the first president, but it is not clear whether he headed the Association or the Society.

In time, Government agreed to members of the Society appending to their names the qualification ‘M.P.S. (India)’. Government also consulted it on matters pertaining to the profession, which was growing, albeit slowly, in professional numbers. In July 1939, the Society began publishing a quarterly, The Pharmacist, with K. Venkatapathi Naidu as Editor. But even as the Society took root, other associations began to be formed in other parts of India. After Independence, a truly national federation was formed and in May 1949 the Pharmaceutical Society of India ended its story.

At the time the Society called it a day, it had 56 members. The paucity of numbers was due to the Society accepting only qualified chemists and druggists or diploma holders in pharmacy as members. As Madras was the only place in India at the time training pharmacists for a diploma, the Society throughout its life remained Madras Presidency-focused. That could no longer be the position after Independence.





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