Friday, January 9, 2015

Road to gate

James Lawder came to India as an Assistant Surgeon with the Madras Medical Service in July 1822. By then, he had been in service for a while and had seen action in the Peninsular War. He had also completed a stint in the USA; but it was in Madras that he spent the majority of his career. In 1835, Lawder was made a full surgeon. His most significant contribution seems to have been his views on the treatment of leprosy and the management of patients afflicted with the disease.

For some reason, James Lawder was sure that leprosy was a hereditary disease and that it was contagious. For this reason, he pitched strongly for expanding the Madras Leper Hospital and making a few changes in the facility. In 1839, the government of Madras made a grant of Rs.2,000/- to the MLH and Lawder used the funds to build high - over 3m - walls around the MLH, but also between the eleven wards of the MLH. He also favoured restraining the patients, so as to not have them spread the disease. With such facilities, the MLH seems to have been more of a prison than a hospital.

James Lawder married in Madras, and had a family here. Being a senior medical officer, he would have bought himself a garden house in Purasaiwalkam, accessed from the Poonamallee High Road. In those days, houses were few and road names non-existent. The path to Lawder's Gate became a road in itself. Even though the house and its memories have long gone - Lawder went back to England and died there in 1860 - the place still remembers the surgeon in the name of a street!

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