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Sunday, February 1, 2015

History of the Colombo Medical College

This article by the Late Prof.  Nandadasa Kodagoda on "The History of the Colombo Medical College" appeared in our 40th Anniversary Souvenir of the Class of 1962. The Reunion was held at The Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana from 13th - 15th July, 2007. The article has been sent in by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale.

History of the Colombo Medical College

As it happens, the Colombo Medical School owes its existence to the "prevalence of an obstinate and loathsome disease" in the Island in the 1860's which caused much misery and suffering to the natives and led to an alarming depopulation of the Wanni districts. In 1867, the Governor of Ceylon, Sir Hereykes Robinson, ordered an enquiry into the causes of the depopulation of the Wanni districts in the Northern Province. On the recommendations of Dr. W. P. Charsley, Principal Civil Medical Officer (PCMO), this enquiry was entrusted to Dr. James Loos, Colonial Surgeon, Northern Province. Dr. Loos performed this task so admirably that he earned the special thanks of the Government. One of Dr Loos’s recommendations for improving the general sanitary state of the Country was the adoption of a plan of medical education in the Island. This recommendation was accepted by the Government. On the 1st of June, 1870 when the Governor, Sir Hereykes Robinson, opened the Colombo Medical School, Dr James Loos became its first Principal. 

Speaking metaphorically, the Colombo Medical School was born -appropriately enough -in the Female Surgical Wards ofthe General Hospital of that time. Ifhome is where one starts from, that ward must be regarded as the true home of the Colombo Medical School. Dropping metaphor, the ground on which the Colombo Medical School now stands, was gifted to the Government in 1875 by public benefactor and philanthropist, Mudaliyar of the Governor's Gate, Samson Wijegoonaratna De AbrewRajapakse, Justice of the Peace for the Island of Ceylon. 

The buildings which made up the School in its early days exist no more. Changes have altered the landscape of the school several times in the course of its hundred years of existence. All that remains of the early landmarks is the Koch Memorial Clock Tower erected in 1881 to perpetuate the memory of Dr. Edwin Lawson Koch, the second Principal of the School. It is recorded that he "was a bold surgeon, successful Physician and an expert Obstetrician". 

The institution which began as "An Elementary School” in 1870 was raised to the dignity of a "College" ten years later by the Acting Governor, Sir John Douglas. 

In 1920 the Colombo Medical School was 50 years old. The Jubilee was celebrated by an "At Home" and the distribution of prizes and diplomas by the College President, His Excellency Sir William Henry Manning, Governor of Ceylon. 

In 1926 as the result of persistent representations by the Medical College Council and successive Registrars, a committee appointed by the Governor inspected the buildings of the College. The committee recommended a scheme for rebuilding the college and in due course the present physiology and pathology blocks came into being. 

A Dental school was added to the college in 1938. The first lecturer in Dental surgery was .Dr. W. Balendra. The first dental students were really six qualified doctors. 

In 1945 the school celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a grand medical exhibition. The celebrationsbeganonthe 1stDecember,withaceremonialprocession,afterwhichtheoldestalumnus of the School, Dr. Andreas Nell, made a speech welcoming the guests. 

When the Colombo Medical School acquired university status it had only six departments of study with five Professors. 

In 1962 the University of Ceylon set up a Medical School in its Peradeniya Campus. The staff for the Peradeniya Medical School was initially drawn from the Colombo Medical School and, in fact, the Peradeniya School was largely controlled by the Colombo School. In October 1967, the two medical schools were completely separated from each other by the creation of two independent Universities, one at Colombo and the other at Peradeniya. 

After it acquired University status the Colombo Medical School began to grant postgraduate degree and diplomas -MD, MS, MOG, DTM & H, TDD, DCH, DO, DA and DM & S. 

On the 1st June 1970 the Colombo Medical School celebrated its hundredth birthday. As always, the Head of the State was there to grace the occasion and to wish the school well. In his message, His Excellency the Governor General, William Gopallawa said, "We are aware that from very modest beginnings this Institution has grown into one of the foremost Institutions of its kind, in this part of the world" and it celebrated the 125th Anniversary in July 1995 as an International Event. 



  1. Thankyou Mahen and Lucky for enlightening us on this- interesting and
    "need to know" info. Rohini Ana

  2. History fascinates me. I love this quote from a person who changed the world we now know.
    "Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World."
    Christopher Columbus
    It was a great privilege to meet Prof Kodagoda at the London Reunion of our batch in the 1990's. A fine speaker, a superb lecturer and a great man.

  3. Thanks, Lucky and Mahendra for bringing us this excellent historical account of our medical school by late Prof. N Kodagoda. 1962 and 1967 are both landmarks and as you can see our batch was right there!

  4. There are a lot of stories with other medical colleges as well but when we look in the reality that what these colleges have done so we can understand that how they have created the therapists like Physiotherapy North Ryde as well for the well being of the humanity to provide a safer way to our generations to lead a pain free life.