The first building to house the Assam Medical College has been recognized as a heritage building
Assam Medical College in Dibrugarh district of Assam was the first medical college to be established in Northeast India, initiated by a British surgeon back in 1900. It was initially named Berry White Medical School after founder, John Berry White. It was named Assam Medical College much later. The 119-year old building that used to house the medical college stood dilapidated for years, but steps are now being taken to preserve this heritage building.
The First Medical College
During the British hegemony in India, Dr White was commissioned as an assistant surgeon under the East India Company and was posted in Upper Assam as a medical officer, where he arrived in 1858. He served as a civil surgeon in Upper Assam in the 1870s after retiring from the British Army as a Brigadier, and drew up plans to set up a medical school in Dibrugarh. He donated his personal savings of `50,000 to set up the medical institution. But it was only after his death in 1896, that the Berry White Medical School (BWMS), now known as the Assam Medical College, was completed with help from his admirers.
In the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir of the Assam Medical College, Dr Borbora, one of the former principals of the medical college had written that Dr White was responsible to a great extent for the beginning and development of tea, coal and oil industries in Assam. The rail track between Ledo and Dibrugarh was also one of his visions, and was earned by his hard labour. It also stated that Dr White worked for the development of the modern river transport system in Assam, which resulted in the famous RSN Company.
The old building where Berry White Medical School was housed has been given a historical tag. As of now, it is all set to get a fresh lease of life, with Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) being assigned the task of renovating it. INTACH signed a MoU with Oil India Ltd in Dibrugarh, under which the public sector oil company would provide `2.01 crore for the renovation work.
‘During the First World War, Berry White Medical School treated many soldiers wounded in the war. Soldiers all the way from Myanmar, Thailand, were treated in the school. Also, tea garden labourers from the tea gardens in the vicinity sought treatment in the medical school,’ stated Dr Borbora. In 1910, the college imported two x-ray machines from England, which were the first in India, and opened the country’s first radiology department. The school heralded the beginning of Allopathic Medical Education in the State by conferring LMP Diploma back then in undivided Assam. During 1960’s to 1980’s, the Berry White Medical School Building was used as boy’s hostel, along with a lodge.
Ranjana Sharma, Deputy Director of the Directorate of Archaeology who has studied the heritage building shared, ‘The medical school building initially had 12 rooms. The roof is made of terracotta tiles but it has been damaged due to lack of maintenance over the years.’ The terracotta tiled roof rests on a wooden frame. ‘The wooden frame requires checking and will need replacement, if found loose or weak.’ The load bearing posts of the building are of iron, most of which are still intact. In addition to that, there are wooden posts dating back to 1900 that still exist in the front and back verandah of the building. Deputy Director Sharma, during an on-site inspection, mentioned, ‘Berry White Medical School Building restoration is essential. The stability of the building is the most important factor structurally.
The floor in most parts was totally damaged, that has to be conserved and repaired, as per original, by using similar materials.’ The building is surrounded by small Assam-type buildings. ‘Vaulted arch in colonial architectural style can be seen in almost all the windows and doors, which enhance the beauty of the building. Most of the arches are in good condition. Evidence of original electric connection also exists in the building,’ she added.
Time for a Renovation
‘Renovating the building into a museum, keeping the core essence the same, is going to be a tough task. The hooks, rings for locks and handles of the building are made of brass, not commonly seen these days. The renovation team is trying to maintain the heritage and original look of the building by restoring the same old parts of the building,’ shared Deputy Director Sharma. Keeping in view the historical and archaeological importance of the colonial masterpieces found in Assam, it was recommended that such buildings deserve protection, preservation and maintenance so that the posterity may experience its glory. Assistant Director, Directorate of Archaeology shared, ‘I have suggested some important conservation measures to be initiated for the recovery operation of the Berry White Medical School building. However, its execution and implementation has to be carried out carefully, in accordance with the conservation policy of Archaeological Survey of India as well as International Cheater/Manual on conservation guidelines. Such historical destinations are the identification of Assam’s glorious past, and hence must be taken care of with all sincerity.’
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