Blessed haven in the Hantana valley

J.Sarath Edirisinghe recalls the beginnings of the ‘Second Medical School’ at Peradeniya on the eve of its golden jubilee

The 'Second Medical School', as it was called in the early 60s, will be celebrating its golden jubilee in January 2012. It was so named because it really was the second medical school to be established in the island and not, as some of the colleagues in Colombo, jestingly said, because it was second to the long established Medical College of Colombo.

The setting up of new medical schools in Sri Lanka had become almost a game and the impression created was that the politicians could cry for one in their own constituencies. The number of doctors needed for the next decade, resources available and the facilities both physical and qualified personnel available to run such institutes were seemingly not considered or considered as trivial. This was well illustrated by the urgency demonstrated a few years back to establish Faculties of Medicine in Sabaragamuwa and Wayamba Universities.

The Second Medical School fortunately did not fall into this category. Records of various committees set up to study and facilitate the transfer of the 'University of Ceylon' to Peradeniya show clearly that a Faculty of Medicine was in the original plan of the University of Ceylon that was to move to the salubrious climes of Peradeniya from Colombo.

The 27- page document printed at the Ceylon University Press titled 'Opening of the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya by the H.R.H. Duke of Edinburgh K.G. in the presence of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, 20th April 1954' records the following information.

"…..The Queen's Drive (present Galaha Road) begins at the main entrance to the University opposite the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens, while the University Road joins the Peradeniya Road.
“The Golf Course to the left has been transferred to the University and will be used mainly for the Peradeniya branch of the Faculty of Medicine. Since this is a late development only a sketch plan has been prepared. According to that plan, the Outpatients' and Casualty departments will face the Royal Botanic Gardens, and behind them will be the University Hospital in four three-storey blocks. The edge of the Golf Course where the University Road runs besides the Peradeniya Road will be left free so as to give access to the Museum, Art Gallery and Theatre, intended to stand on the right hand side of the centre of the Golf Course. The remainder of the edge of the Golf Course, bordering the University Road will be used for the laboratories of the Faculty of Medicine.

The Pera Medical Faculty today: A long journey from infancy to becoming one of the premier medical schools of the country

“To the right of the University Road is a triangular patch of land planted with rubber, belonging to the Government Department of Agriculture (present site of People’s Bank and the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture). Beyond that lies the 'Court Dorai Field' named after the 'Court Dorai' Sir Archibold Lawrie who was successively District Judge of Kandy, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court and Acting Chief Justice and who lived there. 'Court Dorai Field' contains some University houses, mainly of classes B and C, but the whole area will be needed for the Maternity Hospital, the School of Nursing and a Hall of Residence for clinical medical students. Accordingly, no development is at present taking place in Court Dorai Field..”

I have nothing but admiration for the forward thinking of these pioneers of higher education in this country who not only envisaged a Faculty of Medicine for Peradeniya but also a Maternity Hospital and a Nurses Training School. The far thinking of these patriots is amply demonstrated by their proposal for a museum, art gallery and a theatre. Sadly the latter day policy planners and administrators did not consider some of the items listed in this so- called 'sketch plan' as important and Peradeniya still lacks a Museum and an Art Gallery. Peradeniya is also sans a Maternity Hospital, a Nurses Training School and a separate Hall of Residence for clinical students.

What has already taken place, according to the 'sketch plan' of 1954, is the building of the 'Second Medical School' of Sri Lanka in 1961 as the 'Peradeniya Branch' of the Faculty of Medicine (Colombo) and the establishment of the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital in the exact spot planned in 1954. It took nearly seven years for the medical school to come up, another five years to break away from Colombo as an independent Medical School and a lengthy 30 odd years for the Teaching Hospital to materialize.
The Golf Course of Peradeniya, also known as the 'Lewis Links' that gave way to the buildings of the Teaching Hospital and part of the Medical School cannot be separated from that of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the horse racing track (Race Course) of Peradeniya. Historically the Peradeniya Race Course, forerunner of the Golf Course is the one that is important when considering the history of the site of the 'Second Medical School'. It is not certain whether the planners who proposed the Peradeniya site for the University of Ceylon ever considered the historical importance of the site, apart from looking for a more salubrious climate for the country's first and premier University.

The other site proposed, near Kandy was ravaged by malaria during the 1934/ 1935 epidemic. Hence the climate and the pleasant surroundings would have been the major considerations. Historically it can be said that the University campus had been carved out of the extensive Royal Gardens of the Gampola and Kandyan kings.

Alexander Moon who succeeded William Kerr, Superintendent of the first British Botanic Garden in the island of Ceylon located at Slave Island, Colombo was involved with the shifting of the gardens to Peradeniya. In 1820, Moon was instructed to look for a suitable location for the Royal Botanic Gardens in and around Kandy. Moon reported back that he looked at all possible sites in and around Kandy and found that the former palace gardens of the Gampola and Kandyan kings was the most suitable. Captain Dawson of the Royal Engineers supported the suggestion.

The Deputy Secretary of the Government accepted the proposal by his letter dated December 27th 1821. In 1822 Moon reported that he had successfully transplanted the exotics brought from Slave Island, Colombo. He also informed the authorities that a nursery of two thousand coffee plants had also been established outside the perimeter of the Gardens. The governor was pressurizing Moon to devote more time to coffee cultivation. Moon however did not open the Gardens for coffee but selected an area of 120 acres adjoining the proposed entrance to the Gardens. This is the land that successively gave way to the coffee plantation, race course, the golf course and later to the "Second Medical School at Peradeniya, New Faculty of Dental Sciences and the Teaching Hospital of Peradeniya.

The British, particularly those in the military service were passionately hell bent on horse racing and according to the Government Gazette 1821, the race course was already established in the land that was planted with coffee by Moon. The first-ever race meet in Ceylon was run in Peradeniya (Kandy) in 1821, one year before the opening of the Great Military Road of Sir Edward Barnes.

Nihal Karunaratne in his book, "Kandy Past and Present" gives the details of this first race. The horses that ran this first race were Arabs from Karachi and horses from the stud at Delft that supplied horses for the Ceylon Light Dragoons. As it is today the horses were given funny names and those that ran the first race had names such as 'Pretender', an obvious reference to Vilbâve, the pretender to the Kandyan throne. The racing course was a circle that that extended from the front of the Gardens towards the present Forensic Medicine department and then curving towards the present Faculty of Dental Sciences. The plans of the Royal Botanic Gardens made in 1928, 1844, 1860, 1879, 1893 and 1922 clearly show the location of the race course although only a semicircle is marked (see plans in Nihal Karunaratne's book). The grandstand was on the hillock in the centre of the race course which later made way for the Club House of Peradeniya University Faculty Staff Club. Currently the surgical theatre complex of the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital is located in this area. The race course was used for races every year until 1932 when the last race was run.

"…The ground enclosed by the race course, about 36 acres earlier belonged to the Military and is still crown land. The summit, used for the Grand Stand was also Military ground. From the remains of carved stones and pillars discovered here, some them many feet below during the conversion to a Golf Course in 1910 - 1911, this may have been the site of a palace or similar structure in Kandyan times" (Nihal Karunaratne, Kandy Past and Present. 1999).

The environs where the new Medical School was located in the early 1960s no doubt belonged to the Palace Gardens of the Gampola and Kandyan kings as Sir Archibald Lawrie ('Court Dorai') says that there were ruins close to the estate bungalow ('the infamous 'Takarun' house) between Marrs and Jayatillake Halls.

"….For the most part the Race Course was left uncultivated. Parts of it were occupied by PWD workers and soldiers during an outbreak of cholera in 1847. In 1877, the clerk and the foreman of the gardens, J. Ferdinands was allowed to occupy the ground for chena cultivation on an annual rental of Rs.150. In 1880, 18 acres of land facing the gardens and public road were under control of the Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens. In 1899 planters in the neighbourhood decided to maintain the Race Course and ground in a better state, and on the recommendation of the Director of the Gardens, the New Peradeniya Estate (Ceylon Land and Produce Company) was given in 1890 a ten year lease of the land at a rental of Rs.10 per acre. This estate was originally begun as a sugar estate and was known by that name later.

It is mentioned in the ‘Opening of the University of Ceylon, 1954’ document that Samuel Baker had commented in 1855 that this was the only sugar estate that could keep its head above water. However just a few years later Sir Emerson Tennent commented that the venture was a failure and the supply of sugar could not meet even that of the Central province. “The frontage was reduced from 18 to 1 acres and in 1893 to 4 acres. The lease to the New Peradeniya Estate expired in 1910. The entire race course ground was taken over on lease by the newly formed Kandy Golf Club, and in 1912 it was opened as the Lewis Links in honour of J.P.Lewis C.M.G. retired Government Agent, Kandy. When the golf club took over the ground it was under tea, interplanted with Dalaps and other shade trees, all of which had to be cut down and removed. In 1895 much of it was under Liberian coffee and afterwards under the Croton Tiglium. The Peradeniya Rest House was built in 1901 in the northern corner of the Race Course. The Golf Club was there until 1978, when successive governments attempted to acquire the Golf links for a Teaching Hospital" (Nihal Karunaratne, Kandy Past and Present.1999). This is a double for the Peradeniya faculty, for being established in the salubrious climes in the central hills and for being set up on land that once was a royal abode.

On a pleasantly mild day of May 1963 the writer entered the 'University Road' or the 'Queen's Drive' for the first time as a medical student of the newly established 'Second Medical School'. The Galaha junction was deserted. The entrance to the Old Galaha Road was bare with no Post Office building or the ones belonging to the Telecommunication Department. The land between the New Galaha Road and the Old Galaha Road was (front part of Court Dorai's land) covered with scrub and abandoned rubber trees. There was a University Bungalow close to the junction in front of the sedate Buddha statue seen today. The whole area in front of the Gardens, the old Race Course and the Golf Links was covered with maana grass and a squat club house, legacy of the Golf Club stood at the top of the hillock now nestling between the surgical theatres of the Teaching Hospital.

I returned to my alma mater in 1972 as an academic staff member of the Second Medical School and had many delightful evenings in this little club house then serving as the University Staff Faculty Club. The Medical School itself looked as if it was hastily constructed and barrack-like. All the buildings were single-storied, wide and built using 'block gal'. We were told that they were to be replaced in twenty years. This is Sri Lanka and we knew that this was wishful thinking. Some of these buildings destined to be replaced in twenty years are still in use with no hint of ever being replaced.

The newly established Second Medical School fortunately did not trip into an abyss that most of the other newer Medical Schools fell into with regards to staffing. With the opening of the Faculty in Peradeniya, a few stalwarts in the Colombo Faculty volunteered to come up to Peradeniya. It is with deep sense of gratitude that I mention some of the gentlemen who took this bold step so that the Faculty could function from the first day itself. Drs.Lester Jayawardena, Panditharatne (Anatomy), Drs. R.S. Watson and Janze (Physiology) and Tommy Wickramanayake and Stanley Wijesundera are some of them who were there for us on the very first day. Since the new Faculty functioned as an appendage of the 'Big Brother' in Colombo, we did not have a Dean of our own until my fourth year when another pioneer colossus- Senaka Bibile took up the Deanship in 1967.

All of us in the third batch were offered residence including those who were from Kandy. The Peradeniya Teaching Hospital was not even thought of and we had our clinical training in the old Kandy Hospital. We sometimes took the train to Kandy every morning for our clinical training but mostly it was the 'Hospital bus' we took. This plump 'Ibba' like brick-red Benz bus, identical to the one in which S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike rode after nationalizing the transport services, started at Ramanathan Hall and took in only medicos who were going to Kandy Hospital. It took the old Kandy Road as there was no William Gopallawa Mawatha at that time. It went past the Bogambara grounds and the Boy Scouts Head quarters to reach the Kandy Hospital. It would wait for us near the milk booth in front of the then new building where the ground floor was occupied by the administrative units.

The fare from Ramanathan to Kandy Hospital was 25 cents, from Wijewardena- 20 cents and from Galaha junction 15 cents. We who were at Marrs Hall would take the short cut to Rajawatta on foot and take the bus from there paying only 10 cents. The driver and the conductor of the hospital bus seldom changed and they were good friends of all the medicos. I remember once when the driver had a surgical problem, he received right royal treatment in the ward with medicos dropping in to talk with the invalid.

There were difficult times, mostly for the administrators and the students sometimes did not know what was happening. We never had dirty poster campaigns and nor did we have disruptions of scheduled work. This behaviour was not well taken by the students of other faculties and many a time we were categorized as black legs. This was very true during the 1963 and 1965 strikes. One time when the medicos were a bit agitated was when the word went round that the State run Second Medical School at Peradeniya would not be recognized by the General Medical Council of the UK. The uncertainty did not last long. Due to the untiring efforts of some of the staff, both from Peradeniya and Kandy the problem was amicably settled following a visit by the member of the GMC.

The faculty has come a long from its infancy to become one of the premier medical schools of the country. It is heartening to know that more than 27 graduates from Peradeniya are among the first hundred according to the common (combined merit list of six medical schools) merit list this year with Peradeniya graduates taking the first, third, fourth, fifth and the eighth positions. I am aware that this feat was repeated the previous year too.

Originally started as an extension of the much older Colombo Medical School, the Second Medical School gained total independence from Colombo in 1967, our fourth year. The Faculty opened for the first batch of students on a 'Direct Entry' basis in 1962, January 4.

The faculty has grown from strength to strength and currently has an academic staff of 150 in 15 departments. The annual intake of new students is around 195 and it has places for about ten to twelve overseas students.

It is with a great sense of gratitude that I pen these few words about this premier Medical School of Sri Lanka for moulding us into what we are today. I may not be there to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee but my best wishes will always be with this blessed haven in the Hantana valley.

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