Lives of the fellows

Cuthbert Allan (Sir) Sprawson

b.1 March 1877 d.7 May 1956
CIE(1919) Kt(1937) MB Lond(1898) MD Lond(1902) Hon D Litt Luck(1930) MRCS LRCP(1898) MRCP(1902) FRCP(1919)

Sir Cuthbert Sprawson held high administrative and university appointments in India at a time which was important for the future of its medical profession. As director-general of the Indian Medical Service, as professor of medicine in the University of Lucknow, and as the first president of the Medical Council of India, he made a lasting contribution to the land which he served for nearly forty years.

The son of John Sprawson, of Belle Vue, East Finchley, and his wife, Elizabeth Charles, he was born at Wimbledon and educated at King’s College School and King’s College Hospital. Two years after qualifying he joined the LM.S, and at Netley won the Herbert prize and the Montefiore medal and prize. He held posts as deputy sanitary commissioner in the United Provinces and as civil surgeon at Jhansi before he was appointed professor of physiology at Lucknow Medical College in 1911. In 1913 he became professor of medicine at the College. During the 1914-18 War he left India to serve as a consulting physician with the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, and in recognition of his services was appointed C.I.E, in 1919.

In 1920 he returned to his work at Lucknow, and on the formation of the University there he was appointed professor of medicine and dean of the medical faculty. The University conferred on him the honorary degree of D.Litt. The award of this distinction by an Indian University to an LM.S, officer may well have been to some extent a tribute to his remarkable personality which ensured for him the friendship and confidence of people of every race and class. This power of inspiring trust and affection was also the secret of his ability to maintain harmony among the students of different classes and communities who were living together in the hostel of the College.

His example of disinterested friendship was far more effective in this respect than disciplinary measures would have been. He was an accomplished physician and teacher of medicine; he never ceased to be also a student and a seeker after fresh knowledge.

In 1930 he was promoted major-general and became inspector-general of civil hospitals in the United Provinces and surgeon-general with the Government of Madras. Three years later he was appointed director-general of the I.M.S. During this term of office the Medical Council of India was set up to establish a uniform standard of higher qualification in medicine for all provinces. For the first four years the president of the council was nominated by the Governor-General, and Sprawson became the first president.

He retired in 1937, but his interest and his influence continued. He published an important survey of the teaching standards and of the facilities at Indian medical schools (Sind med. J., 1936, 8, 189-98) which was the basis of an All-India conference in 1938. This conference recommended the gradual abolition of the inferior licentiate medical qualification throughout India, and the upgrading, by stages, of the schools to college status. These proposals became effective in one province before the outbreak of war interrupted progress, and to some extent paved the way to the commissioning of licentiates as medical officers in the Indian Army Medical Corps, which was created in 1943.

The pulmonary infection which laid him low from time to time might have daunted a lesser man. He carried on resolutely in his own determined fashion—sometimes at odds with those in high places. In addition to his official work he was greatly interested in tuberculosis and leprosy work. With A. W. R. Cochrane he wrote A Guide to the use of tuberculin (1915) and the following year he published Home treatment for consumption, adapted for India (1916). He was a valiant campaigner in both causes while in India. After retirement he was an active member of the medical committee of the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association until his death.

Sir Cuthbert was a fine rifle shot; his favourite recreation was big-game hunting. He married in 1901 Miss Theodora Mary Burton, who died in 1912. They had a son and a daughter.

Richard R Trail

[, 1956, 1, 1176-7 (p); Lancet, 1956, 1, 756 (p); Times, 8 May 1956.]

(Volume V, page 388)

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