Thursday, 16 February 2012
This week I’ve been looking at the Chemical Examiner’s reports, which are among the remaining medical items in the National Library of Scotland's India Papers collection.
The NLS plans to put in a bid to the Wellcome Trust to have these digitised and added to the Medical History of British India website. The NLS holds reports dated 1874-1942 from the Punjab, Burma and North-West and Central Provinces and Oudh.
The Chemical Examiners gave independent scientific advice to the Criminal Justice Administration System. The first laboratory was established in Madras in 1849, with one formed in Kerala in 1890 under the orders of Government as part of the Health Department.
The Chemical Examiner’s laboratory investigated cases of human and animal poisoning, stain cases (blood, semen, faecal matter) plus purity of drugs (opium, hemp drugs, cocaine, chloroform) and water.
The reports include short notes on the more important medico-legal cases, including strychnine poisoning and a case of an apple tart laced with croton oil, a ‘drastic purgative.’ The cook had poisoned the tart, which was served up after a cantonment dinner party (Report of the Chemical Examiner to Government, North-West Frontier Province, 1930, shelfmark: IP/29/CB.3).
Hair was also used to detect crime, examined by microscope and ultra-violet light to identify its origin. The work of the American scientific crime detection lab in North-Western University was of interest in India as ‘hair-rings’ could show the age of a human. Hair was as important as a finger-print in tracing criminals, Dr. Hood claimed.
(Report of the Chemical Examiner to Government, North-West Frontier Province, 1932, shelfmark: IP/29/CB.3).
The Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory still exists at Kerala and its work is very similar to that of last century.
(Photo credit: poison bottle, http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/)