The narrative illustrates the role of archives, and the role of a social historian, in writing a biography. It illustrates how the availability of an archival article, or resource, leads a social historian to contextualise the object, or the resource, that enhances the biographical narrative.
Among the archival materials that I examined while researching the book Healing the Body: Touching the Heart was a medal that Dr LM Sanghvi had preserved carefully. It was the Duncan Medal on which Dr Sanghvi’s name was engraved. My exploration into the significance of the Medal revealed that it had become one of those objects that get hidden in the mist of times. And, unless I documented the story, the object – the Medal – would probably end up with some kabadiwallah, as few would know its worth.
My father, Dr LM Sanghvi,received the Andrew Duncan Medal in 1939. He was only the fourth Indian to receive the Duncan Medal. He was the last Indian to be awarded the annual Duncan Medal. Hence, perhaps, this is a rare medallion in the family’s collection.
The Medal was instituted at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1913. According to information received from the archives of the School, The Duncan Medal was first awarded in 1913. It was bestowed in memory of Andrew Duncan MD, BS, FRCS, FRCP, Physician to the Seaman’s Hospital Society and Lecturer in Tropical Medicine, who died in 1912. It was awarded to the student obtaining the highest marks in the examination for the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
It was awarded annually (usually to two or three individuals). In 1946, it was decided to award it once in two years, perhaps because the endowment amount for the purpose became inadequate. In the alternate years the Duncan Medal was not awarded, the Lalcaca Medal & William Simpson Prize was awarded to student obtaining the highest rank in the Diploma exams. For 1961-62 and 1963-64, it was awarded jointly with the William Simpson Prize. It is still awarded today but not as a medal. It is called the Duncan Prize and it consists of a monetary prize of £60. The Medal does not seem to have been awarded from 1942-1945, probably due to the Second World War.
Among the Indians who received the Duncan Medal before Dr LM Sanghvi were:
BL Taneja (1928), R Sivasamtandan (1931) and MJ Shah (1935). Of these three recipients of the Duncan Medal, a Google search could obtain information only on Dr BL Taneja. He was the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research from 1964 to 1969. The surgery block of Irwin Hospital (now renamed LokNayak Hospital), Delhi, is named after Dr BL Taneja.
The present generation may not fully appreciate what such an achievement by an Indian student meant, not just for the person getting the award, but for the entire community, nay, even for the national psyche! Remember, India was under British rule then; and for an Indian to secure the highest marks in the class which comprised, mostly, British students, was to achieve something unimaginable!
About Duncan Medal
The Medal was created by John Pinches. The online archives of the British Museum had the following information on John Pinches.
He came from a family of London die-sinkers and medallists. The company was founded circa 1841 by Thomas Ryan Pinches and his younger brother John Pinches who ran the business from 1856. John Harvey Pinches, eldest son of John Pinches (9 April 1916 – 2 July 2007), who would have created the medal that Dr LM Sanghvi received in 1939, was an English rower, Royal Engineers officer, medallist and author. After two years’ engineering training, JH Pinches joined the family firm and continued to run the family medallion business after the death of his father in 1905 and turned it into a limited company, John Pinches (Medallists) Limited, in 1940. The firm crafted badges and insignia in Britain. It also made commemorative medallions for much of the Commonwealth and decorations and orders for overseas governments. John Pinches (Medallists) Ltd was taken over by the Franklin Mint of Philadelphia, USA, in 1969.