Queer Places:
Old Cama Hospital, Bmc office Mahapalika Marg opp. Azad Maidan, Dhobi Talao, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Area, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001, India
46 Harley St, London W1G 9PT, UK
Locksbrook Cemetery Lower Weston, Bath and North East Somerset Unitary Authority, Somerset, England

Charlotte Louisa Ellaby (1854 - May 14, 1909) was an Anglo-Indian surgeon. Having spent many years in India, she returned to England in order to become an ophthalmologist exclusively. In 1890 she was appointed the first ophthalmic surgeon to the New Hospital for Women, in the Euston Road, London—the eye department of which she had infact organized.

Ellaby was born in 1854, in Cambridgeshire, England, the younger daughter of Rev. J.W. Ellaby of Woodstone, Peterborough, and, as his mean were limited, it was only by the exercise of indomitable pluck and perseverance that she was able to enter her chosen profession. She graduated M.D. in Paris in 1884, embodying in her thesis the fruits of research work in ophthalmology undertaken while she was a student.

The Medical Fund for Women in India had been set up in 1883, initiated by the American businessman George Kittredge (who was partly responsible for the introduction of tramway services in Bombay), Shapurji Bengali and other prominent people from the Presidency. Earlier that year, the Welsh doctor Elizabeth Frances Hoggan had written in the Contemporary Review about the need to provide women doctors in India, as a necessary public service. Women living cloistered lives in the zenana, hidden away in sunless, airless rooms needed their own doctors as custom forbade their examination by male doctors. Even earlier, as Francois Bernier, the French traveller and doctor who had visited Aurangzeb’s India, had noted, a midwife or attendant narrated the symptoms of a sick female patient to the male doctor who stood veiled by a curtain.

In the autumn of that year, on the recommendation of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, M.D., she went out to Bombay to join Dr. Edith Pechey, first at a temporary hospital, and afterwards as second physician to the Cama Hospital for Women and Children on the opening of the institution in 1886. Here Ellaby worked most successfully, not only in the special eye department which she inaugurated, but also in a very large outpatient department and in an increasing private practice.

When Charlotte Ellaby arrived in Bombay in November 1884 to work as a Junior Medical Officer, she had no idea she was making history. Among the first in her generation, a medical woman with a degree recognised on a par with male doctors, Ellaby had sailed eastwards to join the equally illustrious Edith Pechey, one of Britain’s first women doctors. In 1869, she and six other women made up the Edinburgh Seven, the first group of female undergraduate students to study medicine, or for that matter, any subject at a British university. In India, Pechey and Ellaby would collaborate for the next few years, first at a temporary establishment called the Jaffer Suleman dispensary (in Khetwadi, a part of Bombay now known as Girgaum), before moving to Cama Hospital, inaugurated in 1886 and meant specifically for women and children.

Her other notable contribution in those early years was the donation of a flying fox preserved in spirit, the largest species of bat native to South and Southeast Asia, which she gifted to the Bombay Natural History Society. The fox is mentioned in the BNHS’ first journal, published in 1886, by its editors EH Aitken and RH Sterndale.

After some years' work in Bombay, Ellaby resigned her appointment and returned to England for the purpose of devoting herself entirely to ophthalmology. In order to have a registrable British qualification she then passed the examination of the Society of Apothecaries, which had recently been reopened to women.

In 1890 she accepted an invitation to the committee of the New Hospital for Women to organize an eye department there, and was appointed the first ophthalmic surgeon. Here she worked until failing health, fought with great courage, compelled her resignation in 1906.

In the winter of 1894-95, Ellaby returned to India for a few weeks to perform a double cataract operation upon the Ranee of Jamnagar. This was at the special request of an engineer, William McClelland, who was responsible for the construction of several bridges and a hospital in Jamnagar, then ruled by its Jamsahib, Vibhaji II Ranmalji. The maharani – one of Jamsahib’s more than 14 wives – had cataract in both her eyes and McClelland conveyed the ruler’s special request to Ellaby to have her perform the surgery. The operation was successful; but it was partly to the visit in India that Ellaby attributed her subsequent ill-health.

At the time of her death, she was Consulting Ophthalmic Surgeon to the New Hospital for Women, Lecturer on Ophthalmia Surgery to the London School of Medicine for Women, and a member of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of London.

In 1909, she died relatively young, at the age of 55.


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