The damp and humid weather, marshy surroundings and diseases like Malaria, Plague, Black Fever, and Amebiasis, as prevailed in Calcutta in those days, soon turned out to be a death trap for the English people, who arrived from the British Isles seeking their fortune. Time and again they were urging the Company to set up a hospital for the proper treatment of the sick and the afflicted. Granting their prayers, a hospital was setup in a single storey building on the premises of the Old Fort at Garstin place in 1707. But the hospital soon became infamous as a hell. Many described it as a place, where many unfortunate people were admitted to get relief, but few came out of it to give an account of their experience. Ridiculously, a boundary wall was constructed around the hospital in 1710, to prevent the sick soldiers from leaving the hospital and reenter into the city premises. In 1736, a second floor was added to the hospital building. The company arranged to pay the salary of the attending doctors and provided for the medicines while the sick were charged for nursing, medical attendance and food.
After the hospital building was destroyed in 1756, the Company purchased two buildings in 1768 to house the hospital. One of the said buildings belonged to Rev J Z Kiernander, the first Protestant missionary to serve in Calcutta. At that time, Kiernander was busy in building his church – the Mission Church, which subsequently became popular among the locals as Lal Girja. However, Kiernander was kind enough to build additional wings for the hospital. The construction of the hospital started after the Government occupied the property on 20 June 1769. The west and the east wings were completed on 2nd April and 2nd June of 1770, respectively. Admission of the patients started on 22 April 1770. Initially founded for the Europeans, the hospital was known at that time as the Presidency General Hospital or PG Hospital, probably for its proximity to the Presidency Jail. It may be mentioned here that, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, who died in the hospital on 29th June 1873, was one of the earliest natives to be admitted here on 22nd June 1873.
As part of Lord Curzon’s ‘great leap forward’, the bulk of the present facility was built in 1901. Apart from the forbidding but admirably designed main building, the Woodburn Block, the administrative building and the physiotherapy building came up in that decade. There is an old chapel located in the main building. Once it was associated with the healing ministry of the Presidency General Hospital, which was started by the sisters of the community of St. John the Baptist Clewer. St. Paul’s Cathedral continues to minister in this chapel. Sister Constance Ruth and her team of dedicated nurses served in the chapel during the First World War. Hanging from the ceiling above the altar there is a cross with the Lord engraved on it and two angels on either side. The cross was dedicated in memory of the sisters who died on duty during the World Wars.
In a small building in the hospital, Sir Ronald Ross made his epoch-making discovery of the Cycle of Malarial Parasite and was awarded the Nobel Prize on 10th December 1902. After his retirement from service on 31 July 1899, he visited PG Hospital in January 1927. At that time, the “Gate of Commemoration” bearing his statue and poem in the plaque was unveiled by Lord Lytton.
In 1954, this premier institution was renamed as Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital by the Government of West Bengal, in memory of the grandfather of Mr. Indra Kumar Karnani, who gave a handsome gift of Rs. 17 lakh for the expansion of hospital. It became the first Post Graduate Medical Institute in Eastern India, when at the instance and initiative of Dr.Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, The Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research was opened in the campus in 1957. The elite institution was inaugurated by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, on the 16th day of January 1957.