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Biographical entry Gabriel, Vrasapillai (1885 - 1965)

MRCS 1912; FRCS 1913; MRCP 1914.

18 December 1885
26 May 1965
Colombo, Ceylon
Anatomist and General surgeon


Vrasapillai Gabriel was born on 18 December 1885 in the town of Mannar in Northern Ceylon. He came from a well known Northern family who were the hereditary administrators in the day of the British Raj. His father was Mudaliyar V Varsapillai JP, UPM, Adigar of Musale. He was born into a family of two boys and five girls. He was educated at St Thomas College in Colombo and entered the Ceylon Medical College in 1904. He won the Jejeebhoy Scholarship on entering and then carried away the Rockwood Gold Medal in Surgery, Garvin Gold Medal in Operative Surgery, the Loos Gold Medal in Pathology and finally the Diploma Medal in 1910 when he graduated. He proceeded to England that year and entered the London Hospital. In 1913 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1914 a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, being the first Ceylonese to be elected to this College.

He worked in England for several years as a registrar at the Royal Eye, the Italian Hospital, Queen Square and finally as medical superintendent of the Shoreditch Infirmary.

He returned to Ceylon in 1920 when he was appointed lecturer in anatomy in the Ceylon Medical College. In 1923 he was appointed surgeon to the out-patients General Hospital Colombo and in 1926 he was appointed to the visiting staff. In 1940 he was appointed senior surgeon which post he held till 1948 when he retired from the staff. He was as well lecturer in clinical and operative surgery in the University of Ceylon.

In addition to his work in the hospital, he took interest in all things medical. He was a prominent member of the Ceylon Medical Association of which he was elected its President in 1940. He was President of the Ceylon Government Medical Officers' Association from 1937 to 1940. He was a member of the Ceylon Medical Council for over 15 years. His interest in medical education led him to be elected to the Court of the University of Ceylon and to the University Selection Board.

In 1945 he was elected President of the Ceylon Association of Science, but for reasons of health he could not fill the post. In 1962 he was one of the first to be elected an Honorary Member of the newly formed Ceylon Association of Surgeons. Mr Gabriel was one of the early exponents of gastric and biliary surgery in Ceylon, a part of surgery he relished and wrote and lectured on before the Surgical Associations. He was the pioneer of spinal anaesthesia in Ceylon in the early twenties, a form he advocated vigorously in the days before relaxants and modern anaesthesia came into being.

In 1920 he married Florence Mary McCulloch, a nurse at the London Hospital, whom he met when a student there. He had one son, Anthony Gabriel, who is also a Fellow of the College and surgeon to Colombo Hospitals.

He died on 26 May 1965 after a brief illness in Colombo.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Anthony Gabriel, FRCS].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England