CORMICK, JOHN (sometimes erroneously identified as Charles; d. Mayāmey, near Nīšāpūr, October 1833), one of the first English surgeons to work in Persia and personal physician to the crown prince ʿAbbās Mīrzā. Cormick, who came from County Tipperary in Ireland, qualified as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800. He was appointed assistant surgeon in the Madras Medical Service in January 1800 and surgeon in February 1807. He went to Persia in 1225/1810 as the second surgeon attached to Major General John Malcolm’s third mission, ostensibly dispatched under provisions of a preliminary agreement negotiated by Sir Harford Jones in 1224/1809; he remained as an employee of the East India Company after Malcolm’s departure later that year (Lorimer, Gazetteer I/2, p. 1900-05). Cormick was attached to the army of ʿAbbās Mīrzā in Azerbaijan (Elgood, pp. 445-46) and was present as a surgeon at the battle of Āṣlāndūz in 1227/1812; it was he who found the body of Captain Charles Christie on the battlefield (for his account, see Kaye, pp. 623-30; Monteith, pp. 94-95). The presence of the military mission raised diplomatic problems with Russia, and most of the British personnel were withdrawn in 1230/1815. Cormick, however, remained in Tabrīz, having married an Armenian woman in 1227/1812. He gained the confidence of ʿAbbās Mīrzā, who was eager to overcome traditional prejudice against Western medicine and appointed Cormick chief physician (ḥakīm-bāšī) to his own household. He continued to serve his difficult patient (jointly with John McNeill after 1821) for the rest of his life, accumulating considerable wealth in the process.
At the same time Cormick remained an employee of the East India Company and, making use of his sensitive position at the crown prince’s court near the Russian border, reported to and received instructions from the British representative at the Qajar court (Elgood, pp. 452, 456). During the second Russo-Persian war (1241-43/1826-28) the British envoy, Sir John Kinneir MacDonald, on several occasions prevented Cormick from attending ʿAbbās Mīrzā, who was frequently in urgent need of medical treatment. The British used these tactics to persuade the ailing crown prince to agree to a suspension of the payment to Persia of the annual subsidy of 200,000 tomans, specified in the Definitive Treaty of 1229/1814 (see letters from ʿAbbās Mīrzā to MacDonald in Ekbal, pp. 146-49, 200-03; cf. pp. 93-94). Cormick was not simply a British informer, however; according to all reports, he was a loyal companion to his august patient and assisted him in his reform projects as far as they concerned medicine and public health (Elgood, p. 467; Najmī, pp. 310-11). He thus carried out smallpox vaccinations on a large scale, receiving a special allowance for this service from the Indian government (Elgood, p. 463). A treatise of his on vaccination was translated into Persian by Mīrzā Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Ṣabūr as Resāla-ye taʿlīm dar ʿamal-e ābela zadan and was one of the first books to be printed in Persia (1245/1830; Ṭabāṭabāʾī et al., p. 209; Fehrest-e ketābhā-ye čāpī, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, I, cols. 4, 391, II, cols. 1686, 1698). He received the order of the Lion and Sun (Second Class) from the Persian government in 1240/1825.
After the treaty of Torkamāṇčāy (1243/1828) ʿAbbās Mīrzā ordered the Armenian population of Azerbaijan placed under the protection of MacDonald; when MacDonald died in 1830 this responsibility devolved on Major Isaac Hart and then on Cormick (Wright, pp. 45-46, citing FO 60/140). In 1249/1833 Cormick was summoned to accompany ʿAbbās Mīrzā on his campaign to Khorasan; he contracted typhus and died in the village of Mayāmey near Nīšāpūr in October (FO 60/134; Curzon, Persian Question I, pp. 281, 398); he was later buried at Tabrīz. His son William was also a physician in Tabrīz.
K. Ekbal, Der Briefwechsel Abbas Mirzas mit dem britischen Gesandten MacDonald Kinneir [sic; John Kinneir MacDonald sometimes used his mother’s maiden name] im Zeichen des zweiten russisch-persischen Krieges (1825-28), Freiburg, 1977.
C. Elgood, A Medical History of Persia, Cambridge, 1951; repr. Amsterdam, 1979.
Foreign Office (FO) 60/134, 474.
G. Fowler, Three Years in Persia with Travelling Adventures in Koordistan I, London, 1841, pp. 327-30.
Jahāngīr Mīrzā, Tārīḵ-enow, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948, p. 185.
M.-T. Lesān-al-Molk Sepehr Kāšānī, Tārīḵ-eQājārīya. Nāseḵ al-tawārīḵ, n.p., 1273/1857, p. 133.
J. W. Kaye, The Life and Correspondence of Maj. Gen. Sir John Malcolm . . . , 2 vols., London, 1856.
W. Monteith, Kars and Erzerum, with the Campaigns of Prince Paskievitch in 1828 and 1829, London, 1856.
N. Najmī, Īrān dar mīān-e ṭūfān yā šarḥ-e zendegānī-ye ʿAbbās Mīrzā “Nāyeb-al-Salṭana” wa janghā-ye Īrān wa Rūs, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.
E. Pakravan, Abbas Mirza, Paris, 1973.
J. Qāʾemmaqāmī, Nāmahā-ye sīāsī-e Sayyed al-Wozarāʾ Qāʾem-maqām Farāhānī, Tehran, 1358 Š./1979 (including miscellaneous letters relating to Cormick).
J. H. Stocqueler, Fifteen Months’ Pilgrimage through Untrodden Tracts of Khuzistan and Persia, in a Journey from India to England through Parts of Turkish Arabia, Persia, Armenia, Russia, and Germany, Performed in the Years 1831 and 1832 I, London, 1832, p. 169.
M. Ṭabāṭabāʾī et al., “Čāp-e sorbī o sangī,” Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 19/1-2, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976, pp. 208-16.
R. G. Watson, A History of Persia from the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century to the Year 1858, London, 1866; repr. Tehran, 1976, p. 268.
D. Wright, The English amongst the Persians during the Qajar Period 1787-1921, London, 1977, pp. 45-46, 53-55, 122-23.
The correct version of Cormick’s name, as it appears on his tombstone in Tabrīz, was provided by Sir Denis Wright.
(Kamran Ekbal and Lutz Richter-Bernburg)
Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: October 31, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 3, pp. 274-275