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Rare Collections and Historic Manuscripts Available Online for the First Time


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29 Nov 2018

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s (RCSEd) Library and Archive is delighted to announce the launch of its new website archiveandlibrary.rcsed.ac.uk, a catalogue of information that will enable visitors to view unique manuscripts and photographic collections of the College’s history from their own home.

Launching on World Digital Preservation Day 29 November 2018, the website will feature a new Surgeons Database, allowing users to trace ancestors who qualified from the College from the earliest days of the barber-surgeons through to 1918. By searching the database, users will come across information about some of the most well-known surgeons such as Elsie Inglis, Dr Robert Knox, Joseph Lister and James Young Simpson.

Chris Henry, Director of Heritage at RCSEd commented:

“This resource enables the visitor to delve into the fascinating world of medical history with all of its macabre and gripping history. So whether you’re interested in finding out about your ancestors, squabbling 17th and 18th century medical practitioners, The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, or even tales of grave robbing, there is something to interest everyone.”

Existing collections still available on the website include images taken by military surgeon and former Surgeons’ Hall Museums conservator, Henry Wade. Wade carried a small camera to all locations he visited during his time with the Scottish Horse Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance Service. There are photographic collections from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals set up by Elsie Inglis and of an Edinburgh surgeons’ tour of European hospitals featuring some of the most prolific scientists and surgeons of the time. Alongside the photographic collections are digitised 16th-18th century records that demonstrate fractured relationships between the surgeons, barbers, apothecaries, physicians and Edinburgh Town Council.

The RCSEd full Library and Archive holds institutional records dating from the 1460s and extensive archival material relating to the College membership and to the history of medicine and surgery in Scotland. The library contains minute books; administrative records; manuscripts; architectural plans; letters; lecture notes; early case notes; diplomas, certificates and honours; class cards; photographs and personal papers; slides and film. The collections include pamphlets, early probationary essays, faculty dissertations and theses.

Of these, the new website includes historic notebooks available in full; in particular, the memoirs of Thomas Hume offering a detailed account and rare perspective of an Edinburgh student whose closest friends were assistants of the infamous anatomist Dr Robert Knox. Hume attended the execution and dissection of notorious serial killer William Burke in January 1829 and protected Knox from the baying mob outside his dissections rooms after the Burke and Hare murders were uncovered.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505, with the award-winning Surgeons Hall Museums’ collections growing from 1699 after 'natural and artificial curiosities' were publically sought. In the 1800s, the Museums expanded to include the remarkable collections of Sir Charles Bell and John Barclay. Initially established as a medical teaching resource, access for all is now a priority and visitors can explore The Wohl Pathology Museum, The History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection.


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