The College Library and Archive acquires a rare 18th century surgical diary

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19 Mar 2021

The College Library and Archive are delighted to have acquired a fascinating item, which offers a unique and captivating glimpse into the education, training and social life of surgeons in the mid-1760s. 

"Diary of an 18th Century Man Midwife" by Isaac Williamson ("Surgeon & Accoucheur" of Whitehaven) is a manuscript account of his formative period in Edinburgh and Dublin in 1766 and 1767, covering his daily activities, expenditures and educational pursuits. It is written in a printed journal entitled "The gentleman’s and tradesman’s complete annual accompt-book [sic] for the pocket or desk" and includes accounts of witnessing an elderly Alexander Monro primus attending to clinical patients, as well as attending lectures by Monro secundus. There are also financial records for various purchases, including mortars and pestle, dissecting knives and forceps, and expense details for (among other things) “a touching lecture with 10 women”. In addition, Williamson describes his experiences of life in Edinburgh at the time, including visits to the Castle and races at Leith, games of cards and dice, and learning the fiddle. There's even a love poem he wrote to a young lady in his home town! 

Although a unique manuscript, the published diary itself is believed to be the only copy of its kind in Scotland, with the only other known surviving copy being held by All Souls College in Oxford. We will be digitising the contents for all researchers by making it publicly available on our Digital Collections website, and the book will also be made available for adoption for any interested RCSEd member in the near future.

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