Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars – Autumn 2016 Programme

The Centre for the History of Medicine (part of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow invite you to a series of free seminars on medical history.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Building for the mentally ill; from Bethlem to the community
Professor Richard Mindham (University of Leeds)

Tuesday, 6 December 2016
“Do you have a frog to guide you?”: Exploring the ‘asylum’ spaces of R.D. Laing
Dr Cheryl McGeachan (University of Glasgow)

Meetings take place at 5:30pm in the library at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (tea and coffee from 5pm). It’s free to attend but please book ( or call 0141 221 6072).

Programme of talks for the Autumn sessions of the Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars

Programme of talks for the Autumn sessions of the Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars

Seeing the Invisible: Microscope Collection

Latest blog post from our digitisation intern, Kirsty Early.

Today, there are a variety of methods that enable us to visualize objects of microscopic proportions, from electron microscopes to light microscopes. However, the physical mechanisms of magnification were once a mystery to the human race.

Thousands of years ago, it was understood that water affected the view of an object. This was due to the manner in which water interacted with light, a concept known as refraction. Years later, philosopher Robert Bacon described the magnifying properties of lenses [1]. His major work Opus Majus was a milestone in the field of optics, with the first optical microscope being developed in the 16th century.

Within the College’s museum collection are several types of microscopes from the 18th to 20th centuries. Designs vary, which reflects the progression and improvement of microscopic technology. The Wilson-Type Microscope was designed by James Wilson in 1702, not as replacement for other microscopes, but simply as an alternative magnification tool [2].

Wilson-type microscope

Wilson-type microscope

Samples to be examined were placed onto a slide containing lenses of different magnification strengths. The position of the eyepiece could then be manipulated by a screw-mechanism, allowing the viewer to see different components of the target object more clearly.

Wilson-type microscope

Wilson-type microscope

Also within the collection is a Culpeper-style microscope (1725), whose design is not dissimilar to a Galileo microscope. Edmund Culpeper was an English instrument maker in the late 17th century. Although having made simple microscopes before, his personal design included a compound microscope with a tripod stand [3]. The tool was so popular that it continued to be manufactured for the next century [4].

Culpepper-type microscope

Culpepper-type microscope

The College has many resources on the life and works of Lord Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, but it also contains an example of his father’s work. Pictured below is an achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard, an optician and instrument maker of the mid-1800s. Joseph Jackson Lister, Lord Lister’s father, was a wine merchant with an interest in the study of optics [4]. His creation of a more accurate achromatic lens allowed for higher resolution viewing, and earned himself a fellowship in the Royal Society. Achromatic lenses focus light of different wavelengths in the same plane, hence producing a sharper microscopic image. This development in microscopic technology was truly revolutionary [5].

achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard

Achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard

The final example of microscope within the College collection is a monocular microscope from the 1900s.This microscope is most similar in design to those seen in laboratories today, although many today will be binocular. It contains a stand onto which a microscopic slide is mounted, kept in place by two pegs on either side. The light mechanism from the bottom is directed through the lens by a mirror, which reflects the light of its surroundings. Unlike the other microscopes, this model contains a simple switch mechanism that allows the magnification to be altered between 2/3” and 1/6 “.

monocular microscope

Monocular microscope c1900

Before the invention of the microscope, the only observations of the body were those visible to the human eye. However, under the microscope a whole new world was discovered.

1. Bacon, R., 1267. Opus Majus.
2. Wilson, J., 1702. The description and manner of using a late-invented set of small pocket microscopes, made by James Wilson; which with great ease are apply’d in viewing opake, transparent and liquid objects: as the farina of the flowers of plants etc. The circulation of blood in living creatures etc. The animalcula in semine, etc. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 23, pp. 1241-1247.
3. 3. Clay, R.S., and Court, T.H., 1925. The development of the culpepper microscope. Journal of the Royal Microscopal Society, 45(2), pp. 167-173.
4. Allen, E., and Turk, J.L., 1982. Microscopes in the Hunterian Museum. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 64(6), pp. 414-418.
5. Bracegirdle, B., 1977. J.J. Lister and the establishment of histology. Medical History, 21(2), pp. 187-191.

Beloved Poison

Monday, 21 November 2016. 6:30pm – 9pm

This November we’ll be taking part in Book Week Scotland. We’ll be joined by Author ES Thomson, who will be chatting with publisher Adrian Searle (Freight Books) about the inspiration and research behind her highly acclaimed Victorian medical thriller, Beloved Poison.

Set in Victorian London, Beloved Poison follows apothecary Jem Flockhart who makes a gruesome discovery in the gloomy chapel of St Saviour’s Infirmary. The story takes the reader from the bloody world of the operating theatre to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows as Jem struggles against a powerful adversary to unravel the mystery surrounding six tiny coffins filled with dried flowers and mouldering rags.

Join us from 6:30pm onwards for a glass of wine before Elaine and Adrian take to the stage at 7pm in our beautiful Lower Library.

The event is free to attend but please contact us to book as places are limited. You can book at or by calling 0141 221 6072.

Flyer advertising Beloved Poison

Elaine Thomson
Elaine Thomson has a PhD in the history of medicine and works as a university lecturer in Edinburgh. She was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award, the Scottish Arts Council First Book Award, and the McIlvanney Prize 2016.

Adrian Searle
Adrian Searle studied History Edinburgh University and Creative Writing at Glasgow University. He is founding co-editor of Gutter. Freight Books won the Saltire Society Literary Award for Scottish Publisher of the Year 2015.

Glasgow’s Marvellous Medicine – A Comics Workshop with Adam Murphy

Sunday, 20th November 2016. 1pm – 5pm

Get your pencils ready and explore Glasgow’s marvellous medicine!

We’ve teamed up with the Scottish Book Trust and their Live Literature programme to host a fun, family workshop of comic creation with writer and illustrator, Adam Murphy.

Flyer for the event Glasgow's Marvellous Medicine - A comics workshop with Adam Murphy

Taking his inspiration from the 16th century foundations of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Adam will be creating a short comic telling the marvellous, if sometimes gruesome, story of medicine and surgery in Glasgow at that time. It will then be the turn of the group to try their hand at creating their own comic masterpiece with Adam on hand to teach techniques in drawing and storytelling.

A perfect afternoon for all budding illustrators and comic fans!

The workshop is free to attend and is suitable for ages 8+ (children must be accompanied by an adult). Refreshments will be available.

Please book your place by emailing or calling 0141 221 6072.

Adam Murphy
Adam Murphy is a Glasgow-based comic writer and illustrator who has been creating comics full-time since 2011. He is the creator of ‘CorpseTalk,’ a comic which digs up famous people from history and interviews their reanimated zombie corpses! CorpseTalk has been collected as two books (CorpseTalk: Season 1 was nominated for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2014 and the BCA Young People’s Comic Award 2014), and is regularly featured in The Phoenix Children’s Comics Magazine. Adam also writes and draws ‘Lost Tales’ in which he re-interprets unusual or lesser-known folktales from around the world.

Follow Adam @Adam_T_Murphy or visit

The semi-flexible gastroscope

In her latest blog post, Digitisation Project Intern Kirsty Earley looks at the technology behind a mid 20th century gastroscope.

The development of gastroscopy and endoscopy evolved during the 19th century. Philipp Bozzini in the early 1800s is regarded as the first to attempt to see inside the body using a light source – at this stage candlelight and mirrors. The use of electric light in the later 19th century advanced the procedure. In 1868 Adolph Kussmaul tested a rigid gastroscope on a sword-swallower to establish the line from mouth to stomach.


Rigid gastroscope in Mayer & Meltzer catalogue, c1914

Prior to any form of recording technology, visualization of the gastrointestinal tract could only be achieved via rigid gastroscopes. These were essentially long telescopes through which the physician could view inside of the patient’s stomach (see illustration above and below).


Due to the limitations on flexibility, the patient had to be positioned in order that the gastroscope could simply slide down the oesophagus towards the stomach. It would then be rotated to visualize all areas of the stomach. Not the easiest of procedures. For gastroscopy to advance, something had to be done to the gastroscope itself.

Rudolf Schindler (1888-1968) was a German doctor who specialised in gastroenterology. Considered the “father of gastroscopy”, Schindler made incredible efforts to promote the use of gastroscopy as a diagnostic technique for gastrointestinal conditions [1].

Schindler was the brains behind the first ever semi-flexible gastroscope, created in 1931 [2]. He constructed the gastroscope in such a manner that the distal end could be rotated, while the proximal end remained stationary (see image below). This allowed easier access to all areas of the stomach. But how did he test his design? Often, his instruments were tested on his own children, especially his daughter Ursula as she had a strong gag reflex [3].


One of our mid 20th century gastroscopes

To ensure that procedures were being carried out safely, Schindler trained practitioners in how to use his gastroscope as a diagnostic tool. He argued for many years that gastroscopy should not become a specialised field of medicine, but an examination technique performed by any level of practitioner.


Detail of mid 20th century gastroscope

Ultimately, the gastroscope was replaced by fiberoptic endoscopes [4]. Instead of a flexible distal end, the entire length of the fibreoptic endoscope was flexible. This allowed the patient to be in a more natural position, e.g. sitting up, during the examination, [5].

Gastroscopy today involves examining components of the gastrointestinal system by inserting a wire-like endoscope down the patient’s throat. The endoscope contains a camera and light, and is controlled by the physician performing the examination. The images from the camera are then fed to a monitor screen for visualization.


  1. Gerstner, P., 1991. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: a history. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, 37(2).
  2. Olympus, date unknown. Olympus History: VOL 1 The Origin of Endoscopes. [online] Available at:
  3. Schindler Gibson, U., 1988. Rudolf Schindler, MD: living with a Renaissance man. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, 34(5).
  4. DiMarino, A.J., and Benjamin, S.B., 2002. Gastrointestinal Disease: An Endoscopic Approach. Slack Incorporated: New Jersey.
  5. Hirschowitz, B., 1961. Endoscopic Examination of the Stomach and Duodenal Cap with the Fiberscope. The Lancet, 277(7186).

Old and new surgical tools

Our Digitisation Project Intern expands on the previous post about Dr Harry Lillie’s medical bag.

The recent donation of a medical bag belonging to Dr Harry R.Lillie, a medical officer aboard whaling ships during World War Two, revealed some interesting stories. It also highlighted fascinating insights in the development of basic surgical instruments.


Dr Lillie’s surgical kit

Within the bag, one item drew much attention- a set of surgical tools (above). These tools drew attention not because of their scarcity, or obscurity, but because of their profound similarities to modern tools used today.


1939 or 2016?

A set of modern dissection tools was located and compared with the surgical tools found in Lillie’s surgical case. The designs of the tools are very similar, as are their materials. Modern dissection tools are made of stainless steel, as are Lillie’s. Most surgical instrument makers adopted stainless steel since its popularity grew in the 1930s. Even the canvas bags are remarkably similar.


2016 or 1939?

Apart from some signs of wear and tear, it is hard to believe these two surgical kits have over 75 years between them.


Dr Harry R. Lillie

We recently received an unusual donation, and one that holds an incredible story. A medical bag belonging to Dr Harry R. Lillie was generously given to the College, along with a copy of his book The Path through Penguin City (1955). In this blog post our Digitisation Project Intern Kirsty Earley explains its significance.


Dr Lillie’s medical bag


Dr Harry Russell Lillie was a surgeon and medical officer aboard British whaling ships in the Antarctic during the 1940s. Originally from Dundee, Lillie received his MB ChB from the University of St Andrews in 1939, previously graduating with a BSc Engineering in 1926.


Dr Lillie’s Baumanometer

He began his career at sea during the whaling season of 1946-1947. Serving up to 600 sailors at a time, Lillie was putting his surgical skills to good use at sea [1]. Life at sea was always busy, and certainly not a 9-5 job. Surgeons and medical officers had to be ready to deal not only with common illnesses contracted at sea, but also severe injuries of the whaling profession. It wasn’t unheard of for sailors to find themselves inside the mouth of the whale they were trying to hunt:

“Trapped with only his boots sticking out as the jaws came together, he got off with a moderately crushed chest and emphysema from the neck to the waist, but was back on his job in six weeks.” [1]


Dr Lillie’s surgical kit

As well as exercising his medical skills, Lillie was able to observe the conditions and methods of whaling in the Antarctic. The hunting of whales has been performed since prehistoric times, however the reasons for hunting whales has changed over time. Whales have been targeted as a food source for some communities, as well as being killed for oil and blubber.

The tools used to kill whales have evolved over the years. Lillie describes in detail the specific methods sailors used to take down their prey, and, as the true scientist he was, didn’t leave out any details. “Explosive Harpoons” were used to take down the whale instead of standard iron harpoons used previously. These harpoons had a delayed mechanism, where the spear would pierce the whale’s tissue, and then explode via implanted grenades after a few seconds. As would be expected with such a large mammal, death wasn’t immediate; often it required several hours for the whale to die after more than one harpoon fired.

Such scenes were the cause of Lillie’s campaigning for new whaling laws. He reported the horrific methods used to kill whales to make a clear point- things had to change. And things did change. His book The Path through Penguin City was published in 1955 and remains to be one of the most influential books in whaling conservation. Here he uses helpful imagery to explain the how horrible whaling was:

“If we can imagine a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach and being made to pull a butcher’s truck through the streets of London while it pours blood into the gutter, we shall have an idea of the method of killing. The gunners themselves admit that if whales could scream the industry would stop, for nobody would be able to stand it.” [2]

It was this work that led to the formation of several conservation groups, including the International Whaling Commission, [3]. In fact, Sir David Attenborough has quoted Lillie’s work when discussing the still present inhumane methods of whaling [4].

With such an interesting background, it is safe to say that there is still much to discover about H.R.Lillie, his workings as a surgeon and as a conservationist.


  1. Lillie, H.R., 1949. With whales and seals. The British Medical Journal, 2(4642), p.1467-1468.
  2. Lillie, H.R., 1955. The Path through Penguin City. Benn Publishers.
  3. Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing. Whaling. Available at:
  4. Kirby, A., 2004. Whaling too cruel to continue. BBC News. [online] Available at: