Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society

As the College embarks upon a refurbishment programme, we’ve been delving into the historical uses of the rooms of our St Vincent Street building. The old Faculty Hall (now named Alexandra Room) was the venue for most of the College’s business until the new College Hall extension was built in 1893. In addition to Faculty meetings, and meetings of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow, this room hosted the meetings of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society from 1876.

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Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

We were keen to explore what these meetings involved, who attended them, and the history of the Society itself. We are extremely fortunate to hold the archives of the Society, from its foundation in 1873 until its merger with the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow in 1907.

There is mention of an earlier Glasgow Pathological Society (established 1850) in the 1852 Medical Directory. However, it appears to have only lasted for 2 or 3 years. The idea of forming a new Pathological Society came from four prominent Glasgow physicians and surgeons in the early 1870s – Thomas Reid, Joseph Coats, William Leishman, and William Tennant Gairdner. James Finlayson was the first secretary and describes the initial idea for “a society composed of working members“, creating an environment where “specimens could be quietly examined and discussed… in a friendly manner, without any temptation to ostentatious display or personal bitterness.”

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From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

The first meeting was held on 25th November 1873 in the rooms of the University Lying-In Hospital and Dispensary for Women on Wellington Street. James Finlayson and Hector Cameron constituted themselves interim secretaries, while Dr Gairdner (then Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow) became chairman. In addition to those already mentioned, the original membership included the young surgeon William Macewen.

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From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

From the first meeting, the format was established. The Agenda pictured above shows the list of specimens presented by the members for discussion. In further meetings, patients would also be presented. For example, in May 1874, Dr McCall Anderson showed a patient who had been treated for syphilitic paralysis.

In 1874 the name was changed to the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society, and with the number of members increasing to 30, a new venue was found at the Glasgow Eye Infirmary on Berkeley Street. Then, in the fourth session, beginning in October 1876, the venue settled at the Faculty Hall, in the College’s current building on St Vincent Street. The origins and early history of the Society were usefully added to the book of Transactions (RCPSG 4/1/6) by James Finlayson in 1879 (below).

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Memorandum by James Finlayson, 1879 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

An important part of the Society’s business was the publication of its reports, in both the Glasgow Medical Journal and the British Medical Journal. This placed the research and practice of the Society in the context of the wider medical and surgical literature, which was at this time exploring many new areas and innovations.

Notable in the records of the Society are cases concerning neurological conditions and physiology, the treatment of cranial injuries, and cranial surgery. For example, Glasgow physicians such as Alexander Robertson, who was pioneering in his approach to aphasia in the 1860s, and William James Fleming, who investigated the physiology of the ‘motions of the brain’, provide a stimulating context for the advances in brain surgery made by William Macewen in the 1870s.

GP&CS Agenda 1879

From Society Minute Book 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

An exciting discovery in the Society’s Minute Book shows that on the 11th November 1879, Macewen presented to the meeting in the Faculty Hall “two patients on whom trephining was performed, one for injury and one for disease.” One of these patients was the fourteen year old girl upon whom Macewen had performed the first removal of a tumour from the dura mater (minute book detail below).

GP&CS Minute 1879

From Society Minute Book, 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

This procedure has since been identified as a major breakthrough in the history of neurosurgery. An editorial in the British Medical Journal (11th August, 1888) acknowledges the innovation and success of Macewen’s early brain surgery: “With indisputable justice… may Dr Macewen claim the proud distinction of having been the leader in this country, and we believe in the world, of this great advance in our art.”

These records of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society not only provide us with a wonderful source of evidence of the innovative research and practice in the city in the late 19th century, but also provide us with inspirational stories to tell in our College rooms.

Art, Culture and Patronage in Renaissance Scotland

Last year we were very fortunate to host placements for four undergraduate history students from the University of Glasgow. The placements were undertaken as part of their class ‘Art, Culture and Patronage in Renaissance Scotland, 1406-1625’ and involved working with primary source materials from the collections of either the University’s Archives and Special Collections, the Hunterian Museum, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Each student spent time studying a single item from one of these repositories, thinking about how to interpret the source, assessing its significance, and imagining the curatorial possibilities it offers.

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A manuscript rental on a blank page in ‘The workes of the most High and Mightie Prince, James’ (1616)

The students’ work is now available to read on the class blog:

You can read more about the students’ work in other repositories on the class blog: https://glasgowuniscotrenaissance.wordpress.com/.

The College and ‘Clarinda’

Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns had many close and interesting connections with medical men during his short life. The College’s historical collections unfortunately don’t contain a large number of items relating to Burns. Naturally, the library holds William Finday’s 1898 book Robert Burns and the Medical Profession (Paisley: Alexander Gardner), among other 19th century texts on the poet. Burns’s connection to Dr John Moore is well-known, and we can illustrate this with our portrait of Moore, which hangs in College Hall.

A more hidden and subtle connection concerns one of the most fascinating of the poet’s relationships. His affair with Agnes Maclehose in 1787 – 1791 produced a famous, romantically-charged correspondence (in which Maclehose was named Clarinda). ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, one of Burns’s most beloved songs, was written for Maclehose.

Maclehose was born in Glasgow in 1758, daughter of surgeon Andrew Craig, who was a member of the College (then known as the Faculty). She married the lawyer James Maclehose at 18, but left him just before the birth of their fourth child in 1780. She returned to live with her father, then a widower, but he died soon after in 1782. As a dependent Agnes received a pension of £8 from the College. The Minutes of 1782 below show the application for the pension, and its approval.

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College Minutes 2nd September 1782 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Maclehose moved to Edinburgh, still married but formally separated from her husband. The College minutes throughout the mid 1780s list her as a recipient of the pension, known as the Widow’s Fund.

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College Minutes 22nd October 1783 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

This continued until 1787, the year she was introduced to Burns (who was by now being celebrated in the capital as a literary star, after the publication of his Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions). Maclehose, a poet herself, was keen to meet Burns, and did so in December 1787. However, in the preceding month there was a change in her personal circumstances. In the Minutes of 6th November 1787, there is an entry stating that the Widow’s Fund committee “submit to the consideration of the Faculty, whether or not Mrs McLehose [and another recipient] are any longer objects of their charity” (see image below).

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College Minutes 6th November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Days after, the decision is taken that “instructions as appointed to be given immediately to Mrs McLehose  [and another recipient] that they are struck off the list of Pensioners” (see image below). No further context or explanation is given in the Minutes for this decision. The exact date of this entry is unclear, but it appears to be sometime between 6th and 23rd November 1787.

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College Minutes, between 6th and 23rd November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Less than two weeks after this she met Burns for the first time, sparking a relationship that produced remarkable correspondence, and one of the greatest love songs ever written. Further research into Maclehose’s circumstances leading up to this fateful meeting would be a useful avenue for scholars with an interest in the women who feature strongly in Burns’s life and work.

The manuscript of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ will be on display at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on 25th January 2017. For more information, see the NLS website.

Maister Peter Lowe and Glasgow

Our first event of 2017 will be an informal gathering in College Hall on Thursday 19th January to hear our Honorary Librarian, Mr Roy Miller, discuss our founder Maister Peter Lowe and the town of Glasgow, c1599.

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We will hear about the background of this intriguing man, his arrival in Glasgow from France in the 1590s, and what compelled him to petition King James VI to set up what became the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1599. Lowe’s education and surgical training in France, and his writings on the practice of surgery, played a key role in how medicine and surgery developed in Glasgow at this early stage.

The event will take place in our College Hall, which features portraits of our founding members and of James VI. In addition, there will be a pop-up display of historical collections relating to our early history, for example our first Minute Book (1602 – 1688), rare copies of Peter Lowe’s 16th century surgical texts, and a pair of gloves belonging to the founder.

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Detail of first College Minute Book, summarising 1599 Charter (1602)

Our event is part of St Mungo Festival, now in its ninth year, which celebrates the life of St Kentigern, better known as St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. Find out more about the Festival and its programme of events at the St Mungo Festival Facebook page.

Here are the details of the event:

Date – Thursday 19th January 2017

Time – 12.30 – 1.30 with refreshments served afterwards

Venue – Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 232-242 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RJ

To book – Email library@rcpsg.ac.uk or phone 0141 221 6072. This is a free event but places are limited.

16th Century Surgery & Comic Creation

Origin / foundation stories are so important to an organisation’s identity.  The foundation story should always address the questions – Why do we exist? Why do we do what we do? This theory has been well-used in marketing and branding, from products such as drinks and shoes, to film and literary franchises. We’re lucky at the College to have a very clear link from our foundations in 1599 to our current aims – to set the highest possible standards of healthcare.

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

Yet, there are challenges in how we communicate this. How do you engage audiences with the origins of a 16th century medical and surgical college? In November we worked with leading comic book artist and writer Adam Murphy for a creative workshop with families. Inspired by the 16th century foundations of the College and its enigmatic founder Maister Peter Lowe, Adam led us on a journey of comic creation. Under the gaze of the Maister himself in our College Hall, Adam used Lowe’s 1597 book The Whole Course of Chirurgerie and our 1599 Royal Charter to create graphic stories of surgical and medical improvement.

We invited families along and the event sold out very quickly, mainly through social media promotion and Glasgow event listings. It was important for us to hold the event in our main historical space, College Hall, where portraits of our 16th century founders are on display.

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The workshop kicks off in College Hall

 

Adam kicked things off by setting the scene of a character seeking medical care in the 16th century, and the various options available: the heavy-handed barber-surgeon, the expensive physician, or the unpredictable remedies of folk medicine. Then, via our 1599 Charter, he introduced the idea of surgical training and licencing of practitioners. Never before have the words “Out of the way, losers!” been attributed to the College founder!

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Adam’s initial rough sketches

 

The young people and adults taking part got hands-on instruction on the basics of comic creation, how to build characters, sequence stories, and most importantly, to take risks and make mistakes.

Participants spent some time viewing a pop-up display of our surgical instruments and old medicine cabinets, sketching these and incorporating them into their own stories. The audience chose a large amputation saw as the item for Adam to demonstrate some drawing tips (capturing the impact of the saw’s teeth, for example!).

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Viewing and sketching museum collections in the Lower Library

Wild ideas and the creative imagination took over, and participants let loose with a whole range of comic strip stories, all of which retained a link to the medical and surgical foundations of the workshop. Adam captured some of these ideas – particularly the introduction of a unicorn character which gets its horn cut off by a careless barber-surgeon.

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Adam capturing some audience ideas

The event was a great way to engage a completely new audience with our early history. Participants left knowing much more about the College’s place in Glasgow’s history and in Scotland’s medical history. And our feedback shows that many went home to draw more comics! We look forward to developing further creative events to open up our heritage and collections to a wider audience.

Find out more about Adam’s work at www.adammurphy.com.

The event was kindly supported by Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Scotland scheme.

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Macewen on wounds

We have had a lot of interest in our collection of the papers of Sir William Macewen recently, particularly the material relating to his early position as Police Surgeon in Glasgow (1871 – 1875). This relatively small part of the collection represents a short, formative and under-researched part of his distinguished career. It nevertheless contains fascinating material that provides some insight into the early work of the great surgeon. The focus of this post is on Macewen’s treatment of and research on wounds during this period.

The Private Journal (of surgical cases) covering 1872 – 1875 contains notes on a wide range of Police Office cases. Possibly the most common type of case is the treatment of wounds, usually penetrating wounds caused by assault or accident (the example above shows notes and illustration of a head wound). Macewen was interested in both the effective treatment of wounds via investigative surgery, and research into the specific causes of wounds for forensic purposes. These interests resulted in two notable articles in the Glasgow Medical Journal.

1876 saw the publication of his article ‘Wounds in relation to the instruments which produce them’ (Glasgow Medical Journal, viii, 1876). In the article title (above) he was listed as Casualty Surgeon, and also Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at the University. In addition to its original purpose as an aid to accurate wound diagnosis, this extraordinary article provides a detailed catalogue of the clinical results and context of (mainly) violent crime in the city at a specific period. Detail includes the range of weapons used, and the context of the wounds caused by assault and accident (many involving alcohol). The image below shows how Macewen presented this data, and the eclectic range of instruments identified as causing the wounds.

tablesIn the article’s introduction, Macewen sets the context of these cases with an intriguing commentary before beginning his rigorous analysis:

The observations in the present paper were made on the living, as accident in part, but mainly the physical expression of human passion […].”

In addition to his move into forensic medicine, this period also saw Macewen challenge the conventional wisdom of surgical textbooks (and their esteemed authors). In 1872 and 1873 he noted several cases of treatment of wounds, particularly of the lungs, for example a case involving a 12 year old boy with a life-threatening knife wound. By adopting a bold, investigative approach (which was not at the time recommended when treating damage to the lungs), Macewen was able to locate a fragment of the knife in the lung. He then removed the fragment, using the antiseptic approach developed by his ex-teacher Joseph Lister. The page from the journal below records this case.

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Private Journal of Surgical Cases (RCPSG10/9/12)

His resulting article ‘Penetrating wounds of thorax and abdomen treated antiseptically’ (Glasgow Medical Journal, vii, 1875) was explicit in its criticism of the contemporary textbook approach to the lung. In his remarks on the case, he challenges the assertion made in recent surgical literature that the surgeon “should throw aside all direct or manipulative modes of investigation.” Instead, he boldly asserts that –

If, without complicating the original injury, an investigation is enabled to be made into the nature of such wounds, and an intelligent treatment thereby adopted instead of groping in the dark, an advance in surgery has been made.”

It is worth bearing in mind that at the time of writing, Macewen was still only in his mid-20s, and employed in one of the most junior surgical positions available.

In addition, he emphasised the adherence to Lister’s antiseptic approach to treating the wounds. In return, Lister wrote Macewen a note, congratulating him on the successful removal of the fragment of pocket knife specifically. This is among a number of items of correspondence between Macewen and Lister in our collections.

William Macewen, Glasgow Police Surgeon

In 1871 a young William Macewen, later to become one of the pioneers of late Victorian surgery, was appointed Police Surgeon at the Glasgow Central Police Office on South Albion Street. The Police Office was used as a clearing station for casualties of all kinds, with Macewen attending to an astonishing variety of cases, from rotten fish to high profile murder cases. Already a restless innovator, Macewen used the experience to experiment, research and report on a range of clinical subjects, including infanticide, abortion, concealment of pregnancy, fear, homicidal and accidental wounds, gun-shot wounds, and alcoholic coma.

Among our archive of Macewen’s papers are journals, scrapbooks and correspondence relating to this intriguing part of his career.

Private journal (1872 – 75) – notes on head injury

The journal of 1872 – 1875 contains notes (and occasionally illustrations) on many of the cases encountered, often during busy and chaotic Glasgow weekends. In some cases Macewen would use this material for journal articles, for example this piece on opium poisoning which appeared in the Glasgow Medical Journal, August 1872.

Glasgow Medical Journal, August 1872

The role of Police Surgeon in the city was high-profile work. Macewen regularly gave evidence in court, sometimes for very serious cases, such as the trial for murder of Archibald Miller in 1874. Macewen kept extensive newspaper cuttings about the cases, seen below pasted onto Detective Department police paper.

Newspaper cutting relating to the trial for murder of Archibald Miller, 1874

Macewen kept scrapbooks of cuttings relating to numerous cases that he treated or gave evidence for, from murder trials, accidents and assaults, to more mundane matters such as the case of rotten fish shown below.

Scapbook from 1872 – 1874

The range of incidents and injuries shown in the scrapbooks give a very vivid picture of the world Macewen worked in. His extensive journal notes and the many articles he wrote stemming from these experiences show how this informed his work as a surgeon, experimenter and innovator in the years ahead. His biographer of 1942, A K. Bowman, praised the style with which Macewen reports these experiences (referring here to the opium case) –

“The manner in which the story is unfolded reveals the high degree of artistry with which Macewen was endowed. It is a story of sombre light and shade which, set on canvas, would be Rembrandtesque.”

Our collection of the papers of Sir William Macewen (1848 – 1924) have archive reference number RCPSG 10.

Some of these items feature in our exhibition A History of Emergency Surgery and Trauma, from now until end of April. The exhibition is inspired by the Glasgow Emergency Surgery and Trauma Symposium (GESTS) 2016, on 25th and 26th February #GESTS2016. More info at http://www.rcpsg.ac.uk.