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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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 or phone 0141 221 6072. This is a free event but places are limited.

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.


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

The Girton and Newnham Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in World War One

Images as a stimulus to research in Scotland and in France (Version française ci-dessous)
by Carol Parry and Elaine Morrison FRCP (Glasg)

In June 1915 the very first tented mobile unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals was established in the grounds of the Chateau de Chanteloup in the countryside near the medieval French city of Troyes.  The latter become a hospital town during the First World War with schools and other buildings converted into temporary hospitals to care for the wounded from the Front.

The striking images in Sister Annie Allan’s photograph album (RCPSG 74) inspired us to research the Girton and Newnham Unit leading to the publication of an article about the work of the unit in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in December 2014.

Meanwhile, unknown to us, Francis Tailleur, Directeur Pédagogique at the Institut Chanteloup, had also discovered some striking images of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals at Chanteloup, in the form of postcards. The use of the Chateau de Chanteloup and its grounds during the First World War had been almost completely forgotten. Francis, with the support of Marie-Odile Velut, the manager of the Institut Chanteloup, and the help of the local museum (amongst others), researched the work of the unit at Chanteloup and curated a wonderful exhibition to commemorate the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals there.

Having seen our paper, Francis contacted the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. We were delighted to discover this shared enthusiasm and a friendly and productive correspondence then ensued between Troyes and Glasgow, culminating in our visit to the exhibition in early June.  The Library and Archive supplied images for the exhibition at Chanteloup from the photograph album of Sister Annie Allan, a nurse with the Girton and Newnham Unit during the First World War (for details of Sister Allan see an earlier blog post). We were also able to help coordinate music for the exhibition via James Beaton at the National Piping Centre and further images via Marianne Smith, Librarian at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Nurses walking in the grounds of Chateau de Chanteloup, 1915 (RCPSG 74)

Nurses walking in the grounds of Chateau de Chanteloup, 1915 (RCPSG 74)

The Chateau de Chanteloup was to house the German army for a short time in August 1944 later became the Institut Chanteloup, a school for children with special needs. The Chateau no longer houses the school – a remarkable new purpose built school has been built in the grounds where once the large tents of the Girton and Newnham Unit were erected to provide medical and surgical care to soldiers of the French army.

The grounds were used to great effect for the exhibition, much of which was outdoors. The woodland surrounding the chateau is still there, as is the orangerie which was used by Dr Louise McIlroy, as the Unit’s operating theatre – this was meticulously recreated as part of the exhibition.

The Orangerie which was used as an operating theatre.

The Orangerie which was used as an operating theatre.

The X-ray room and a tisanerie were also recreated, so too the office of the Unit’s formidable administrator, Madame la Directrice, Mrs K Harley.

Particularly poignant were the recreations of the tents used to care for the soldiers and to accommodate staff.

Nurse's tent recreated for the exhibition, June 2015

Nurse’s tent recreated for the exhibition, June 2015

Even the uniforms of the nurses and doctors of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals were represented in an uncanny likeness.

Uniforms made especially for the exhibition at Chanteloup

Uniforms made especially for the exhibition at Chanteloup

The pupils and staff of the school also played their part in the exhibition with work from their First World War project on display along with family stories from that time. Local people and schools visited the exhibition and it proved a wonderful way of involving the whole community in a commemoration of an, until now, largely forgotten event. The Girton and Newnham unit was further honoured by the naming of a pathway next to the school – Allée des Dames Ecossaises.

Allée des Dames Ecossaises

Allée des Dames Ecossaises

For us, having researched the work of the unit for so long in Glasgow, our visit to Chanteloup was something of a pèlerinage and also a wonderful opportunity to establish new friendships.

Further information about the exhibition can be found on the Chanteloup Centenaire 1915-2015 blog

For further information about the Scottish Women’s Hospitals see the website created and maintained by Alan Cumming: Scottish Women’s Hospitals.

L’Unité Girton and Newnham du Scottish Women’s Hospitals pendant la Première Guerre mondiale

Images comme un stimulant pour la recherche en Ecosse et en France
par Carol Parry et Elaine Morrison FRCP (Glasg)
En Juin 1915, la première unité mobile de tentes du SWH a été établie dans le parc du château de Chanteloup, dans la campagne près de la ville médiévale française de Troyes. Cette dernière était devenue une ville hôpital au cours de la Première Guerre mondiale avec des écoles et d’autres bâtiments transformés en hôpitaux temporaires pour soigner les blessés du Front.

Les images frappantes de l’album photo de l’infirmière Annie Allan (RCPSG 74) nous ont incitées à faire des recherches sur l’unité Girton and Newnham conduisant à la publication d’un article sur le travail de cette unité dans le Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh en décembre 2014.

Pendant ce temps, à notre insu, Francis Tailleur, directeur pédagogique de l’Institut Chanteloup, avait aussi découvert quelques images frappantes du SWH à Chanteloup. L’utilisation du Château de Chanteloup et de ses pelouses au cours de la Première Guerre mondiale avait été presque complètement oubliée. Francis, avec le soutien de Marie-Odile Velut, la directrice de l’Institut Chanteloup et l’aide de partenaires locaux, faisait des recherches sur le travail de l’unité à Chanteloup et organisait une exposition merveilleuse pour commémorer le travail du SWH là-bas.

Après avoir vu notre article, Francis contacta le Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Nous avons été ravies de découvrir cet enthousiasme partagé et une correspondance amicale et productive débuta entre Troyes et Glasgow, culminant dans notre visite de l’exposition au début de juin. La Bibliothèque et les Archives fournirent des images de l’album photo d’Annie Allan pour l’exposition à Chanteloup, une infirmière de l’unité Girton and Newnham pendant la Première Guerre mondiale (pour les détails concernant Annie Allan voir un blog plus tôt). Nous avons également pu aider à coordonner la musique pour l’exposition par l’intermédiaire de James Beaton, du National Piping Centre et d’autres images par Marianne Smith, bibliothécaire au Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Dans le Château de Chanteloup s’installa l’armée allemande à la fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Le site accueille maintenant l’Institut Chanteloup, un établissement pour enfants ayant des besoins spéciaux. Le Château n’abrite plus l’école – un remarquable nouveau bâtiment a été construit dans le parc où jadis les grandes tentes de l’Unité Girton and Newnham avaient été érigées pour fournir des soins médicaux et chirurgicaux aux soldats de l’armée française.
Les pelouses ont été utilisées à bon escient pour l’exposition qui présentait une grande partie de ce qui était à l’extérieur. La forêt qui entoure le château est toujours là, comme l’orangerie qui a été utilisée par le Dr Louise McIlroy comme salle d’opérations de l’unité – cela a été minutieusement recréé dans le cadre de l’exposition.

La salle d'operations

La salle d’operations

La salle de radiographie et une tisanerie ont également été recréées, ainsi que le bureau de Madame la Directrice, Mrs. K. Harley.

La salle de radiographie

La salle de radiographie

Particulièrement poignantes étaient les reconstitutions des tentes utilisées pour soigner les soldats et pour loger le personnel. Même les uniformes des infirmières et des médecins du SWH étaient représentés dans une ressemblance troublante.

Les élèves et le personnel de l’établissement ont également joué leur rôle dans l’exposition avec le travail mené sur la Première Guerre mondiale et l’affichage d’histoires familiales de cette époque. Les populations locales et les écoles ont visité l’exposition et ont permis d’une merveilleuse façon l’implication de toute la communauté dans une commémoration d’un événement, jusqu’à présent, largement oubliée. L’unité Girton and Newnham a en outre été honorée par le nom donné à une voie à côté de l’établissement – Allée des Dames Ecossaises.

Pour nous, après avoir étudié le travail de l’unité pendant si longtemps à Glasgow, notre visite à Chanteloup était une sorte de pèlerinage et aussi une merveilleuse occasion d’établir de nouvelles amitiés.

Plus d’informations sur l’exposition peuvent être trouvées sur le blog Chanteloup-Centenaire 1915-2015.

Pour plus d’informations sur le SWH, voir le site web créé et animé par Alan Cumming: Scottish Womens Hospitals.

Guest blog: Archives hub and the papers of Dr William Mackenzie

Archive volunteer Edith Halvarsson, currently a student on the University of Glasgow’s Information Management & Preservation (Digital)/(Archives & Records Management) MSc course, has been updating the College’s archive collections on the Archives Hub.  In this blog post she writes about letters from the collection of 19th century ophthalmologist, Dr William Mackenzie:

The papers of William Mackenzie are fascinating in that they provide a series of snapshots of early 19th century Europe. Mackenzie himself spent a three year tour and residence in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Prussia and Germany between 1816-1818, coinciding with a period of great unrest throughout Europe. The impressions he gained of his tour are contained in two diaries (RCPSG 24/1/1-2) in addition to his correspondence.   After his return to Scotland he continued to correspond with expatriates and medical professionals abroad and build his impressive collection of European medical literature.  The letters touch on topics such as current events, minor gossip and the logistics of acquiring research specimens.

The earliest and perhaps most captivating letter from the collection is sent by Thomas Brisbane in Toulouse on the evening of Bonaparte’s removal from power (RCPSG 24/2/34). It describes in detail the Battle of Toulouse on the 10th of April 1814, the capture of the city and the scenes following the news of Bonaparte being dethroned:

“My Dear Sir
I have delayed in writing you till now that I might be able to inform you of the results of a battle in all likelihood the last that will be fought in this country or during this war…. His [Bonaparte] fall as was long ago predicted has been more sudden than his rise, and it is to be hoped he has fallen to never rise again. – Had we got information of this happy circumstance two days earlier it would have prevented a combat one of the most bloody I ever witnessed.”

Letter to William Mackenzie

Letter to William Mackenzie from Thomas Brisbane, 1814

After recounting the battle Brisbane describes the capture of the city of Toulouse:

“In the forenoon we entered the city among the acclamation of the inhabitants who seemed overjoyed to see us – Their town guard was turned out to receive us with band playing and colours flying – nothing was to be heard but vive Anglais – That very night the news of Buonaparte being dethroned reached us … The town was illummated, the theatre opened and a grand ball given – the bust of Buonaparte in the great square was demolished in a very short time.”

Two years later, a letter from George Oswald Sym of London reached Mackenzie while on tour in Paris (RCPSG/2/159). By late 1816, the cold summer of that year resulted in poor crops and rising grain prices forcing many agricultural workers to leave their homes. With starvation, in addition to the social and economic turbulence following the French Wars, discontent was growing in both Europe and Great Britain.

Sym’s letter describes the state of medical classes at Glasgow University, but also touches on the famous Spa Field Riots of Islington (1816).  In his letter he states that the working classes are “on the brink of absolute want” and that:

“Immense public meetings have been held in all the great towns, and hence all dispersed without doing any much effort (?), except  one which was held yesterday . . . .[which] have made a deep impression on the public mind”.

The latter refers to a gathering in Islington on the 2nd of December 1816 which may have been attended by up to 20,000 persons.

In contrast, two letters from one of Mackenzie’s most frequent correspondents, Adam Boyd, illustrate the social distance that existed between some medical practitioners and the working class. In the summer of 1818 Boyd writes to Mackenzie during his holiday to Dorset (RCPSG 24/2/41). It is hard to imagine that Boyd was not aware that poor harvests had affected the local population.  Despite this, he chooses to describe “the country [as] becoming exceedingly Romantic”. In another letter (RCPSG 24/2/138), Boyd describes his weekend breakfasts as consisting of: “beef steaks, kidney collops, cold Tongue & Fowl, chocolate, coffee & tea, & sometimes strong beer”.


Dr William Mackenzie

Dr William Mackenzie (1791-1868), Ophthalmologist, in later life.

Above is just a small sample of Mackenzie’s numerous letters, whose descriptions are now available to view online on the Archives Hub.  If you wish to see the original letters please email to arrange an appointment.


Guest blog: Oral History Project

Joseph Heffernan, an arts undergraduate from the University of Glasgow, has been transcribing oral history recordings at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow under the University’s Club 21 work placement scheme.  He writes about the oral history project as follows:

This year, on the suggestion of the President, a project has taken place to increase the number of interviews held in the College’s oral history archive. Several senior fellows of the College, including a number of past presidents, have given of their time to discuss their lives and careers with Senior Fellow, Mr David Smith. Recordings of these interviews are to be stored in digital format and the interviews are also being carefully transcribed to provide readable copies for the use of those interested in the history of Glasgow medicine.

Of the interviews transcribed so far, all have provided a reminder of the scientific, political and social aspects of medicine. The interviews commonly begin with the interviewees describing their education and experiences as newly qualified doctors. The young lives of many of the doctors interviewed were notably punctuated by the experience of war. The recently passed anniversary of the D-Day landings coincided with Dr. Wallace Barr’s interview ,in which he spoke in detail about his role as a medical officer arriving on the beach shortly after the intense conflict. Dr. Barr recalled one unusual casualty he had encountered: “I remember seeing this chap was in obvious pain, I thought he had been struck, I was looking for some kind of evidence of this, and he was vomiting. So, I had a look at him and in fact I discovered he had acute appendicitis. I sent him back to this country with a label on him ‘immediate operation required’”.

Dr Robert Hume when President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 1992.

Dr Robert Hume when President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 1992.

Dr Robert Hume described how his own first-hand experience of war had provided the impetus to pursue a career in medicine: “I could not understand what on earth was going on in this world. And having arrived in Germany, which was now shattered and battered, and nothing but rubble, places like Hamburg where only one building was standing that was occupiable, it just seemed to me that the world was a very sick and dire place. So, I decided that the world needed healing rather than lecturing to in Latin and Greek and I decided to apply for medicine”.

Other interviews placed a light on key developments in particular fields of twentieth-century medicine. Professor William Henry Reid for instance provided an in depth explanation of the role Glasgow doctors, especially Tom Gibson, played in the development of plastic surgery.The pleasures and pressures of holding important roles within the College, as well as the development of the Glasgow College itself, were also subjects explored by several of those interviewed.

Future generations will be able to draw on these interviews for research projects investigating the development of surgery and medical institutions in Glasgow over the past half a century, and for those simply aiming to gain an insight into what it was like to be a doctor in our age. For these purposes, the interviews are yet another priceless resource for the College archive.

If you would like to find out more about the oral history project please email: