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.

GP&CS Transactions book

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.”

GP&CS First meeting proposal 1873

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.

GP&CS first agenda 1873

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).

GP&CS Memorandum 1879

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.

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

Yorkhill Commemorations

A special symposium is taking place today, 15th April 2015, in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow celebrating a century of paediatric care at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (Yorkhill). The first children’s hospital in Glasgow was opened in a converted townhouse in Garnethill in 1883.  Space was always an issue and in 1914 a purpose-built hospital was opened by King George V and Queen Mary at Yorkhill.  The hospital was designed by John James Burnet (the architect who designed College Hall).

Care for newborn infants in Glasgow was initially at the Glasgow Royal Maternity (Rottenrow) and, from 1964, in the new neonatal facility opened at The Queen Mother’s Maternity Hospital, built next door to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill. The Royal Hospital for Sick Children had a temporary move in 1966 to the former Oakbank Hospital buildings in Maryhill while a new hospital on the Yorkhill site was being constructed.  The new hospital building was opened in 1972.

There are some records relating to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children within the College archives, most notably a volume of case notes of William Macewen dating from 1883-1886 (the majority of records are stored at the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives).   William Macewen along with Hector Cameron were the first honorary visiting surgeons of the Sick Children’s Hospital at Garnethill.  The gas-lit operating theatre was at the top of the building and the first operation took place on January 22nd 1883, when Macewen operated on an eight-year-old boy for excision of the hip.  Macewen perfomed all aspects of general surgery during his time as visiting surgeon, being particularly interested in the correction of bone deformities as a consequence of rickets.  He terminated his appointment in 1892 when he was appointed to the Regius Chair of Surgery at the University of Glasgow.  Apart from children, the volume of case notes contains the case of a fish with curvature of the spine.  Unfortunately there was no happy ending as the fish was found dead one day and was ‘carefully removed & left for further examination’.

Case of a fish from William Macewen's Case Book (RCPSG 10/9/14).

Case of a fish from William Macewen’s Case Book (RCPSG 10/9/14).

Macewen’s case notes have been put out on display  in Crush Hall along with other items kindly loaned by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives.  These include three dolls wearing the uniform for a sister, a staff midwife and a pupil midwife as worn at the Queen Mother’s Hospital in 1964.  The uniforms were made by Miss H.J. Chalmers (QMH 1963-1980).

Dolls wearing Queen Mother's Hospital uniforms, 1964

Dolls wearing Queen Mother’s Hospital uniforms, 1964
On loan from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board

Also on display is an Allenburys’ Feeder Bottle of the type first produced in 1910.  This form of banana-shaped bottle for feeding babies proved to be so successful  that the design remain unchanged for the next fifty years.

Allenburys' Feeder Bottle c.1910 On loan from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives

Allenburys’ Feeder Bottle c.1910
On loan from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives

The display in Crush Hall can be viewed until the end of April 2015.  For further information please email:

Guest blog: Sources for the First World War

Maria Pepe Incerto, a distance learning student on the Master of Information Management course at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, undertook a three week work placement recently in the Library of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  Maria writes about her experience with us as follows:

“My three-week work placement at the College was an invaluable and enjoyable learning experience at a very active library and archives. During this time I contributed to a First World War source list of the College archive collections. The list will guide users to the materials relating to the First World War in the College archives.

While reviewing the collections for relevancy to the war I became familiar with their depth and breadth. They include the College’s administrative records, records of local medical societies, and personal papers.

The minutes of the College and some of the medical societies make reference to the war. For example, in response to the deaths on active duty of the sons of Fellows of the Faculty, the minutes (RCPSG 1) include expressions of condolence including one relating to the death of Captain James Maitland Downie (BA Cantab, MRCS Eng., LRCP Lond., Captain RAMC), the son of James Walker Downie who was President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons from 1915-1916.

A different perspective can be found in the minutes of medical societies. The minutes of the Partick and District medical society (RCPSG 22/1) include details of the effects of war on local medical practice, such as the scarcity of doctors and the care of patients whose doctors are on active service; establishment of the Society’s War Emergency Committee; and contributions to war relief funds. The majority of societies, however, ceased to hold meetings (or held very few) during the war years.

The papers of Sir Ronald Ross (RCPSG 9) contains materials relating to his time in the War Office, where he made an important contribution to the prevention and treatment of tropical diseases, particularly malaria. Also in the papers is a poem “The fall of the zeppelin” (1916), which Ross was inspired to write after seeing a zeppelin brought down in London.

Shoemaking in one of the workshops in Princess Louise Hospital, Erskine (RCPSG 10)

Shoemaking in one of the workshops in Princess Louise Hospital, Erskine (RCPSG 10)

The papers of Sir William Macewen (RCPSG 10) include correspondence regarding the establishment of the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, now known as Erskine as well as correspondence relating to Macewen’s time as Surgeon-General in Scotland for the Royal Navy. (For further information see our previous blog on Macewen’s war work).  Photographs relating to the First World War include those relating to Andrew Hutton (RCPSG 64) in Étaples and Arles, France in 1918.

Hospital ward at Étaples, France, 1918 (RCPSG 64/4/2)

Hospital ward in Étaples, France, 1918 (RCPSG 64/4/2)

In addition to compiling the source list, I answered enquiries, and attended several Wednesday morning Coffee Conversations meetings hosted by the library. I was also fortunate to meet many of the library’s skilled and dedicated volunteers, who are involved in various aspects of cataloguing, conservation, transcription, and digitisation.

My thanks to the library staff who so generously and enthusiastically introduced me to the College’s remarkable collections, and to the College staff who were very welcoming.”

The Pamphlet Collection – a hidden treasure revealed

Dr Nigel Allan has been steadily cataloguing the College’s bound pamphlet collection on a voluntary basis since September 2005. Formerly the Curator of the Oriental Collections of the Wellcome Library in London and curator of two major exhibitions in the Wellcome Institute ‘Islamic Science: Crossroad of Cultures’ in 1986 and ‘Ever the Twain Shall Meet’ in 1993, he was the editor of Pearls of the Orient: Asian Treasures from the Wellcome Library, which was published to complement the 2004 exhibition of Asian treasures from the Library’s collection ‘Asia: Body, Mind, Spirit’, which he co-curated.  The College Library is fortunate indeed to benefit from Nigel Allan’s wealth of experience and expertise. He writes about the College’s pamphlet collection as follows:

“The College Library preserves several thousand pamphlets ranging from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, which comprise a rich resource for the study of medicine at its cutting edge during the period.  Medicine being part of social history, the pamphlet collection also provides a useful insight into the social conditions of the time. Every field of medicine is covered and many contiguous to it from legislation relating to medical training and practice to anatomy, anaesthesia, gynaecology and obstetrics, military medicine, paediatrics, pharmacology, surgery, various diseases and their treatment, with much else besides.   Many describe procedures regarded innovative in their day but now long forgotten or superceded by more modern methods as, for example, ‘Noble’s position’ named after Charles Noble (1863-1935), a gynaecologist from Philadelphia, who advocated examination of the kidneys by palpation of the body in the upright position, which was thought to be of value in nephroptosis.

Dr Nigel Allan with the bound pamphlet collection.

Dr Nigel Allan with the bound pamphlet collection.

The collection is bound in numerous volumes, each containing pamphlets on similar or related topics.  Some volumes may contain only three or four texts while others may comprise over thirty.   The pamphlets are usually reprints from journals but small monographs and doctoral dissertations are also found and a few are rare or unique to the College Library.  Although the majority is in English, a not inconsiderable number of texts are in French, German, Latin, and Italian with a few in several other languages.  Most of the well-known names in medicine from the period are represented as well as numerous obscure physicians and surgeons whose names have faded from current memory.  From the great medical tradition of Germany are found publications of such luminaries as Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), the Berlin pathologist, and Robert Koch (1843-1910), the bacteriologist also from Berlin and from France among others, Jean Bourdin (1806-1867), the French army surgeon and Jean Charcot (1825-1893), the Paris neurologist. From across the Atlantic, the publications of numerous American physicians are preserved in the collection such as William Keen (1837-1932), a surgeon from Philadelphia after whom a point above and behind the external auditory meatus for needling the lateral ventricle is named, and George Ryerson Fowler (1848-1906) the distinguished New York surgeon.  As might be expected, British medicine is very well represented with such celebrated names as Alexander Monro secundus (1733-1817), the anatomist and member of the famous Edinburgh medical dynasty; Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870), the Edinburgh obstetrician who pioneered the use of anaesthesia in obstetrics and Lord Lister ( 1827-1912) who first used antisepsis in Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary.   It goes without saying that Glasgow’s distinction in medicine features prominently with figures such as John Gray McKendrick (1841-1926), professor of physiology at Glasgow University and his son John Souttar McKendrick (1874-1946), sometime President of the College, Sir William Macewen (1848-1924) the famous orthopaedic surgeon and John Glaister (1856-1932), regius professor of forensic medicine at Glasgow University and also a former President of the College to mention but a few celebrated in the medical tradition of Glasgow.

Glasgow surgeon, Sir William Macewen, whose works are represented in the pamphlet collection.

Glasgow surgeon, Sir William Macewen, whose works are represented in the pamphlet collection.

In addition to the pamphlets being added to the Library Catalogue, the records are also uploaded onto the UK and Irish Academic and National Library Catalogue commonly known as COPAC.  This will alert the attention of those potential users of the library who would otherwise overlook it or be unaware that a rare item they wished to consult was preserved in the College Library.  This will inevitably raise the profile of the College Library’s collections and give long overdue awareness to the many unique and interesting publications collected by the library in its long history including the pamphlet collection so painstakingly put together in the past.”

If you wish to view any of our items or are interested in finding out more about the collections please email

Macewen’s War Work

There will be two lectures on the famous surgeon, Sir William Macewen during the History of Medicine Forum at the College’s triennial conference Advancing Excellence in Healthcare on Friday 20th June 2014. Mr Roy Miller will be speaking on ‘Macewen the man’ and Professor Ken Paterson will be speaking on ‘Macewen and the Princess Louise Hospital, Erskine’.   Details about Macewen can be found on a previous blog post from June last year.  This blog post will highlight Macewen’s work during the First World War.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Macewen was commissioned as Surgeon-General in Scotland for the Royal Navy, with the Rank of Surgeon Rear-Admiral.  In addition to his naval work he continued with his clinical teaching at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow.  He also supervised and cared for the naval and military wounded at Mount Stuart House, the home of the Marquis of Bute and also at Dungavel, the former hunting lodge of the Dukes of Hamilton.  He operated on Sir John Jellicoe, the Admiral of the Fleet and a letter of thanks from Jellicoe is stored in the Macewen papers in the College archive.  In this letter, written from his flagship the Iron Duke, Jellicoe writes: “On deck practically all day and part of the night and feel no ill effect at all, so that I am quite fit for anything that may turn up”.

Letter from Lord Jellicoe, expressing gratitude for Macewen's care, 11 March 1915 (RCPSG 10/1B/9/48).

Letter from Lord Jellicoe, expressing gratitude for Macewen’s care, 11 March 1915 (RCPSG 10/1B/9/48).

In addition to Jellicoe, Macewen also operated on Prince Albert (later to become King George VI) and a telegram from the Royal Family thanking Macewen for his care, can also be seen within Macewen’s papers.

Perhaps Macewen’s greatest legacy from the First World War, however, was the establishment of the Princess Louise Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors, now known as Erskine Hospital.  Erskine is situated on the River Clyde on West side of Glasgow.  The first cases were received at Erskine House in October 1916 with the formal opening ceremony being performed by the Patron of the Hospital, Her Royal Highness Princess Louise on the 6th June 1917.  At Erskine, Macewen initiated a new industry for the making of artificial limbs.  He enlisted the help of the Clyde shipbuilders and engineers, especially that of Harold Yarrow, who gave technical assistance and lent their best tradesmen and craftsmen.  The Erskine Provisional Limbs proved to be very successful.  They could be fitted quickly to a patient and they were cheap.  In addition to providing artificial limbs, workshops were set up to retrain those who had lost limbs.  Workshops were created for commercial instruction, carpentry, basketry, shoemaking, tailoring and hairdressing.

Pamphlet describing the Erskine House Workshops c. 1918. Workshops were created for commercial instruction, carpentry, basketry, shoemaking and hairdressing. RCPSG 10/1B/10/1

Pamphlet describing the Erskine House Workshops c. 1918. Workshops were created for commercial instruction, carpentry, basketry, shoemaking and hairdressing. RCPSG 10/1B/10/1

In the carpentry workshop instruction was given in making bee-hives, hen-coops and model yachts. In the tailoring workshop, men were taught kilt-making for the Army with men subsequently being employed by military clothing contractors in Glasgow.

Basket making workshop at Erskine c. 1918

Basket making workshop at Erskine c. 1918

If you are interested in finding more about Macewen, his work and Erskine Hospital, then join us at the college’s triennial conference Advancing Excellence in Healthcare on Friday 20th June.

For further reading on Macewen, see:  A.K. Bowman, Sir William Macewen, London, 1942.   For the history of Erskine Hospital, see: J.F. Calder, The Vanishing Willows, the Story of Erskine Hospital, 1982.  Both of these works are in the College Library.

For further information please email: