The Dissection of an Egyptian Mummy at St George’s Hospital Medical School

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Our archivist Carly Manson has been looking more in depth into the history of St George’s. One of the interesting stories that you may not know about, is that the med school once dissected a mummy!


 

egyptian mummy

1835 saw the opening ceremony of St George’s Hospital Medical School. It also saw the opening of an ancient Egyptian mummy, in the hopes of impressing an expectant crowd.

Physicians and surgeons were permitted to have a limited number of pupils in the early days of St George’s Hospital, but there was no established medical school. Students would travel to various places for the different studies needed in their professional education.  A medical school was eventually formed in 1831, and established on Kinnerton Street in 1834, a few minutes walk from the hospital at Hyde Park Corner in central London.

According to The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest general medical journals, there was an official opening of the St George’s Hospital Medical School at Kinnerton Street in July 1835. To attract visitors to the opening, it was advertised that an Egyptian mummy was to be dissected in front of the audience in the new Anatomical Theatre.

The mummy was said to have been a high ranking lady who belonged to the Temple of Ammon in Thebes.  Its exterior casing was ornate and varnished black, while the inner casing was made of sycamore wood covered with hieroglyphics which acknowledged the Egyptian deities.

It was announced that the mummy had been gifted to the school by the high ranking Lord Frederick Fitzclarence. But according to the ‘intercepted letters’ section of The Lancet article, a Mr Turner stated that the mummy was actually an old present to Mr Robert Keate, the hospital Surgeon:

“You would notice in your card of invitation, that the mummy was presented to the school by no less than Sir Frederick Fitzclarence, but on inquiring I found that, like Brodie’s other trickeries, it had not been presented to the school at all, but that Lord Fitz had given it to Bobby Keate ages ago.” (Wakley, 1835)

Unfortunately, The Lancet goes on to state that “the mummy gave more than the usual trouble to Mr P. and his assistants, and, after all, presented nothing singular to gratify the eye or the curiosity…. All appearance of flesh was destroyed, and the corpse looked like a skeleton dipped in pitch.” (Wakley, 1835)

Not everyone was disappointed by the event, The Lancet cites Mr Turner as stating “I do not regret going, as it turned out to be a fine intellectual comedy” (Wakley, 1835).  Despite the Lancet’s somewhat negative article, news spread of the opening, and the American Railroad Journal acclaimed that “much curiosity has been excited in the scientific world by the opening of a mummy”. (Minor, 1835)

First programme for medical school
Prospectus for a course of lectures on anatomy at the St George’s Hospital Medical School at Kinnerton Street for 1837-1838

For further information relating to the history of St George’s Hospital and the medical school, please contact the Archivist at archives@sgul.ac.uk or go to the following webpage: http://library.sgul.ac.uk/using-the-library/archives

Did you know…

The word ‘dissection’ originates from the Latin ‘dissecare’, meaning ‘to cut to pieces’. Dissection, also known as ‘anatomisation’, has been used for centuries to explore the body of a deceased animal or plant to study its internal structures and functions. Dissection is still practised in medical schools worldwide, although computer models are also increasingly used to teach anatomy. One resource that St George’s Library currently subscribes to is Acland’s Anatomy, an accessible online tool with realistic 3D visuals.


Reference list

Wakley, T. (ed.) (July 1835), ‘Kinnerton Street School’, The Lancet, vol. II, pp.457-463

Minor, D.K. (ed.) (August 1835) The American Railroad Journal, and Advocate of Internal Improvements, Vol 4. no 33, pp.526

 

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