Body Snatchers and Red Rot: The Post Mortem Records of St George’s Hospital

stgeorgesarchivebanner-blue

Archivist Carly Manson has recently been giving talks about St George’s Archives  (look out for the Halloween special!) and looking more in depth into our collections and how best to preserve them. One collection that deserves a special mention is our post mortem examinations and case books…


Image from St George's Archive
Image from St George’s Archives

In the bowels of the medical school at St George’s, there lies a series of post mortem examinations and case books from St George’s Hospital, spanning the mid-19th and 20th centuries.

Pioneering physician Sir William Osler once described the post mortem records of St George’s Hospital as the “finest collection of its kind”. Osler stressed the importance of the post mortem in medical education and it has played an important role in the history of the medical school, today St George’s, University of London.

Henry Gray signature- Post Mortem book 1855
Henry Gray’s signature- Post Mortem case book 1855

Today the hospital and medical school are located in Tooting, but until the 1970s were situated in central London at Hyde Park. The deaths and diseases recorded within the case books therefore offer an insight into shifts in the population health of central London. They feature detailed autopsy reports written by noted surgeons including Henry Gray, Caesar Hawkins and Timothy Holmes, and later eminent figures such as Claude Frankau and William Duke-Elder.

Today, post mortems are more commonly associated with forensics and criminal investigations. In the 19th century, the purpose of the post mortem was for physicians to support their diagnosis made when the patient was alive, and to identify any other unrecognised factors that contributed to the cause of death. Bodies were also examined in order to identify the internal functions and structures of the body and the relationships between these.

As well as the post mortem examinations undertaken, the case books chart the bodies which went unexamined, many of which were transported to the medical school for the teaching of anatomy. At a time when ‘body snatching’ was still fresh in the public consciousness, the case books reveal issues around consent and the changing way in how we see the body after death.

Dissection was prohibited in England until the 16th century.  At that time, limited rights were given allowing around ten bodies a year for dissection.  In 1752 the Murder Act was passed, allowing medical schools more access to bodies by providing the corpses of executed murderers. This meant there was still a great shortage of bodies for the pursuit of medical knowledge. This shortage resulted in the growth of the illegal body trade and those known as the ‘body snatchers’, or ‘Resurrection Men’, as they were commonly known at the time.

In 1832, the Anatomy Act was passed, allowing the lawful possession of a body for anatomical examination provided that relatives of the deceased did not object.  Until this point, it was extremely difficult for physicians and surgeons to contribute advancements in medical science.  The practice of dissection was still mostly condemned on moral and religious grounds at this time, and protests against the Act continued into the 1840s.  Many protesters believed that the Act still failed to stop the sale of paupers’ bodies for medical research without their consent.

Rosie Bolton, Conservator from the Leather Conservation Centre, recently visited the St George’s Archives and Special Collections to examine the red rot found on the leather covers of the post mortem case books. ‘Red rot’ is a typical deterioration where the leather becomes degraded and turns into thin powder. Rosie inspected the condition of the covers and took PH tests to check the acidity levels of the leather.  It is hoped that the medical school will be awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust to fully conserve these fascinating case books and their histories.

Conservator Rosie Bolton, examining our post mortem case books.

Did you know…

Red rot (or redrot) is a degradation process found in vegetable-tanned leather. Red rot is caused by prolonged storage or exposure to high temperatures, high relative humidity, and environmental pollution.  Red rot commonly appears as a red dust or powder on the surface of the leather.  Unfortunately, the deterioration processes associated with this also affect the fibrous structure of the leather, and if left untreated, leather suffering from red rot can disintegrate completely into a red powder.

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

Advertisements

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

stgeorgesarchivebanner-blue

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

 

New Staff Profile – Carly and James

Today we present the staff profile of two new members to St George’s Library, Carly and James.


Hello my name is: Carly Manson

Carly Manson

My role in the Library is: Archivist

Talk to me about: Anything relating to the History of St George’s Hospital and the medical school. I work in the Archive where we keep lots of old manuscripts, photographs, rare books, and artefacts ranging from the 16th-21st century. Our earliest item is a rare book dating back to 1562.

The Archive collection connects St George’s to its historical past and can be used to enhance new research in the history of medicine, uncovering stories of our famous alumni such as Edward Jenner, John Hunter and Edward Wilson (amongst many others).

_RH21225S
Photograph showing Blossom the cow, used in Edward Jenner’s cowpox experiment, mounted on the wall in the Robert Barnes Pathology Laboratory at St George’s Hospital, c.1907

Archives are primary research material and it’s very important that they are looked after properly- they are unique and irreplaceable! A project has recently been put in place to make the materials in the Archive more accessible to students, researchers and members of the public. In the near future, we are looking to catalogue our collections and create a number of finding aids to help enable access.

Visitors to the Archive have included students and members of staff from St George’s, and external researchers. Our previous visitors have included scientists, historians, television production staff, and family history researchers, amongst others. Here is a taster of the types of records they have consulted in the Archive:

  • Minutes and papers of the School Council, Academic Board and other committees
  • Student registers which include the names of our famous alumni (e.g. Henry Gray and Edward Jenner)
  • Student nurses records
  • Publications including School yearbooks and Hospital magazines
  • Photographs of students, staff and former hospital sites
  • Personal papers of Dame Muriel Powell
  • Artefacts including historic surgical instruments
  • Artworks/illustrations
  • Oral history interview recordings with former students and staff
  • Rare and historic books from the original medical school library
  • Post mortem case books spanning 100 years of history
  • Pathology registers from 1920-1946

If you would like to access the Archive for your research, or if you are interested in our history and would like to look at some of our treasures, please feel free to drop me an email at archives@sgul.ac.uk. Note that the majority of our records relate to the medical school rather than St George’s Hospital. The records of the hospital are largely held by London Metropolitan Archives.

Something else about me: I’m a huge fan of horror movies. The Archive has a number of creepy looking surgical instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries so I think I fit right in at St George’s!

 


Hello my name is: James Calvert

My role in the Library is: Information Assistant

When I am at the Library helpdesk you can ask me about:

  • General enquiries
  • Finding information
  • Issuing, renewing and returning items
  • Problems with your Library ID card
  • Problems logging off a PC
  • Printer issues
  • Password resetting
  • Booking a group discussion room
  • Topping up printing credits
  • Paying fines!

You can also contact the helpdesk between 8am-6pm

Telephone: 020 8725 5466
Email:  library@sgul.ac.uk

Something else about me: I am returning to university in the autumn to study part-time for an MSc in Information Science. Along with developing a career in Library and Information Science, my main interests are practicing Tai Chi and Meditation.

 

St George’s Library in 2016

As 2016 draws to an end, we bring to you the highlights for St George’s Library.

Supporting RAG Week

Dragon toy in a box with money

This year, the Library supported St George’s Students’ Union’s Raising and Giving Week by donating fines for a day and raised £137.45. The supported charities were Equip Africa, MACS and St George’s Hospital Charity.

App Swap

app-swap-05-event-photo-ele-clancey

We’ve been continuing with our App Swap events. where staff and students get to talk about the apps that they have used, or have been involved with. Response has been great from student and staff who have attended, include Learning Advocate Ele Clancey. We aim to run more next year.

Supporting 10 Days of Wellbeing

June was the month for peace and relaxation in the Library, not least because it saw the St George’s Staff Development team launch its first “10 Days of Wellbeing” programme. We supported the new initiative by putting out a book swap trolley in the library foyer, where students and staff were encouraged to pick up or drop off books to share with others. We also added a selection of Mood-Boosting Books to the library collection.  To date, the most popular title of the Library’s 2016 Mood-Boosting collection is The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain.

Library Refresh

main library 3.JPG

Regular library users might have noticed a few changes to the look of the library, especially the main Quiet Study Group area; this year we replaced all our chairs, brought in round tables, and then brought back rectangular tables due to student demand. We also added screens to create a more flexible study space and help reduce noise. We’re always looking for ways that we can make the space work better for all our users and are open to feedback – let us know if you have any thoughts by speaking to staff or filling in a feedback form at the Library helpdesk.

Extended Opening Hours

opening-hours

In response to student feedback and after running some successful trials, this July we were pleased to announce that during the 2016/17 academic year we would once again be offering extended opening hours.

We’re now open longer than ever before; offering 24 hour access to the Library from 8am on Monday mornings to 9pm Saturday evenings and 9am-9pm on Sundays.

Library Treasure Hunt

treasure-hunt

The start of the new academic year is always very busy for library staff and this September/October was no different as we welcomed all our new undergraduate and postgraduate students – we hope you are all now well settled in to life at St George’s! Alongside our busy programme of induction sessions, we ran a Treasure Hunt featuring a number of clues and activities to help new students find their way around the Library and its resources.

Fresher’s Fayre Winners

slide2slide4

Thank you to everyone who took part in our Social Media competition by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter. Our lucky prize draw winners went away with Honest Burger vouchers, Blossom tote bags and a St George’s teddy among other prizes. We also gave away a £20 Amazon voucher in our Treasure Hunt prize draw. Best of all, everyone who took part in the Social Media Competition can now get useful Library updates straight to their Twitter and Facebook feeds!

New Book Display

In September we introduced a book display to showcase various resources that we think you will find helpful.  Previous displays included our best books on study skills, and online resources recommended by the Learning Advocates.  Come and take a look to see what delights we have in store for the New Year!  You’ll find the display near the Library Helpdesk.

Children in Need

On 18th November we raised £100 for BBC Children in Need’s annual fundraiser by raising money through our staff sweepstake and donating fines. Pudsey was spotted all over the library waving hello.

Explore Archives

img_5236

In November we also participated in and celebrated Explore Your Archive week, a campaign organised by the UK National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. We ran two handling sessions where selected objects were taken from the archives and displayed.  The history of each object was shared by the archivist Elisabeth. It was enlightening to find out more about our history and wonderful to share in the positive reactions and interest from staff and students at St George’s who attended.  The sessions were supported by a series of daily hashtags showcasing photos from our archives. We loved taking part in Explore Your Archives and learnt more about the fascinating history of St George’s’.

Christmas at St George’s

StGeorgesHospatChristmasndbyWChurchermid20cC.jpg

We end our blog with an original photograph from the archives showing St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner at Christmas time in the mid-20th century.

In 2017 we are looking forward to working with all our users and the Students Union to continue to improve the study environment for everyone.

St George’s Archive Explored

archiveexplored

Last week  (19-27 November 2016) we participated in and celebrated Explore Your Archive week, a campaign organised by the UK National Archives and the Archives and Records Association, which encourages everyone to explore archives. Using the twitter hashtag #ExploreArchives the library has tweeted about some of the fascinating items held here in the St George’s Archives as part of this UK and Ireland-wide campaign to explore and celebrate archives.

For Explore Archives week, ‘handling sessions’ were organised in which St George’s students and staff were invited to come and get hands-on with original items from the historic collections – a first for St George’s! In the lunchtime sessions, attendees were walked through the history of St George’s by Elisabeth, the University’s first archivist.

IMG_5236.JPG

Elisabeth selected a variety of items from the collections to demonstrate the wealth of history and stories that the archives contain – including items on John Hunter’s pupil and vaccination pioneer, Edward Jenner. A first edition copy of Jenner’s ground-breaking essay on his experiments with cowpox was displayed. We explored its handwritten inscription from Jenner to a lesser well-known figure in the history of St George’s, Sir Everard Home. Home is best remembered for burning Hunter’s unpublished manuscripts in an attempt to hide his plagiarism of Hunter’s work. However during his career he also served King George III as his sergeant-surgeon and following Hunter’s death became surgeon to St George’s Hospital.

Other items showcased during the sessions included a Post Mortem Case Book charting an outbreak of cholera in 1854, a photograph of two of the first female medical students admitted to St George’s during the First World War, and a photograph album showing nursing students in the mid-20th century following the introduction of the National Health Service.

Another favourite item was a set of Victorian surgical instruments awarded to student Edward Walker for the ‘best dissection’. See below for some photos from the event.

We asked attendees what they enjoyed the most from the sessions and received a lot of positive feedback:

“Hearing about other aspects of our history”

“Everything! Particularly the stories and the chance to touch the items”

“Being able to touch and turn pages of very old books and objects”

“Hearing the stories behind the artefacts”

During Explore Archives week we also posted many photos from the archives using the hashtag #stgeorgesarchives. If you would like to see more, we have put together a Storify of the tweets.

 

 

Sounds from St George’s Archives

archiveexplored

While exploring the archives we discovered Nine Medical Songs, a song book written and composed by staff and students at St George’s Hospital and published in 1895.

A digitised version can be seen online via the Wellcome Library. Our Library staff member Dan Jeffcote has recorded a snippet of the melody for one of the songs, ‘A Song for St George’s’, played on the guitar, bringing a sound from St George’s past to life!

Exploring our archives further, we were able to find out more about the individuals who produced the song book.

Joseph Blomfield (previously Blumfield) was a junior Anaesthetist to St George’s Hospital, and was also an assistant teacher of anaesthetics. He contributed to and later edited the St George’s Hospital Gazette, the Hospital’s staff magazine. His forte was the recital of humourous poems, usually of his own composition, performing them at students’ and nurses’ concerts. Many of his poems survive today, printed in the Gazette.

Charles Nugent Chadborn and Gilbert Holland Ransome both joined the Medical School as students in 1891. Ransome also edited the Gazette, and both Ransome and Blomfield played for the School’s rugby team (with Blomfield scoring his first try at the age of 50). Chadborn followed Blomfield to become an anaesthetist, whilst Ransome became a surgeon.

If you are interested in finding out more about St George’s archive, sign up for our handling sessions open to all St George’s staff and students (including Trust staff).

  • Monday 21st November from 12.30pm-1.30pm  H2.6 Boardroom
  • Thursday 24 November 12.30 – 1.30pm  JB 3+5

Booking is required and places are limited, so please contact archives@sgul.ac.uk to reserve your place. We will have exclusive postcards featuring some of our archive treasures for attendees to take home.


During Explore Archives week we will be sharing more stories from the archives on Twitter. Follow @SGULlibrary and the hashtag #stgeorgesarchives.

Second Explore Archives handling session added: Thur 24 Nov 12.30 – 1.30pm JB.3+5

archiveexplored

The response to our first ever Explore Archives handling session has been great, and we’ve almost fully booked! Due to this, we will be running a second session on Thursday. The two dates for the events are:

  • Monday 21st November from 12.30pm-1.30pm  H2.6 Boardroom
  • Thursday 24 November 12.30 – 1.30pm  JB 3+5

Staff and students are invited to attend to see what is held in our archives and hear what stories they can tell us about the history of St George’s.

Booking is required and places are limited, so please contact archives@sgul.ac.uk to reserve your place. We’ll excited to  have exclusive postcards featuring some of our archive treasures for attendees to take home.

_rh21208b

During Explore Archives week we will be tweeting throughout with interesting facts and items from our historical collections. Follow @SGULlibrary and the hashtags #stgeorgesarchives and #explorearchives

Find out more about Explore Archives (http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/)

View a timeline of the history of St George’s, University of London