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

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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

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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

 

Review: Acland’s Anatomy – Quiz function

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Learning Advocate Kurian George (Second Year Biomedical Science student) has written a review of the Acland’s Anatomy exams function.


What it is:

Acland’s Anatomy is a series of anatomy tutorials presented online using cadavers. Split up into five main sections of the upper and lower extremities, the trunk, the head and neck, and the internal organs, Acland’s anatomy explains each section to a great degree of detail step-by-step, making it clear in understanding the crucial concepts  for all years. It has always been recommended to put learning into practice, which can be done here as well, with exams available at the end of every section.

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How to access it:

Aclands onsite link

Aclands offsite link  Select ‘UK access management‘ for Federation and St George’s, University of London as the institution.

If you can’t remember the link. Simply search for ‘SGUL Acland’s Anatomy‘  and select the link that says “A-Z Databases: acland’s“. Selecting this will take you to the onsite and offsite links.

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Search for SGUL Acland’s anatomy

Review of the Exam section:

I definitely found this very useful, as it puts to test whatever I have learnt and it is just for our own personal reflection of our knowledge of whatever we have learnt in the previous section. The fact that below each answer there is a link to the relevant section of the tutorial makes it a lot easier and convenient to learn from any mistakes made and further develop knowledge in that particular area. This is a great chance to learn if you don’t have time to go to the Dissecting Room outside the scheduled sessions.

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When the answer is revealed, Acland’s displays a link to the relevant section of the tutorial.

You can access the exams (the quiz section) and save your favourites by registering for a personal account.

Conclusion:

Overall, I personally find Acland’s Anatomy a great resource to utilize outside of DR [Dissection Room] sessions and it does go into great detail in all of the areas of Anatomy. Having said that, it is difficult to discern how much one needs to learn as this is open to all years. In order to tackle, definitely use the DR book given in order to make sure you are on track with what is being taught and do not go into a lot more detail than what is required. Even though this is an excellent resource, it can take time to follow everything due to the amount of information given. One way to overcome this could be to learn the overview from the video and attached diagrams and animations, but also take part in some constructive learning with fellow peers, which I find is a great way to learn a lot of the taught content. To conclude, Acland’s Anatomy is an excellent resource and would definitely recommend it.

Kurian George
Second Year Biomedical Science Student


Find out more about what Learning Avocates do on our VLE (SGUL username and password required to log-in)

New resource: Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy

Image from Acland's Video Atlas of Human Anatomy - The Trunk

Earlier this year the Library ran a trial of three key visual anatomy resources. Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy proved the most popular and the Library has now purchased this resource.

Specifically designed to support medical and dental students Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy is popular with both medical and non-medical users as an accessible source of anatomical knowledge featuring simple language and realistic, 3D visuals. For medical students this resource can be used as an adjunct to dissection and for reviewing learning, or to re-learn clinically relevant anatomy during surgical rotations. It is also a good resource for allied health students who don’t have access to dissection facilities, as the Video Atlas provides an appreciation of the real human body and a direct understanding of the mechanics of body movement.

The videos are organised in 5 volumes: the upper extremity, the lower extremity, the trunk, the head and neck, and the internal organs. Exams are available for each volume so you can test your learning. To access the exams and save videos to your favourites you will need to register for a personal account.

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy can be accessed offsite or on your mobile or tablet if you sign in via Shibboleth using your SGUL username and password. To do this, select Sign in via: Shibboleth on the Acland’s homepage and then choose: ‘UK Access Management Federation’ from the Federation menu and ‘St George’s, University of London’ from the Institution menu, click select and enter your SGUL username and password when prompted.

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy can be accessed via the Library’s Databases page.

Summer Sites: The Royal College of Surgeons

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Over the coming months, our ‘Summer Sites’ series will be featuring interesting Libraries and Institutions that are linked with medicine or healthcare studies and research which you can visit. They may have useful study resources, fascinating museum displays or be housed in historic buildings. Included in the posts will be details of nearby sights and attractions and we will suggest places where you can get a good snack, meal or cup of coffee to fuel your day. We hope these will encourage you to go out and enjoy London this summer.

The Royal College of Surgeons

The Library

Summer is (hopefully) coming, providing us all with chances  to get out and explore London. One of the best things about studying in this city is the number of Libraries  some of which are attached to famous medical institutions and colleges. One of these is the Library at the Royal College of Surgeons.

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The facade of the Royal College of Surgeons

It is based in an elegant Georgian building overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Situated close to both Chancery Lane and Holborn Tube stations. There are also plenty of bus routes, many of these running to and from South London.

You can use the Library Reading Room during the College’s opening hours by contacting the Library. The Library has a famous historical medical collection but also keeps a number of journals in print and online. There are also printing and copying facilities and access to WiFi. The College’s strength is naturally in the field of surgery but it also covers anatomy, medical history and natural history. The Reading Room itself is a graceful space with high ceilings, lined with books and journals. It is a quiet and peaceful place in which to study or consult reference materials.

Image of interior of the Hunterian Museum
Interior of the Hunterian Museum

There are other reasons to visit. You could contact the Library and ask to have a look at the Reading Room and combine it with a trip to the Hunterian Museum. John Hunter was, of course, a St George’s man but when the government bought his collection, it was given over to the care of the Royal College of Surgeons. It forms the nucleus of the current collection and the Museum is full of fascinating objects displayed in an interesting interactive manner. This is reflected by the fact that it is popular with the general public. Temporary exhibitions take place across the year and there are also a range of lectures and events, details of which can be found on their website: https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian. You can also visit the shop, which sells, amongst other things, glow in the dark eyeballs. Entry is free and it is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00am – 17.00pm (note that the Library is not open on Saturdays).

Near the Royal College of Surgeons:

Just on the other side of the field  is the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Based in the famous architect’s former London residence it is full of wonderful things that he collected. Objects range from works by Hogarth to an Egyptian sarcophagus and entry is free. The Courtauld Gallery in Aldwych is part of the Courtauld Institute which is, like St George’s, part of the University of London. It’s permanent collection of paintings is popular with tourists and visitors, but St George’s students should be able to get free admission by showing their Student ID.

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Eduard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies- Bergere’, on display in the Courtauld Gallery


A cup of coffee and a sandwich?

In Lincoln’s Inn Field itself, there is a nice café with outside tables. There are also several supermarkets nearby so if it is sunny it is a good place for a picnic. If the weather is not so good there are several historic pubs in the area notably the Seven Stars in Carey Street and the Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. The best coffee in the area can be found in the Fleet Street Press cafe (3 Fleet Street).

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People enjoying the sun in Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Note:  The RCS Library is going to be closed due to unforeseeable circumstances from 1 August to 4 September inclusive, further information is on the library webpages.

Library and Surgical Information Services
The Royal College of Surgeons
35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London
WC2A 3PE

Tel: 020 7869 6555/6
Email: library@rcseng.ac.uk

Don’t forget– if you cannot make it in to St George’s Library over the summer, there are still many resources that you can access from a computer with internet access (logins may be required). See our online resources post for further information.

Key anatomy visual resources on trial now

St George’s Library is pleased to offer trial access to 3 key anatomy images and video resources. 4DAnatomy, Acland’s Anatomy and Visible Body are now live, and available to students and staff.

4D Anatomy

4d anatomy image

4D Anatomy is an interactive dissection-simulation database that aims to increase understanding of the human body. By basing imagery on photography, a realistic simulation environment is created. Navigation and manipulation features enable users to tilt, rotate and digitally dissect specimens by peeling away anatomical layers. 4D Anatomy also offers quizzing features for self-assessment and evaluation.

 

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy

Aclands software image of a heartAcland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy is an accessible source of anatomical knowledge with simple language and realistic, 3D visuals. It may be used as an adjunct to dissection as well as for students who need to re-learn clinically relevant anatomy for their surgical rotations. It is also a good resource for students who don’t have access to dissection facilities, as the Video Atlas provides an appreciation of the real human body and a direct understanding of the mechanics of body movement.

 

Visible Body

Visible Body anatomy image

Visible Body provides access to two anatomy apps: Human Anatomy Atlas (interactive 3D models of the human body) and Anatomy and Physiology (chapters, 3D models, illustrations, and animations).

Both Apps require Unity Web Player 4.3+. Students will not be able to download the utility web player on the library computers, but students can use their own laptops to download the player via the university WIFI connection.

Further information on each resource and how to access them is available on our website at: http://www.library.sgul.ac.uk/resources/resource-trials

App Review: 3D Brain

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Name: 3D Brain

Publisher: DNA Learning Center.

Devices: Android smartphones and tablets and iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad (version 1.0.3 in Android, and version 1.3.2 on  Apple devices)

Other requirements: 72.8mb of memory space for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Requieres iOS 6.0 or later. 96mb of memory on Android devices. Requires Andorid 1.6 and up.

Tested on:  iPad Air and Nexus 7

Available from: Apple’s iStore and the Google Play

Price: Free.

Type of information:
Interactive 3D images of 29 brain regions. Last updated Jan 2017

For: Health professionals and medical students.

  • Main pros – Free. Easy-to-use interface, clearly labelled, includes case studies and links to research on each part of the brain region.
  • Main cons – The Android version does not allow for vertical scrolling.

As the description for the app says:

“Use your touch screen to rotate and zoom around the interactive brain structures. Discover how each brain region functions, what happens when it is injured, and how it is involved in mental illness. Each detailed structure comes with information on functions, disorders, brain damage, case studies, and links to modern research.”

We downloaded it onto the Nexus 7 and the iPad.  There were some differences in the amount of labeling given on a brain region structure, and the images looked a bit better on the iPad. One big difference is that the iPad version allowed for vertical scrolling but the Android version did not.  They were both very easy to figure out how to use.

 

Image of 3D Brain app on iPad and Nexus 7

For more information: read the iMedicalApps review.

All posts on this blog are subject to the St George’s Library Disclaimer, please take the time to read it carefully.

Updated: 15th Sept 2017