Outpatients at St George’s Hospital, 1733-1948

This blogpost was written by Alexandra Foulds, Project Archivist at St George’s, University of London.

How did you become an outpatient at St George’s Hospital before the creation of the NHS? What was it like to be an outpatient at St George’s Hospital at this time? Well, from its establishment in 1733 until the creation of the NHS in 1948, St George’s Hospital was what was called a voluntary hospital, which meant that it was reliant on receiving donations from ‘subscribers’ for funding. The board of governors at St George’s Hospital was made up of those who made large financial contributions to the hospital and medical staff who, unlike at most voluntary hospitals, were eligible to make subscriptions to the hospital.

In order to support themselves, voluntary hospitals ‘ran continuous appeals and publicity campaigns’, and voluntary hospitals competed with each other for funding. They would organise dinners and fundraisers which played an important part in the social calendar for donors. The expanding middle class would donate to the hospitals out of philanthropy and because of the social status it brought them. Becoming a subscriber to a voluntary hospital also meant that you could refer people to the hospital to become an outpatient or inpatient, and the amount donated equated to a certain number of referrals that were allowed per year.

Voluntary hospitals were created in the eighteenth century to give free medical treatment to the ‘sick poor’, or those who could not afford to be treated by private physicians. A distinction was made between the ‘poor’ who were considered to be self-reliant and therefore believed to be deserving of charity and the ‘destitute’ who were not. As Henry Burdett, the hospital administrator who helped to establish the British Hospitals Association in 1884, stated:

‘The people who are entitled to free relief are those who are able to maintain themselves independently of all extraneous assistant until the hour of sickness, when the breadwinner, for instance, is  struck down, or the added expense of sickness in the home renders it necessary that the hospital of dispensary should step in’.

This meant that initially to be treated as an outpatient or an inpatient at a voluntary hospital like St George’s, patients needed a letter from one of the hospital governors or a hospital subscriber that said that they were ‘proper objects of charity’, and even once patients had been accepted they were subject to suspicion that they may be abusing the system.

The outpatient department functioned alongside dispensaries to provide out of hospital medical care to poor patients on a charitable basis, and it was where the majority of what we now refer to as primary care was conducted.

Patients at St George’s mostly came from Westminster and Pimlico, both of which were largely poor, working class areas and some parts of which were slums. In 1910 St George’s Hospital reported that the majority of patients came from Westminster (Pimlico), Chelsea, Fulham and Battersea, with a few coming from further South in Clapham, and Lavender Hill (King Edward). 6% of these patients were trained servants, however, only 2 1/4% were currently employed as servants, and their average annual wage was between £21 and £22.

Photo of a newspaper clipping showing a photo of people attending the unveiling of the bust of John Hunter at the St George's Hospital Medical School, Hyde Park Corner. Not Dated.

After receiving a letter from a subscriber to the hospital, outpatients would visit St George’s Hospital. They would first be seen by a Medical Officer who would decide whether a patient was an acceptable hospital case, should be an outpatient or an inpatient, or should be treated as a casualty in which case they would be seen by a doctor immediately. The term casualty could apply to anything from ‘a small cut’ to a ‘bad toothache’, as well as those who had been in an accident. Once a patient had been accepted as an outpatient an Inquiry Officer would ask for their name, age, occupation, address, their marital status, their wages, and if they were married then their number of children that were dependent on them. In the case of patients who were children they would also be asked for information about the father, and in the case of married women they would be asked for information about their husbands.

Upon their second attendance at the hospital they would be seen by a Casualty Officer and an Almoner. The almoner could then investigate to advise on whether free treatment should be ceased and patients should be referred to workhouse infirmaries, private practitioners, dispensaries, or other hospitals. In 1910, of the 48,583 outpatients 6,768 cases were investigated, with 432 considered not suitable for treatment. The almoner could also decide along with the doctor whether home visits from volunteer ‘lady health visitors’ should be organised, or whether instruments (such as trusses for hernias) or meals should be provided, generally paid for out of the Hospital’s Samaritan Fund which was principally made up of subscriptions from hospital governors. The almoner was also responsible for coordinating with charitable societies to ensure that patients would continue to receive the care they needed outside of the hospital.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, outpatient treatment numbers were small, however, from 1835 they began to rise and continued to rise until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the years 1833-1842, St George’s Hospital treated 70,000 cases of which 44,000 were outpatients. By 1910, St George’s treated 48,583 outpatients in that year alone, of which 67% were casualties.

As a result, doctors had to treat patients incredibly quickly, with Dr Robert Bridges, a casualty physician at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and later the Poet Laureate, writing in 1878 that he had to treat over 30,000 outpatients a year at a rate of 88 seconds per patient. By 1900, St George’s Hospital introduced a limit on how many new outpatients would be treated each day with the rest being turned away. In 1910 average outpatient attendances were approximately 160 a day, with new cases limited to 15 per hospital department per day, with all patients being seen first by a superintendent who imposed the limit when they arrived at the hospital. If a patient was not one of the 15 but was considered to require treatment he was brought back the next day.

Photo of the outpatient department at St George's Hospital at Hyde Park Corner.

As outpatient departments provided free access to health care, they were viewed as being in competition with private physicians and were therefore seen as a threat to the physician’s income. This meant that in medical journals outpatient departments, and voluntary hospitals more generally, were frequently described as locations in which patients abused the medical system by getting free care when they could afford to be treated by a private doctor.

By the end of the nineteenth century several voluntary hospitals, St George’s among them, was choosing not to require a letter from a hospital subscriber for outpatients (Louden), and so physicians tried to introduce the requirement for patients to be referred to the hospital by private practitioners in order to prevent this perceived abuse of the system. A letter to the British Medical Journal in 1894 stated that:

‘The abuse of the hospitals’ outpatient departments is an evil so gigantic that the tendency is to regard it […] as necessary in the sense of being unavoidable […] The remedy lies in the hands of those who suffer most from the unfair competition of the hospitals, and it is idle to appeal to the public or to the hospital authorities. […] The remedy I would suggest (though I claim no originality) would be to admit to the outpatient department only patients whose cases are certified by some medical authority or medical man to require special consideration’.

In 1910, however, only 3-6% of outpatients at St George’s Hospital were referred by physicians.

These perceived abuses led in 1910 to an investigation into the admission of outpatients in hospitals in London by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, who from 1897 gave funding to voluntary hospitals. They called on people from various medical charities and representatives from each of the voluntary hospitals to testify, asking about the suitability of the letter system, hospital procedures for dealing with outpatients, the numbers of outpatients and the kinds of cases hospitals treated, and whether they believed the system was being abused by patients. William West, the treasurer at St George’s at the time, testified, arguing that he did not believe that the system was abused at St George’s, but that there were times it was misused by patients who had paid to be treated by a physician and upon seeing no improvement wanted a second opinion and so visited the hospital.

In 1948 the NHS Acts brought voluntary hospitals under public ownership, however, researchers have argued that it is these nineteenth and early twentieth century arguments about the relationship between hospitals and private physicians that led to our current NHS health system in which patients are required to be referred to specialists in hospitals by their GP.


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A Railway Mystery

Opening Up the Body’ is a Wellcome-funded project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946. Our Archive team have been cataloguing and digitising records dating from 1841-1921. This post was written by Project Archivist Natasha Shillingford.

Following on from the discovery of a post mortem case of a monkey on the railway we decided to explore other cases of railway mysteries in the post mortem collection of St George’s Hospital. We soon came across a case worthy of the great Hercule Poirot.

On 23rd September 1886 Moritz Fischer was admitted to St George’s Hospital with a compound depressed fracture of the skull, with laceration of the dura mater and brain with meningitis.

PM/1886/292. Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

The case notes said that ‘The man was found in a 1st class compartment of the Metrop[olitan] Railway with a fractured skull.’ He was conscious but did not speak. There was a scalp wound about eight inches in length which extended from the centre of the forehead. The external table of the skull was fractured and the internal table was driven through the dura mater into the brain, with the brain substance protruding. The fragments of the bone were picked out with forceps and the scalp was brought together with sutures. He went on well without any special symptoms for nine days when he passed his urine into the bed and became drowsy. His temperature slowly rose from 99 degrees to 106 degrees on the evening of the 3rd October and he died on the 4th.

The post mortem examination states that there was a wound 3 ¼ inches long over the frontal region. It started from a point 1 inch to the right of the middle line and passed obliquely forwards and to the left. The angles of the wound were infiltrated. Beneath it, part of the temporal bone was absent. Some soft greyish substance protruded which was examined microscopically and found to consist almost entirely of nerve fibres, blood and granular matter.

PM/1886/292. Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

What happened to Mr Fischer in the first-class compartment to cause such brutal and deadly injuries?

Lloyds Weekly London Newspaper reported on September 26th 1886 that on the arrival of the train at Bayswater, ‘the attention of the newspaper boy attached to the bookstall on the platform was attracted to the last compartment by one of the first-class carriage fourth from the engine, there being a stream of blood on the outside of the carriage door, the window of which was open. On looking through into the compartment the lad observed a gentleman lying prostate on the floor, alone, and with his feet towards the door, there being a small quantity of blood on the carpet, and a much larger quantity on the cushion of the seat nearest the engine.’ The acting-inspector on duty opened the door and ‘saw that the unfortunate man was quite insensible, and that blood was flowing from a terrible wound on the forehead.’ The gentleman was ‘attired in a grey overcoat, the coat underneath being of black diagonal cloth, and his trousers were light-striped. His gold watch and chain were safe, as were also his rings, but not much money was found in his possession. A few papers were discovered, and they were all in German. A visiting card was found bearing the inscription, “Mr. Moritz Fischer,” and the police, as the result of subsequent inquiries, ascertained on Friday that the injured gentleman was Mr. Moritz Fischer, head of the firm of Mr. A. Fischer and Co., general foreign agents of 35 Carter-lane, and having residence in Westbourne-terrace.’ Thus it appears that none of Mr Fischer’s belongings were stolen so theft was unlikely to be a motive for an attack. However, ‘It was reported that despite the carriage being empty, they could not be quite certain on the point, owing to the confusion which prevailed.’ Therefore it is entirely possible that another individual was in the carriage with Mr Fischer and escaped during the turmoil.

The police, however, were of the opinion that Mr Fischer sustained his injuries by accident, and the following anecdote appeared to confirm this hypothesis:

‘A friend of the injured man says that about twelve months ago Mr. Fischer met with a curiously similar but by no means so serious an accident while travelling on the railway. He had put his head out of the carriage window when he was struck by some projection in the tunnel. He was severely cut, and had to wear a bandage for some time. The injury then sustained was just over the forehead, as now, but the skull was not fractured. The old accident subsequently formed a standing joke among his friends, and he was often rallied about putting his head out of carriage window and advised not to be of so inquisitive a turn of mind. Only a few nights ago the old joke was repeated to him, along with the question whether he had lately been putting his head out of the window. This may be an explanation of the mystery, or it may be only a striking coincidence; but it is a singular fact that most of the known facts appear to lend themselves to such an explanation of what at first appeared to be a very tragic crime.’

The newspaper paper continues by saying that ‘It is conjectured that Mr. Fischer had a propensity for watching the people who occupied the adjoining compartments, and while indulging in this habit he must have placed his feet on the carriage seat, and in his endeavour to place his body as far outside the window as possible, his head must have come in contact with the projection in the spring of the arch.’

However, at the inquest into the death of Moritz Fischer (reported in the London Evening Standard 08 October 1886), a friend of the deceased, Fritz Mercier, said that despite being aware of Mr Fischer previously having injured his head during a journey from Manchester, he refuted the claim that he was well known to have put his head out a carriage window. Despite this, the inquest further confirmed that there was no sign of a struggle, there was no derangement of the carriage and ‘On the night of the accident when the traffic had ceased, Witness went in a carriage and found at the very spot where it was supposed the gentleman met with his injury, that it was quite possible by leaning about 18 to 20 inches out of the window, to meet with a similar accident. At the same spot there was a continuous trail of blood on the wall.’ Furthermore, a witness spoke to picking up a pair of spectacles about twenty yards from where the blood was found on the wall, and another witness testified that Mr Fischer had never been known to be without his spectacles.

Based on the evidence, and despite conflicting testimonies from the friends of Mr Fischer, the jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death. Foul play or a case of curiosity killed the cat, either way please refrain from putting your head outside a carriage window on a moving train.


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The Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books as a Source for Genealogical Research

Opening Up the Body’ is a Wellcome-funded project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946. Our Archive team have been cataloguing and digitising records dating from 1841-1921. This post was written by Project Archivist Natasha Shillingford.

Previous blog posts have highlighted the value of the Post Mortem collection for contributing to our understanding of medical education, death practices, and the history of London’s hospitals and infectious diseases. However, it is also a valuable and rich resource for genealogy and tracing your family history. The collection consists of 76 volumes, and an estimated total of 36,000 cases which is a lot of names! The majority of the patients admitted to St George’s Hospital were from the lower classes as wealthier individuals were able to pay physicians to attend to them in their homes. Therefore, the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books provide information about working class patients who may not be represented in many other records and can provide additional or missing information about your ancestors.

PM/1890/349. Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

The right-hand page is reserved for details of the medical case before the patient’s death. It records the patient’s medical history, current symptoms which caused them to attend the hospital, a description of the patient on admission and details of the treatments prescribed and changes in condition prior to their death. On first glance the medical case history appears to be rather formulaic but on closer inspection they provide fascinating insights into the patients and provide a glimpse into their life before death.

From 1st July 1837 all births and deaths had to be reported to a local registrar, who in turn reported them to the superintendent registrar of the registration district where the birth or death occurred. Since 1874 doctors’ certificates were also required by a registrar before a death certificate could be issued. A death certificate records where and when the individual died, name and surname, sex, age, occupation, cause of death, the signature, description and residence of the informant, when the death was registered and the signature of the registrar.

The death certificate of George Danbury will undoubtedly list his death simply as Tetanus. However, the medical notes expand on this diagnosis and tell us that ‘A fortnight before his admission George Danbury ran a nail into the ball of his right great toe. He felt no pain but later felt stiffness of the jaw and pain in the back. On admission he could not open his jaw and there was stiffness and pain in the back of the neck. He began to experience spasms, had a good deal of sweating and the head became retracted and fixed.’ (PM/1870/258)

The case notes often include the medical history of other family members to determine if the patient could be suffering from an inheritable disease. This is invaluable for tracing other family members of the deceased.  Fifty-three-year-old Henry Moon died in 1889 from ‘Carcinomatous stricture of Oesophagus’. The case notes begin ‘The patient was a clerk. He gave a family history of carcinoma. One aunt had died of cancer of the throat, another of cancer of the stomach, a cousin of cancer of the eye.’ (PM/1889/285). The medical case notes will also record if they came from a phthisical (tuberculous) family, and if their parents lived to an old age. If the patient is female, it will often be noted how long they had been married, how many children they had given birth to, how many children were living at the time of her admission, and how many miscarriages the woman had suffered. The case notes for Sarah Harris records ‘Pregnancies = 9. Children = 8. Miscarriage = 1, in Dec last at 5 months. Says that during this last pregnancy had ‘fits’ when about 4 ½ months gone, from which time till she aborted she did not feel the child. A doubtful abortion in Feb last.’ (PM/1881/388). Ellen Pointon, a thirty-nine-year-old Widow ‘had been married for 9 years. She had had 1 miscarriage and four children, 3 of whom were alive when she came into the hospital.’ (PM/1888/301)

The case notes often track a patient’s travel both within the UK and abroad to determine the origin of the disease, particularly if the disease is highly infectious. Amy Bradshaw, a seven-year-old girl, was admitted to St George’s Hospital on 24th July 1883 and she later died on 10th January 1884. She was suffering from Leprosy. The medical case notes record that ‘Her mother was a native of Oxfordshire, her father of Barbados, where his family had lived for three generations since leaving Scotland.’ Amy was one of six children, one of whom died in infancy of Dysentery, and two had Leprosy. The sister next above her in age was four and a half years older, and she developed symptoms of Leprosy in 1875 (PM/1884/9). Charles Dilloway was a footman who had just returned from a foreign tour. Twenty days before his admission he was in Rome. He returned via San Remo, Cannes and Boulogne. ‘He was back in England a fortnight before he came to the hospital. After his return he lived at 35 Chesham Place Belgrave Square’ where he slept below ground. Not only is each city he travelled through recorded in the case notes, the physician has also recorded the name of each hotel that he stayed at during his travel back to England.

Furthermore, the physicians often record the address of the patient along with living conditions if they believe it is relevant to the disease, such as in the case of a four-year-old boy called Albert Pratt. His ‘Parents lived at Brighton but the child had been staying at 1A Bulmer Place Notting Hill Gate. In this house the floor of the W.C. [Water Closet] was in a very bad state, having all crumbled away. The Landlord refusing to do anything. Within the last 6 weeks 6 persons living in the house, 4 children and 2 young women had had sore throats but all recovered.’ Young Albert, was diagnosed with Diphtheria and ultimately succumbed to the illness. (PM/1889/22)

Diet is often commented on in the medical case notes, such as in this case of 15 year old John Landeg who died of Scurvy in 1882.  ‘When admitted the boy stated that he had been feeling weak and ill for four or five months previously. That he had a dislike to [non] salt meat and consequently had for the last four or five weeks been eating only salted meat. He was an office boy, in the habit of taking away from home meat for the whole day, and consequently rarely eat vegetables. Got potatoes on Sundays only.’ (PM/1882/366)

Alcohol consumption is also often recorded, such as in the case of 25 year old Alfred Balcombe who was described as ‘A coachman of intemperate habits, a beer drinker, reported to be generally in a fuddled state, refusing his food and supplying its place with beer, ’ (PM/1866/18) or Frederick Osborne, a forty five year old labourer, who had ‘always been accustomed to drink beer, avoiding the weaker kinds and drinking chiefly ‘six ale,’ and some spirits. The average quantity of beer was five or six pints daily.’ (PM/1888/95)

Occupations are listed where known, and the medical case notes often expand on simple terms such as ‘Groom’ or ‘Soldier’. Elbra Appleby died in 1881, aged fifty-one. In his work as a painter he had been exposed to so much lead that, despite precautions, he developed colic and wrist drop, losing strength in both hands and becoming irritable and depressed (PM/1881/392). John Lewicki was ‘An old soldier, formerly on Napoleon’s Polish lancers. He had fought in nearly all the wars of the empire. He had been frost-bitten at Beresina, and again at Moscow. He was wounded at Austerlitz, recovered a sabre cut at Vittoria. Altogether he shewed seven scars. He escaped from Waterloo unhurt. Latterly he enjoyed a pension for a few years, but lost it on account of his republican views. He was expelled from Paris and contrived to get his living by selling pencils about the streets of London. He attributed his illness to eating sprats.’ (PM/1860/36)

Sometimes the comments of the physicians can be extremely evocative and paint a picture of the patient on their admission. For example, the doctor Octavius Sturges (1883-1894) describes various patients as ‘an anxious, delicate girl with an anxious, sad expression’, another as a ‘dark, spare person of melancholy aspect, a needlewoman’, another as ‘stout and well-built with the countenance of a drunkard’ or ‘a miserable, emaciated old man having the withered and wrinkled face of a mummy’.

The case notes sometimes include anatomical sketches and drawings, and occasionally portraits of the patient, such as in the case of Thomas Roles, a 49-year-old Shopkeeper, who was admitted to St George’s with a tumour of the face which was removed by operation.

PM/1880/236. Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

The left-hand page, labelled ‘Morbid appearances’, is used to record the details in the post mortem examination, with each part of the body examined in depth. The morbid appearances also include a general description of the body, recording information such as height, weight and hair colour. At a time when photography was unusual for many working-class Londoners such as those attending St George’s Hospital, the general description at least provides a hint as to their appearance. Thomas Roles was described as ‘Well nourished. Obese. 5’6” high. Hair dark.’

In conclusion, the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books are a unique and fantastic resource for tracing the lives of working-class individuals in London, and the information provided in the volumes almost serves to bring the patients back to life.


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St George’s Library Then & Now: 1998

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Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


In this final retrospective look at the Library, we’ve delved into a really interesting commemorative brochure produced by library staff to celebrate 21 years of being based in Tooting.

Back in the early 1990s staff were singing the praises of their “several CD-ROM machines, word processing facilities and a scanner” which warranted instating an enquiries desk where library staff could be on hand to answer IT related questions.

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It’s interesting to note that even with the differences and improvements in technology over the past 20 years, many of the enquiries that helpdesk staff answered back in 1998 will be very familiar to users and helpdesk staff today!

Needless to say the type of enquiries facing the library staff are mainly computer related. The most common ones are

‘My Printer is not working’
‘The printer has stopped printing half way through’
I can’t open my file on the computer’

The rest of the commemorative brochure makes for an interesting read: it captures a pivotal point in the development of modern academic libraries as the way we access information began to rapidly change. Technology has streamlined many library services whilst also generating new challenges – especially over the two decades that have passed since the publication of this brochure.

For example, the move from print to electronic journals has had a fairly dramatic impact on the physical layout of the library. With most journal subscriptions now online, we no longer require the rows and rows of shelving to accommodate print copies and can offer far more study spaces, which is of real benefit to our users.

 

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The Library now manages access to thousands of journal titles, far in excess of what we ever could have accommodated physically in print, giving staff and students at St George’s access to far more content than before, with the added convenience that in most cases it can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.

However, with online journals the Library typically licenses the content for a specific period of time, whereas with print journals we owned the volumes and issues of the journals we purchased. Our Journals team must negotiate the terms and conditions of these licences with our suppliers each year, making these transactions far more complex.

Supporting access to online subscriptions also requires maintaining a number of key systems, such as our link resolver, which generates the links through to the full text of articles we have access to; either from search results in Hunter or our other healthcare databases.

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The Library also needs to manage the process of authentication: whereby journal sites identify a user is from St George’s and entitled to access that particular resource. The Journals team work hard to make this process as smooth as possible and provide the necessary support for users where difficulties arise. Responding to the pace of change as technologies develop is a real challenge for library staff and will undoubtedly continue to shape the academic library of the future.

On a final note, the brochure also offers interesting snippets of social history too. Present day staff thankfully have much more input over their own sartorial choices!

1977-98 Library Brochure trousers

…and female staff are now permitted to wear trousers for the task.

 


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St George’s Library Then & Now: 1977

LibWeekRGB
Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


In this exploration of the Archives, we’re looking at some of the physical incarnations of the Library throughout St George’s illustrious history. Today the hospital and medical school are located in Tooting, but until the 1970s were situated in central London at Hyde Park Corner.

The Library at Hyde Park had many traditional features: lots of dark wooden furniture, high shelving, and books behind glass cabinets. There also appear to be desks perched very precariously on the balcony below the lovely domed ceiling, which today might cause all manner of health and safety headaches.

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As St George’s moved to Tooting in 1976, the Library settled into a more modern looking space. These photos, from 1977, give us a sepia-toned glimpse into the Library as it was then: slightly more accessible shelving, hundreds of print journals, much lower ceilings and a slightly sterile looking staff office. That said, the black and white image in the slideshow below shows a much brighter, wider study space that isn’t that dissimilar to the library back in 2012, before our last refurbishment.

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Do you have any pictures taken in or around the library from your time studying at St George’s? Whether it was last year or 20 years ago, we’d love it if you could share them with us!

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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