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About the Collection

Evolving from The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh's 500-year-old history, Surgeons' Hall Museums aims to inform and share with the public the historical journey of surgery and its advances, unimaginable to patients a mere century ago.

20th century collegeThe collection contains the largest and most historic collections of surgical pathology in the world, including bone and tissue specimens, artefacts and works of art. Also included in its archive is a letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crediting The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Fellow, Dr Joseph Bell, as the main inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes. 

The Scottish Government acknowledged the museums as being Recognised Collections of National Siginificance in 2009. This covers all our collections, from pathology specimens, surgical and dental instruments, to oil paintings of the Fellows and the College furniture.

Recognition is a Scottish Government Scheme managed by Museums Galleries Scotland. It provides a strategic framework for recognition of and investment in collections of national significance to Scotland cared for by Scotland’s non-national museums. The scheme’s main purposes are to highlight these collections and to widen access for more people to enjoy them by providing funding for improvements. 

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The collection at Surgeons' Hall Museums represents the changing nature of medical and scientific teaching and research since the late 18th century and it is worth noting that the specimens were collected at times that held different ethical and moral values from our own today.

The specimens in the Museums are displayed acknowledging the debt to those whose suffering has advanced our knowledge of disease. The collection is governed by the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, which allows for the public display of human remains. By exhibiting human remains, we can help people learn more about science and history. Human remains can also bring people into contact with the past and help encourage reflection.

Initially established as a medical teaching resource, access for all is today a priority and visitors can explore:

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