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Our theme for September is James Young Simpson and Childbirth, in which we will showcase items related to both.
This week we look at a mid-18th century birthing chair. A chair such as this was used during childbirth. The headrest at the back is adjustable, providing the necessary support to suit the patient’s needs. In addition to this the base can be anchored to the floor during childbirth, providing stability. This particular birthing chair in the museum has four legs, but some do have three.
This week's object is a set of forceps based on a design by James Young Simpson and used by his nephew, Sir Alexander Russell Simpson. Forceps such as these would have been used to assist in the delivery of babies. In some cases using forceps provided an easier and speedier delivery that would have not been possible without them.
This brandy decanter was used to store chloroform by James Young Simpson during his discovery of the anaesthetic properties of the chemical in 1847. The word "BRANDY" is inscribed on the front of the decanter.
Simpson used a particularly foolhardy approach to testing the potential anaesthetic properties of various chemicals. At his Queen Street residence, Simpson and his associates would inhale the fumes given off by different substances and record the effects. After little success, they came to try chloroform on the evening of 8th November 1847. Upon inhaling the vapours, Simpson and his colleagues found themselves "under the mahogany" having all become unconscious!
On 10th November, Simpson announced his discovery at a meeting of the Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society, and it was soon being used as an anaesthetic across Europe. You can read more about James Young Simpson’s life and the discovery of chloroform in Morrice McCrae’s book, “Simpson,The Turbulant Life of a Medical Pioneer”, available from the College shop: www.shop.rcsed.ac.uk
James Young Simpson's Medicine Chest
This week's object is a medicine case owned by James Young Simpson. Cases such as this would hold various remedies of the time, that doctors would use on their patients. The top of the case was embossed with an S and a red hand, as well as having three removable drawers. There is also an attractive brass lock on the front of the case.
These knives are amputation knives used by Robert Liston. In a an era when anaesthetics were not commonplace, Liston was known for his surgical skill and speed
A very famous story told about Liston was regarding an amputation he had carried out on a leg in under 21⁄2 minutes. Not only did the the patient die afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene, he also amputated the fingers of his young assistant who also died from gangrene.
Furthermore, Liston slashed through the coat tails of a surgical spectator, who dropped dead from fright.
This was the only operation in history with an alleged 300 percent mortality.
Container of Chloroform
This week’s object is a small container of chloroform that was salvaged from the German battleship Hindenburg, This ship was the last of the German fleet to be scuttled at Scapa Flow at the end of the World War One. The ship was unusually scuttled so that it sank level in order to give the sailors on board opportunity to escape safely. The Hindenburg was raised in 1930, and subsequently scrapped at Rosyth.
A Box of Razors
The razors belonged to Major John May Darling, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corp from 1914-1921. He was a member of the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order 3 June, 1916. This set of six razors belonged to Major John May Darling, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh who served in the Royal Army Medical Corp from 1914-1921. Originally there were seven razors, which each having a day of the week engraved on it in French: Lundi, Mardi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, Samedi and Dimanche.
World War One Slides
This week we look at a collection of slides from a World War 1 field station. This series of glass lantern slide displayed were most likely taken from an army camp in Serbia during World War 1. In these images, doctors, nurses, orderlies, the wounded and soldiers are depicted. One particular slide shows the Scottish Women's Hospital 'Edith Cavell' Memorial Glasgow X-Ray ambulance. According to the Glasgow Herald, in 1916, the first X-Ray ambulance from Glasgow was sent to Serbia in 1916 so it may well be that this is the vehicle.
Scottish Women's Hospital Badge
Our final object for November is this Scottish Women’s Hospital badge. This brass shoulder badge would have been worn on the shoulder of someone who worked for the Scottish Women’s Hospital.
When war broke out in 1914, people wanted to do what they could to support the war effort. Elsie Inglis, an innovative doctor and a well-known suffragist, immediately offered her services as a surgeon for the war effort. After being turned down at the War Office, she was famously told ‘My good lady, go home and sit still.’ Inglis then formed a plan to create fully equipped mobile Red Cross hospital units staffed by women, under the name of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Services.
The first units were sent to France and Serbia in December 1914. By the end of the war it is estimated that some 1000 women served in 14 fully equipped field hospitals in Serbia, France, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Corsica and Malta.
You can read more about the Scottish Women’s Hospitals at http://www.scottishwomenshosptials.co.uk
Burke Death Mask
Over December and January we will be looking at objects relating to Burke & Hare, Robert Knox and Crime & Punishment. This week we look at the death mask of William Burke.
Burke and Hare are known for the murders they committed in Edinburgh in 1827 where they murdered at least 16 people. They delivered the bodies to Robert Knox’s dissection room at Surgeons’ Square in exchange for money. There was an unprecedented demand for bodies by the anatomy schools in Edinburgh at the start of the early 19th century. Burke and Hare capitalised on this until they were caught in November 1828.
This death mask was made of Burke after his execution and you can see the noose marks on his neck.