A Distinctly Scottish Surgeon? Uncovering Police Surgery in 19th Century Scotland

11 Jul 2019

Writing for our quarterly membership magazine “voice”, our College’s Deputy Head of Engagement – Heritage, Ross McGregor reveals our recent work with the University of Glasgow to uncover the city’s criminal past.

A

Writing for our quarterly membership magazine “voice”, our College’s Deputy Head of Engagement – Heritage, Ross McGregor reveals our recent work with the University of Glasgow to uncover the city’s criminal past.

The College Heritage team has recently been collaborating with Dr Cheryl McGeachan of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, on a Carnegie Trust-funded Research Incentive Grant project. The project completed in May 2019. Cheryl works in the field of historical geography, and was initially drawn to our collection of casebooks and other archives recording William Macewen’s time as Glasgow police surgeon in the 1870s.

‘A Distinctly Scottish Surgeon’ undertook the first scoping project of its kind on police surgery in nineteenth century Scotland. In doing so, the work identified a distinctive Scottish dimension to the under-examined figure of the police surgeon and its uncharted histories and geographies. The precursor to the forensic medical officer, the police surgeon played a significant role in fusing medical and legal worlds during the nineteenth century, yet very little was previously known about its practice. Through in-depth archival research, the project has uncovered the unknown practices of the 19th century police surgeon in three key cities across Scotland using three pioneering Scottish surgeons as case study examples – Francis Ogston (Aberdeen), Henry Littlejohn (Edinburgh) and William Macewen (Glasgow).

Working with archive material from nine institutions in addition to the College’s collections, this project has developed a ground-breaking understanding of the key practices of Scottish police surgery and has begun to uncover the geographies of the practice in Scotland.

A range of archival materials used included personal notes and diaries by the selected police surgeons, court records, lecture notes, newspaper articles, postmortem reports, police records, letters, photographs and museum objects. Many of the sources used had never been examined in relation to the police surgeon and therefore this project has developed a new use for such collections.

This project has uncovered a set of previously unknown practices relating to the police surgeon in the nineteenth century. These practices have highlighted the mobility of the police surgeon and the variety of work that they undertook. Important connections have been made in relation to the practices of the police surgeon in relation to crime and the development of medical knowledge in the period, culminating in new histories of science emerging. Attention to unearthing criminal-medical histories has resulted in showing the potential of the police surgeon for uncovering new geographies of violence in urban space. Overall, the results from this project demonstrate the importance of the police surgeon for developing new criminal-medical historical geographies.

A key aspect of the project was to use the topic of the police surgeon to bring together different disciplines interested in investigating criminal-medical histories. This was achieved through the running of a networking workshop at the University of Glasgow in January 2019. This workshop brought together key figures in the history of medicine, historical geography, legal studies and collections managers from across Glasgow and Edinburgh to share reflections on developing the key findings from the project.

The project had a great deal of interest from both academic and public audiences that we did not necessarily expect. Due to this interest we were invited to attend a number of events and conferences to showcase the work in different formats. These included events, talks and presentations across the UK and Europe.

Given this project was running concurrently with the College’s Visualising Medical Heritage project, it was inevitable that the work would cross-over! An unexpected outcome of the project was our ability to experiment with the findings and produce digital resources, for example, an interactive map of police surgeon cases in 1870s Glasgow and a digital visualisation of one of Macewen’s cases based on his notes.

From the strength of the results we are keen to develop this work further, for example developing the work around the geographies of violence and the histories of forensic science. The project is a fantastic example of the amazing potential for original research and public engagement using the College’s unique collections.

You can find out more about the College’s heritage work on our dedicated website.

Category: Engagement


Share this story:

Latest news and statements

Key priority areas

Workforce Recovery and Transformation
Health services in many parts of the world are over-stretched due to workforce shortages, rising demand for services and difficulties in retaining staff.
Read more
Wellbeing
A healthy healthcare workforce is essential for patient care. When the workforce is exhausted, experiencing burnout, and struggling to balance their work and personal lives, it impacts on everyone.
Read more
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
We are committed to standing up for equality, diversity and inclusion. We want our College to reflect the diversity in the NHS workforce and in the patients that we care for.
Read more
Climate Change and Sustainability
Climate change has caused great harm to our planet and warnings of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding will all place a significant burden on our health outcomes.
Read more
Health Inequalities
The health inequalities in our society have been both highlighted and exacerbated by the covid pandemic. There is a need to do things differently.
Read more
COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the lives of healthcare professionals, and the urgent need to learn whilemfocusing on delivering the best care for our patients has been an enormous challenge.
Read more

Topics


Archive


Key links



Contact us

rcpsg@grayling.com
07714307976

Log in

Log in to access your Dashboard, book events, pay your subscriptions and access eLearning material.

Log in

Register an account

New users must register before logging in. You do not need to be a member of the College in order to register.

Register

Help

Having difficulty registering or logging in? Forgotten your username or password?

Get Help