Our outstanding museum collection helps tell the story of the College, of its place in the city of Glasgow, and of Scottish medical history. Our collection also tells the story of the students, Fellows and Members who have shaped the College over the centuries. We have fascinating medical instruments and equipment used by some of our most famous Fellows including Joseph Lister, David Livingstone and William Macewen. These sit alongside a varied and often gruesome collection of surgical and dental instruments which help to show the progression and innovation made in surgical procedures from the 18th century onwards.
In October 2015, the College achieved full Museum Accreditation from Museums Galleries Scotland on behalf of Arts Council England. This means that the College meets the national standard for UK museums and can now proceed to develop its collections, their care and access, with the appropriate support and guidance.
Explore highlights from our collection
Cambridge Portable Electrocardiograph
Camerons Electro Diagnostoset
Dr David Livingstone Humerus Cast
Jackson Focus X Ray Tube
Lister Carbolic Spray
Maister Peter Lowes Gloves
William Beattys Instruments
Wilson Type Microscope
c. mid-19th century
This amputation set was made by S. Maw & Son of Aldersgate Street London. The instruments are contained within a wooden case with a red velvet lining, which is divided into segments and has an additional removable section.
The upper division of the set holds three saws: a wide blade amputation saw, a metacarpal saw, and a Hey's scull saw.
The lower level houses numerous amputation knives, a screw tourniquet, and two bobbins of thread. Underneath the removable tray are items including bone forceps, a trephine with a detachable handle and a probang with a sponge attached at its tip.
In the tray itself there is an abscess knife, two bistouries, both curved and pointed but one sharp and one blunt, two scalpels of different sizes, two trocars, again with metal heads of varying sizes, and dissecting forceps.
Under a small lid in the tray there is a well preserved packet bearing the maker's name and address. The package contains three needles described as "cast steel high polished surgeons needles". According to the packaging half a dozen such needles were originally held in the paper.
This auroscope was invented by John Brunton (1835–1899), a licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and a well-respected medical practitioner with a particular interest in diseases of the ear.
It consists of a tube with a funnel shaped reflector for collecting and concentrating rays of light, set at a right angle to the tube. A specula was fitted at one end of the tube. This particular set has three speculae. At the other end of the tube there is an eye-piece for the observer.
Inside the body of the auroscope a concave mirror with a hole in the centre lies at an angle of 45°. Rays of light are let in at the side of the tube, through the funnel reflector. These rays then fall onto the mirror, are reflected into the ear, and then are carried back to the eye of the observer through the hole in the mirror, being magnified by the lens of the eye-piece.
Dr Brunton devised his own instrument because he had experienced difficulties when examining patients' ears with ordinary aural instruments. Such difficulties included the problems of the observer's head obstructing the light source and the observer's eye being unable to get close enough to the object of study to permit minute examination. John Brunton believed that his auroscope improved upon previous aural instruments and he counted among its advantages its simplicity of construction and ease of use.
Cambridge Portable Electrocardiograph
The existence of electromotive phenomena in living tissue has been known since the 1794 experiments of Aloysio Luigi Galvani, Professor of Anatomy at Bologna University. However it was not until the development in 1901 of the String Galvanometer by William Einthoven of Leiden University that it was possible to accurately record the electrical activity of the heart. This functioned by using optical devices to record the displacement of a string of conductive material, the displacement caused by surrounding electromagnets reacting to the heart's electrical current passing along the string.
Einthoven eventually entered into an agreement with the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, a company founded by Charles Darwin's nephew Horace, to produce electrocardiographs. The first table model was developed by the company in 1911 but these were large and often required a number of people to operate, so there was a requirement for more portable machines.
In 1926 the company developed a portable electrocardiograph which could be placed on a trolley and weighed approximately 80 pounds. The example shown is a later but still early model from circa 1930. It is made primarily of metal and synthetics and comes with a metal trunk casing for easy portability. In the picture opposite the String Galvanometer is the central horizontal cylinder; the light beam transmitting the deflections would pass from the box on the right through the narrow slit in the box on the left and onto a roll of photographic film inserted behind. The three black switches visible on the left operated shutters that could be opened or closed over the slit as needed.
Camerons Electro Diagnostoset
Cameron's Electro-Diagnostoset was produced by Cameron's Surgical Speciality Company of Chicago during the 1920s. The company produced an extensive range of lamps for use in dental and medical diagnosis and the Electro-Diagnostoset seen here is, essentially, a collection of such lamps. The company produced a variety of models of these sets from the very high end, with a silk lined leather case and a complete set of instruments, to low end sets in simple wooden cases containing a bare minimum of instruments.
The set shown appears to be of the model 3A type, one of the more expensive models. The components are constructed primarily from bakelite and steel to allow them to be sterilized and increase reliability. It contains a variety of instruments including an opthalmoscope, procto-sigmoidoscope, urethroscope and a variety of bulbs in a range of shapes and sizes. In most cases the illumination was provided not by the instruments but by the handles. The set came with two handles which were connected to a power supply. A bulb could then be screwed into the top of the handle. In the case of the large bulbs (such as the long bulbs on the right of the case in the picture) that would be the instrument complete but, with the small bulbs, a variety of attachments could be fitted onto the handle to form different instruments.
This particular example was imported into the UK by Dr. Archibald Young of Glasgow and is believed to be the only example in the country. Dr. Young initially inquired about ordering in 1926; the set arrived in Prince's Dock Glasgow in 1928 on board the freighter Anacortes and did not clear customs and reach him until 1929. The set cost £308 including shipping expenses.
This cupping set consists of a pump mechanism and four nested glass cups. There is also a small bottle, possibly for alcohol. Cupping was a treatment of great antiquity which involved attaching certain vessels, in this instance the cups, to the skin. The cups remained in place because a partial vacuum was produced inside them.
In this set the air-pump created the vacuum. This method of producing the vacuum replaced the earlier practice of warming the cups prior to application.
The purpose of cupping was to draw what was considered to be bad matter in the blood toward selected places in the body at the surface of the skin, away from vital organs.
Cupping could be practised either wet or dry. With the dry cupping process the skin was not broken before the cups were used but the local areas of the body affected became red and painful. Although the intention of dry cupping was not to extract blood it could still draw fluid from the raised blisters which it caused. For wet cupping the skin was scored (scarified) before the cups were applied. The amount of blood extracted depended upon the number and depth of the incisions and the extent of the vacuum present in the vessel.
Dr David Livingstone Humerus Cast
This cast of the left humerus of David Livingstone (1813-1873) was presented to the College by the Livingstone Memorial Trust in 1973, on the centenary of Livingstone's death. The cast shows an old healed fracture which proved that remains transported from Ilala in Central Africa to London via Zanzibar were indeed those of Dr David Livingstone. To facilitate carriage through the jungle Livingstone's body was eviscerated, salted and baked in the sun. When the body arrived in London the facial features were unrecognisable but an examination of the left arm signalled the identity of its owner. Sir William Ferguson, a surgeon who had previously been consulted by Livingstone about the very same limb, carried out the examination which established the identity of the remains. The cast was made prior to internment in Westminster Abbey. Livingstone had sustained the compound fracture when he was mauled by a lion during his very first visit to Africa. The incident was recorded in his book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857).
The College also holds a set of surgical instruments which belonged to David Livingstone, a Zulu shield from his travels, an oil painting and a photographic portrait, and two of Livingstone's letters.
Examination chair used by Adam Brown Kelly
This chair for clinical examination and operative procedures was made by Mayer and Meltzer sometime in the 1890s. It was commissioned by Adam Brown Kelly (1866-1941), laryngologist at the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow and was constructed to a design of the leading London laryngologist, Sir Morell Mackenzie. The high back with its adjustable head rest is at right angles to the seat, forcing the occupant to maintain a very upright posture.
There is only one armrest, on the left, and the seat's central portion can rotate. All these features facilitate certain otolaryngological procedures. All examination was done using reflected light, the examiner looking down the centre of the beam created by a circular concave mirror via a central hole in the mirror. A lamp was placed slightly behind and to the left of the chair back, with the surgeon, seated, facing the patient.
The chair was later used by Adam Brown Kelly's son, Derek, (d.2002) who was also an E.N.T. surgeon at the Victoria Infirmary.
For further information on Adam and Derek Brown Kelly see Papers of Adam and Derek Brown Kelly
Jackson Focus X Ray Tube
Jackson focus X Ray Tube
Designed by Professor Herbert Jackson of King's College, London in 1894, for experiments with cathode rays, this type of tube was found to be ideal as a means of generating X-rays, following their discovery by Roentgen in 1895.
The cathode is made of aluminium and 'dished' to focus the electron beam emanating from it onto the so-called anti-cathode or anode. This is formed from a small piece of platinum set at an angle of 45 degrees to the axis of the tube, to direct the beam of cathode rays (and X-rays) through the side of the tube for convenience in use. The centre of the anode has become perforated due to bombardment by electrons.
This would have destroyed the effectiveness of the tube; a common problem because of the thinness of the platinum used. Although the tube was not designed for the production of X-rays, the focussed beam of X-rays originating from a point source made it ideal for X-ray photography, giving much sharper images than had been produced hitherto, and heralding the beginning of clinical radiology. Some three months after Roentgen's discovery in November 1895, Professor Salvioni of Perugia produced a device consisting of a fluoroscopic screen and a Jackson tube which he called a Cryptoscope. Dr John Macintyre in Glasgow and others recognised the value of this apparatus in examining patients and they were used in clinical practice within a few months.
In such gas tubes with a partial vacuum, use of the tube caused the vacuum to be increased, so-called 'hardening of the tube', reducing the current passing through it, and the output of X-rays. To overcome this difficulty, various means of introducing gas into the tube were developed. A small quantity of potassium hydroxide, or iron covered with sealing wax, was heated in the side arm of the tube releasing a little gas and thus reducing the vacuum. It was good practice in those days to have several tubes of differing 'hardness' available for different clinical applications.
This particular tube was used by Dr John Macintyre in the first functioning Radiology Department in the U.K. in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow. It was manufactured by C.H.F. Muller of Hamburg to Dr Macintyre's specification. (Information supplied by G.R. Sutherland, FRCP Glasg).
Lister Carbolic Spray
Lister Carbolic Spray
Lister (1826-1912) used a steam spray such as this one to spray the air in his operating theatre with carbolic acid. Sprays containing measures of carbolic acid were used in Lister's wards between the 1870s and the 1890s.
The maker of this spray was David Marr of 27 Little Queen Street, London, who made many of Lister's instruments. The spray has a grey metal body with a wooden handle attached at one side and a container for the carbolic acid at the other side. Water was boiled in the upper container of the main part of the spray by a spirit lamp in the lower part. The steam produced was emitted across the tube leading into the container of carbolic acid whereupon the steam mixed with the acid.
Implements used by Lister for spraying underwent a steady evolution. Originally an ordinary rubber bulb spray was used, this was then replaced by a large and more cumbersome machine which was mounted on a tripod and manipulated by a long pump handle. Stage three in the development process was the steam spray shown here.
The carbolic acid solution used in the sprays also developed with time, the parts of acid becoming stronger. Lister was aware that the air was a medium for germs and his belief that germs could be destroyed by chemical substances was influenced by the work of Louis Pasteur.
The use of the spraying technique employed by Lister was an important element of the antiseptic ritual of treatment. Lister's success with antiseptic procedures revolutionised the treatment of disease and injuries.
The papers of Joseph Lister (RCPSG 11) are held in the College Archives.
The College also holds a pocket case of lancets, bistouries, probes and hooks which belonged to Joseph Lister.
In the Lister room within the College there is a table and a fireplace rescued from the Lister wards of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary when they were demolished in 1924. Lord Lister's graduation gown is also displayed in this room.
The College's art collection includes an etching of Joseph Lister by Wilfred C. Applebey and a print of a portrait of him by T. Hamilton Crawford, as well as a picture of the scene of the demolition of the Lister wards.
Maister Peter Lowes Gloves
Maister Peter Lowes gloves
These gloves are believed to have belonged to Maister Peter Lowe, the founder of the incorporation now known as Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. They are highly decorative and are adorned with intricate metal thread embroidery. They would certainly have been expensive and fashionable items.
The embroidery work which they display is undoubtedly of a professional nature. The formal pattern of foliage, mythical animals, and cupola within arched pillars is typical of the early seventeenth century. The outlining of the fingers of the gloves with metal braid and the depth of the gauntlets suggest the date of around 1600-1610.
They may possibly have been given as a gift to symbolise loyalty and service, as was customary. The gloves were donated to the College by Mrs Hamilton Gray, the widow of the Reverend John Hamilton Gray, in 1867. Reverend John Hamilton Gray was Minister of the Parish of Carntyne and was a descendent of Maister Lowe, his family having married into the Lowe family.
The College Library holds the first editions of Peter Lowe's two main publications, An Easie Certaine and Perfect Method to Cure and Prevent the Spanish Sickness (1596) and The Whole Course of Chirurgerie (1597). The College also possesses a portrait of Maister Peter Lowe.
Operating table used by Sir William Macewen
Sir William Macewen (1848-1924) carried out surgery using this operating table at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow. The table, which is wooden, is mounted on wheels and has a mechanism enabling it to be raised at one end. It was discovered by a porter in an old storeroom in the McKelvie Hospital, Oban and was presented to the College by the Board of Management for Oban and District Hospitals in 1954.
Sir William Macewen was a surgeon who attempted operations which had never been done before. His work can be divided into three broad categories: surgical cure of hernia; surgical solutions for problems of the bones and joints; and surgical solutions for afflictions of the central nervous system. In 1874 Macewen became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and in November of the same year he was appointed to the staff of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. This appointment marked the beginning of a period of great activity and illustrious achievements. As a former student of Lister's, Macewen moved beyond Lister's precedents by seeking to create the ideal germ-free conditions in his operating theatre.
Macewen's scrupulous attention to detail involved the meticulous preparation of his own hands and arms before surgery, and those of his nurses and assistants. For surgery he dressed in a gown which could be sterilised between operations, to the derision of many of his contemporaries. Sir William Macewen had his own instruments made, formed from a single piece of steel, in order to ensure that they were fully sterile.
When Macewen was working at the Royal Infirmary his nurses purchased a fish kettle to be used for sterilising instruments, after the hospital authorities had refused to fund a container for the purpose. In 1892 Macewen became Regius Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow and transferred his surgical activities from the Royal to the Western Infirmary. In 1913 he became an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
Sir William Macewen's ward journals at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and other papers are held in the College Archives (RCPSG 10).
Ophthalmoscope made by Liebreich
This ophthalmoscope belonged to Sir Donald McAlister and was presented to Dr Archibald Young by Lady McAlister. It is contained within a small black leather case with a purple velvet interior.
It consists of the delicate main metal instrument and various glass lenses. The ophthalmoscope has a thin handle which joins onto a circular concave mirror with a small hole in the centre. On the instrument itself there are numerical markings and on the top of the case is the maker's mark "Liebreich".
This is a very early example of an ophthalmoscope. The instrument was invented by Herman Helmholtz in Germany in 1850. The ophthalmoscope, for examining the retina of the eye, revolutionised the practice of ophthalmology, enabling a narrow beam of light to shine through the pupil of the eye thus displaying the retina to the observer. Early ophthalmoscopes relied upon light from a candle or oil lamp to provide illumination, before the days of electric batteries.
Within ten years of the ophthalmoscope being invented ophthalmoscopes had become more sophisticated. The mirror was made adjustable so that light could be reflected on to the eye and a tube, padded at the patient's end for comfort, enclosed the eye.
The papers of Dr Archibald Young (1913-1966) are in the College Archives (RCPSG 39)
Osteotomes designed by Sir William Macewen
Operations to correct bone defects had been carried out from the earliest years of the 19th century with varying degrees of success. The risks involved, mainly suppuration of wounds, limited the practice to a few individuals but with the adoption of Lister's antiseptic methods those risks became considerably reduced and the field began to flourish. One of the first to carry out an antiseptic osteotomy and a pioneer in the field was William Macewen.
Initially a variety of instruments were used to carry out operations, with saws being the most popular. Macewen favoured the chisel; he did acknowledge a number of flaws that existed with chisels but believed these to be a result of the quality of instrument used. Most surgeons simply employed carpenter's chisels that were difficult to control and had a tendency to bend or even break entirely, resulting in a number of patients' deaths.
Macewen set out to design a range of instruments for the purpose of osteotomy (a surgical operation to cut or straighten the bone) which he called osteotomes. He employed a local blacksmith to create his instruments and remarks in his book Osteotomy that 'Mr. Macdonald put himself to some trouble to carry out my instructions concerning the manufacture of these instruments and also in determining the exact temper necessary'. The temper was important, as the instrument had to be strong enough not to bend when used yet flexible enough not to break.
The instruments seen here were manufactured from Stubb's finest five-eighths steel; they were first heated, then dipped in oil, then in water until cool and then the tip was heated again. This was to ensure that the cutting was sufficiently hard while the body was sufficiently flexible. The handle and blade are one piece and the handle has an octagonal shape to allow a firmer grip and better control. The round projection at the top is both to allow the user to steady the blade with his thumb and to enable it to be gently levered out. The steel has been finely polished to insure that no organic matter adheres to the instrument. The blade itself is bevelled on both sides and on one of the borders are inscribed half-inch measurements to allow the user to measure how deep the instrument has entered.
Thomas wrench for club foot
This wrench was given to Mr Samuel Davidson (1912-1999) while he was working as a surgeon at the Princess Louise Hospital, Erskine.
It is an example of the type of wrench designed by Hugh Owen Thomas (1834-1891) an orthopaedic surgeon born in Anglesey, his father being from a long line of bone-setters. The wrench is over 32 cm long and is marked Down of London. Thomas's constant experiments with new designs for instruments to be used for orthopaedic surgery made him a leader in this field. He practised for many years in Liverpool where great advances in orthopaedic surgery took place, largely as a result of the huge incidence of rickets amongst the poor.
This style of wrench, introduced by Thomas around 1865, was used to untwist club feet. The dimensions were adapted to make wrenches for both children and adults. Thomas often treated dockers and shipyard workers, dealing with severe accident cases with great regularity. He invented a variety of ingenious splints.
The splint which he devised for compound fractures of the lower limbs saved many lives and limbs when it was used widely during the First World War.
The papers of Mr Samuel Davidson are held in the College Archives (RCPSG 81).
William Beattys Instruments
William Beatty's Instruments
These instruments were used by Sir William Beatty (d.1842), the surgeon on board H.M.S Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, fought between the fleets of Spain and France and the Royal Navy on 21 October 1805 off Cape Trafalgar on the Spanish Coast.
William Beatty attended Lord Nelson after he had received his mortal wound and he wrote an account of the death of Nelson, entitled An Authentic Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson, with the Circumstances preceding, attending and subsequent to that Event; the Professional Report of his Lordship's Wound; and several Interesting Anecdotes, in 1807. A second edition of this work (1808) is held in the College Library. Mr W. E Gilmour donated this case of instruments to the College in 1921. Beatty's instruments are contained in a wooden box which has an inscribed plaque on the top which reads "William Beatty, Royal Navy".
The maker of the instruments was Laundy of London. This marking can be read on some of the implements although it cannot be seen on the majority of them. Inside the container there is a screw tourniquet, a long knife blade, two trephines, forceps, and two detachable handles. Inset into the box lid, behind the fabric covered panel are more instruments, including a fine-toothed bow saw, a knife, a hook and forceps. The set also includes various other surgical instrument heads which can be fitted onto a small handle.
Wilson Type Microscope
This brass Wilson type screw-barrel, or pocket microscope dates from the mid-18th century; its manufacturer is unknown. It consists of a short two inch long outer brass case which is completely open at the bottom and has a small diameter hole at the top. Within this body are a number of thin brass plates kept in place by a spring. The bottom of the barrel of the microscope, which has a convex glass lens to provide illumination at the bottom, is screwed into the outer case.
The microscope comes with a number of different strength magnifiers which are attached by screwing them into the small diameter hole at the bottom of the case. The slider, into which objects for study may be placed, is inserted between the thin brass plates where it will be held in place by the spring. To use the microscope an object is placed on the slider and placed in position between the holding plates. A magnifier is selected and screwed into the top of the case, the microscope pointed at a light source and the screw barrel adjusted until the object comes into focus.
James Wilson was a maker of optical instruments in business in Hatton Garden during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He first described this type of microscope to the Royal Society in 1702 although it should be noted that, as Wilson himself acknowledged, it borrowed very heavily from the Dutch mathematician Nicolass Hartsoeker's earlier design. Wilson probably died in the early 18th century but his design remained popular throughout the 18th and even into the 19th centuries. It was produced by a large number of manufacturers and was particularly popular with botanists due to its easy portability.
Despite remaining popular with amateur naturalists into the 19th Century the design was rendered defunct by developments in microscopy in the 1830s and eventually disappeared from production.
Achromatic microscopeAchromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard, ca. 1830s
This achromatic microscope was manufactured by Andrew Pritchard, an optician and instrument maker of the mid-1800s. Joseph Jackson Lister, Lord Lister’s father, was a wine merchant with an interest in the study of optics. His creation of a more accurate achromatic lens allowed for higher resolution viewing, and earned himself a fellowship in the Royal Society. Achromatic lenses focus light of different wavelengths in the same plane, hence producing a sharper microscopic image. This development in microscopic technology was truly revolutionary.
This Gastroscope dates from the 1960s, and was the design of the gastroenterologist, Rudolf Schindler. It was used to examine the interior of the stomach by being transmitted down the oesphagus of the patient. Schindler was the first to create a semi-flexible gastroscope, the distal end of which could be rotated to change the point of view.
At one end of the gastroscope is the lens for viewing, with a dial at the side to manipulate the view window at the opposite end. The view was illumninated by a small bulb situated on the distal end of the instrument.
Prior to the flexible gastroscope, rigid gastroscopes were used to investigate the gastric structures. These rigid instruments were initially tested on sword swallowers before being introduced into the medical practice!
An Artificial Pneumothorax would have been used as a method of treating Tuberculosis. This condition is caused by the bacterium Myobacterium Tuberculosis, targetting the lungs of the body.
Before a TB vaccination was in place, "Collapse Therapy" was used to treat patients with the condition. This therapy aimed to induce a pneumothorax, (collapsed lung), in order to give the lungs some rest. The artificial pneumothorax instrument enabled the physician to pump air into the serous lining of the lungs, increasing the pressure, and resulting in a compression of the lungs.
This technique was phased out after the development of the antibiotic streptomycin.
This Phenol Vapouriser was manufactured by the "Vapo-Cresoline Company", which was founded in 1879. It is one of the classic examples of healthcare products that promised much, but delivered little. The company advertised the lamp as a solution to a variety of respiratory conditions, including asthma and whooping cough.
The glass container at the bottom would be filled with kerosene in order to light the candle wick. Cresolene, a derivative of coal tar, would be placed in the vapouriser tray above the flame. The cresolene would then vapourise into the atmosphere and cure all ailments.
It was later revealed in a study by the American Medical Association that the healing powers of the phenol vapouriser were false.
The Lorgnette is a style of spectacles invented by George Adams in 1770. It was popular for those who did not wish to wear glasses all the time, but instead wear them when needed, for example at the opera.
This model differed to previous designs in that one of the lenses was directly attached to a handle. Other models at this time included the "Pince-nez", which would sit at the tip of the nose and would often fall off!
This Lorgnette example has a spring mechanism at the handle for easier storage.
A Tonsillectomy involves the removal of the tonsils from the body. As with other areas of lymphoid tissue, the tonsils can become inflamed during an infection. This inflammation is known as Tonsillitis.
The ease of tonsil removal was improved by the introduction of the tonsil guillotine, (later known as the tonsillotome). Two steel plates are found on either side of the cutting blade, which is able to cut the tonsil once placed in the aperture. The blades slide over each other and cut out the tonsil.
The use of the tonsillotome in surgery has gradually been replaced by a variety of other methods, one example being Electrocauterisation. Although a tonsillectomy was once seen as controversial, dangerous, and unnecessary, today it is a standard procedure in the field of surgery.