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The history of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) is now available to explore in an online archive.
The RCSEd Library and Archive launched its site ( archiveandlibrary.rcsed.ac.uk) on World Digital Preservation Day on 29 November 2018.
The website contains a database with records of 20,227 RCSEd fellows and members, dating from the college’s founding in 1505 to 1918.
In addition, more than 3,000 digitised documents and photographs from the archive’s special collections are available to view, with more being added continually.
Chris Henry, the RCSEd’s director of heritage, said that the site enables researchers to delve into the college’s “macabre and gripping history”.
The Surgeons Database lists the year that each individual was elected, and the title they received. This varies at different times. Traditionally, the main qualification awarded by the RCSEd is known as a fellowship, while individuals of note received honorary fellowships. From 1757 it introduced a separate qualification, the diploma, which licensed the recipient to practise surgery. In 1815, this was standardised and renamed the licentiateship. From 1879, the college also offered a licentiateship in dental surgery, as part of a bid to professionalise dental treatment.
Chris Henry added: “Whether you’re interested in finding out about your ancestors, squabbling 17th- and 18th-century medical practitioners, the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, or even tales of grave robbing, there is something to interest everyone.”
One of the most notorious cases associated with the RCSEd is that of William Burke and William Hare, who murdered 16 people in 1828 and sold the bodies to Dr Robert Knox, a fellow of the college and curator of its museum, for dissection in his anatomy lectures.
The RCSEd online collection includes the memoirs of Thomas Hume, a medical student who was friends with Knox’s assistants. Hume protected Knox from an angry mob after the murders were discovered, and witnessed Burke’s execution and the dissection of his body.
Another notable RCSEd graduate is the suffragist and surgeon Dr Elsie Inglis, who gained a triple qualification from the college in 1892. During the First World War she founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, which established 14 medical units in France, Russia, Greece, Corsica and Serbia that were mostly staffed by women. The website includes photos showing life inside the hospitals.
Copies of photographs from the website are available to download for a fee. The collections have been digitised in partnership with UK Archiving and TownsWeb Archiving.
‘The website contains a database with records of 20,227 fellows and members’
Mary Queen of Scots’ ‘Letter of Exemption’ from 1567 established the noncombatant role of the surgeon in warfare