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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

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