On Friday, 8th June, Susan Leyden took over the Royal Irish Academy for an expert workshop, introducing the archives of the Royal Irish College of Surgeons to a full house of medical professionals and interested laypeople.
After a gruesome glimpse into the medieval history of surgery, when no distinction was drawn between surgeons and barbers, and the 18th century practice of turning the dissections of executed criminals into a spectator sport, we learned that George III granted the charter for the establishment of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1784, to bring science, regulation and ‘liberal principles’ to the profession.
As well as the administrative archives, a useful source for family historians to trace relatives who may have passed through the College, we learned that the collection holds over 300 medical illustrations in colour, which graphically and realistically depict patients from all walks of life, making them an invaluable source, not only for the history of disease but for depicting clothing and giving social history.
Susan Leyden highlighted the history of outstanding women in the College’s history, including the first female Fellow, Emily Winifred Dickson. The collections also include a museum’s worth of natural specimens and terrifying medical instruments.
For those who were not able to make it, we have made the talk available as a podcast.
We thank Susan Leyden for a fascinating talk and window onto the history of medicine.