The Museum - which must be a major teaching resource - is founded on the immense 18th century collection of John Hunter, who rose to become a prominent London surgeon despite no formal medical training (quite common at the time.) On his death, the government bought the collection, and this proved the impetus required for the Surgeons to be awarded a royal charter and become the organisation they are today. Until that point, from 1540, they were the Unified Company of Barbers and Surgeons - basically almost anyone with a sharp knife was in.
For a 'small' museum, it's pretty big. I'd estimate the collection numbers a few 10s of 1000s of items - a very great many of them in glass jars of formaldehyde, arranged in floor to ceiling glass cabinets, like this:
|Many many scary things in glass jars|
|Animals and parts of animals|
It's also quite busy there - I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe all the kids there were thinking of becoming surgeons, and their smart parents took them there to see if that aspiration wore off when confronted with the overwhelming grimness of it all. Or, indeed, vice versa.
- The Evelyn Tables are the first anatomical preparations in Europe, from 1640ish. They're quite literally pinned out nervous, cardiovascular and other systems on wooden tables.
- Dissection grew in popularity through the 16th and 17th centuries. Dissection was only allowed on the bodies of executed criminals- interestingly, not so much for the education of surgeons, as for the deterrent effect of no-one wanting to end up as a publicly splayed out anatomical curiosity. Although it wasn't mentioned in the museum, I've read elsewhere that this lead to a serious shortage of cadavers, prompting students of anatomy to literally rob corpses from graves.
- The specimens on display seem to contain every organ, in every state of health and disease, of a great many animals, including humans. Some examples
- Mongoose brains
- Dorsal plates of cuttlefish
- A camel's water stomach
- A toe from the fore-foot of a lion
- Foetuses of all species, and all ages
- Drawers full of specific surgical instruments, through the ages
- From wooden ones to modern day surgical steel
- Amputation saws and knives (and diagrams..)
- Implements for pushing, prodding, pulling, cutting, clamping and otherwise manipulating every part of the human body, all clearly labelled. I mean every part. I wish I hadn't seen some of those things.
- Having had a couple of operations myself, I am really, truly, amazingly grateful I live in a time of anaesthesia.
- Plastic surgery as a discipline was more or less invented to try and work with some of the unprecedentedly horrific wounds of survivors of the trenches of World War I
- There is a small art gallery with some great, related pieces. Stubbs paintings of a Rhino, and a Yak. Makes a change from horses.
|He actually seems really really cheerful|
|Plasticised cardiovascular system, with the rest of the body corroded away. Amazing|
This is a fascinating museum. If you're squeamish, maybe you should give it a miss.
Vast and comprehensive, it also has interactive displays, reading rooms and more. There was one display where you got to do a modern surgical procedure, with keyhole incision and controlling the cameras.
Food and Drink: I didn't see any.
Travel: It's here. Near Holborn tube, and lots of other museums nearby. I'd recommend walking across Lincoln's Inn Fields and visiting Sir John Soane's museum on the same trip. The British Museum is also very close.
And it's a grand building from outside - these surgeons take themselves seriously!
|Royal College of Surgeons|