A Lister Surgical Instruments

(‘A list’ of, geddit?!)

As part of my University degree, I studied Early Modern History, and one specific topic was medicine and beliefs around that period, sparking more interest in a subject I was already fascinated by.

Being born in Edinburgh, and resident here for the last 16 years, has made me notice more regarding medical history, because of Edinburgh’s importance in the field.

Image: Advert for a Joseph Lister Lecture on the Principles and Practice of Surgery, at No. 4 High School Yards, on Wednesday, November 4th, at Ten o’clock a.m.
Image Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RSCEd) and its Surgeons Hall museum and archives, mentioned in my previous blog post, is one of my favourite places to visit, for the museum and many of the events they have held over the last few years. The Royal College of Physicians is also a place I have frequented, from talks to creative writing courses, as both help show the medical history specific to Edinburgh, which really fascinates me – moving from the earlier Galen inspired beliefs of the Early Modern period in my studies, to the later history including important figures such as fellow of RSCEd Joseph Lister, and Isabella Pringle, a fellow of RCPE.

And with that said, I am continuing with my slight dive into medicine by next focussing on the Surgeon side, with a wee look at the medical instrument!

There is a lot I could touch on, but since I am Edinburgh based, my focus starts with J Gardner & Son – an Edinburgh based surgical instrument manufacturer.

J Gardner & Son established their surgical instrument manufacturing business in Edinburgh in 1866. Manufacturing items for several Scottish hospital institutions in Edinburgh and further afield, they had locations on Forrest Road (noted above), and nearby on Teviot Place and Candlemaker Row.

The Wellcome Collection (yes, another favourite of mine) holds a number of digitised versions of surgical instrument catalogues, including a 1913 from J Gardner & Son, which I have primarily used as my research. These catalogues usually have a large index at the front, running through the many surgical instruments available (this particular catalogue has 31 pages in its index). I thought it would be interesting to pick a few instrument images from this…not sure about you, but I find this interesting!

Many of the surgical instruments in the catalogue mention names of their original inventors/designers, with the below including ‘Lister’s Hand Spray’, named after Joseph Lister (I go in to this in a bit more detail later), and ‘Potain’s Aspirator’ named after Pierre Carl Edouard Potain, a French Cardiologist who first introduced this in 1869, the aspirator was used to drain abscesses and fluid build-ups in the chest cavity. It could also be used to inject air into the chest. A further image shows ‘Kocher’s Gland Forceps’, which are an interesting shape, named after Swiss surgeon Emil Theodor Kocher, and ‘Godlee’s Gland Forceps’ named after English surgeon R.J. Godlee.

Credit for all images: Catalogue of surgical instruments and appliances. Credit: The University of Glasgow LibraryIn copyright

Another page from the catalogue above shows ‘Ophthalmo phantoms’, which were intended for use to practice eye operations. A good physical example of these is held by the Science Museum Group:

There is so much more within this catalogue, and I think I’ll be looking through this and others many more times, and will come to things I have missed and probably want to have put in this blog! Further illustrated catalogues from other manufacturers and suppliers can be found as digitised copies throughout Wellcome and other places such as Archive.org, where the following from Brooklyn, NYC in 1917 can also be found – have a flick through below!

Finally, I’d like to touch a little more on Joseph Lister, mentioned above as a fellow of RCSEd, in relation to items he will have used during surgery. Lister was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery, discovering in 1867 that carbolic acid spray was an effective way of stopping wounds from becoming gangrenous, ensuring any germs present were killed.  Before this, germ theory was not fully accepted, and surgeons had not taken any precautions to protect wounds during surgery.

Below is a replica of a donkey engine used by Joseph Lister, c. 1927, which was used by Lister during surgery and wound dressing. This donkey engine would emit a fine spray of the carbolic acid, to cover everyone and everything in the area, to create the antiseptic environment.

Image: Replica of a donkey engine used by Joseph Lister, c. 1927
Image Credit: Science Museum, London, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I will be continuing a this little series on medical history in future posts, one of which will be focussing on women in medicine in some way, so I leave you with a recent image, revealed by the Edinburgh Medical School, to commemorate the Edinburgh Seven – the first women to matriculate onto a degree programme at a University in Britain. The image, by photographer Laurence Winram, re-imangines Rembrandt’s The Anatomy lesson of Nicolaes Tulp (1632), with the subjects being that of seven present day students.

Image Credit: Edinburgh University Medical School & Laurence Winram

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