Treasure trove of medical history

Dr Frank Dunn
Dr Frank Dunn

This week at the Royal College we admitted almost 100 new Members and Fellows, as a result of success in exams or excellence in other areas.

The ceremony was conducted in the Bute Hall at the University of Glasgow, where I graduated over 44 years ago. I guess few will believe that I was a teenage graduate!

It was a splendid occasion with many countries represented from several continents.

In the evening we had a celebratory meal, and great Scottish entertainment provided by the Royal Scottish Conservatoire and two talented dental students.

The diplomates and their families all had the opportunity to visit the Royal College, including the Lister room.

Lord Lister pioneered antiseptic techniques in surgery, and presented this for the first time at the Glasgow Royal College on the 17th April 1868.

His views were not accepted by all, but were to change the face of surgical practice.

He was a giant in the field of surgery and even now his name lives on with such antiseptics as Listerine.

A few weeks ago our Royal College was generously donated letters by Mabel Cannon (who lives in Lenzie), the Grand daughter of a surgeon trained by Lord Lister in the 1860s.

Two of the letters were from Lister, one related to her grandfather(written in 1865), and one related to Mabel’s father(written in 1903) who became a naval surgeon, before returning to Scotland.

Mabel’s grandfather’s name was John McDonald. After training with Lister in Glasgow he went to Argentina, where he was caught up in a Yellow Fever Epidemic.

He was one of only three medical men who remained in a small town to care for 15,000 inhabitants.

Not only did he pay for medications but he assisted the families in regard to funeral expenses.

He ultimately gave his life as a result of such dedication.

To read the moving Lancet obituary of this remarkable man, who died at the age of 39, led me to reflect on the Ebola crisis, and the many heroic people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the way John McDonald did all those years ago.

It is gratifying to know, that some of the health workers who have volunteered to go to West Africa, are from Scotland.

Mabel Cannon also donated a whole range of fascinating educational documents and certificates, in relation to her grandfather.

This extended back to the 1850s and reminded me that in those days Latin was a core subject in the medical curriculum, because so many medical words were in that language.

Her grandfather also studied in Paris and we also received some fascinating documentation in regard to that period.

There is a strong medical tradition in Mabel’s family. Mabel’s father, Reginald McDonald, was a GP in Mull, after his return from sea.

Her brother was a GP in Campbeltown. Her husband, Roger, served the local community in Kirkintilloch and Lenzie with distinction as a GP for many years, and his son Ian continues in that tradition.

Mabel and her sister both chose nursing as their profession.

Here we have two families with over 150 years of continued dedicated service to the sick.

It is remarkable that within a few hundred yards of where I live, there should be such a treasure trove of memorabilia in regard to Lister and the McDonald family.

These will greatly enhance the historical collection within the Royal College and we are most grateful to Mabel Cannon.

There is an opportunity every Monday afternoon to make an appointment to view these and many other medical history items and interesting works of art.

One of the diplomates told me last week that he recognised me from a portrait on the wall of the College.

This was slightly concerning, since most of those on view dated from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Indeed the years are rolling on.