Surgeons' Hall Museum reopened in 2015 after a major £4.4 million Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment project. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505, with the Museum collections growing from 1699 after 'natural and artificial curiosities' were publically sought. In the 1800s, the Museum had expanded to include the remarkable collections of Sir Charles Bell and John Barclay. Initially established as a medical teaching resource, access for all is now a priority. Key collections of the museum include The Bell Collection; Robert Knox; The Greig Collection; Instruments; and Radiology. Some items have been digitized and are available online.
The Bell Collection: Charles Bell (1774-1842) was born in Edinburgh. He was apprenticed to his surgeon brother John (1763 -1820) in 1792, working alongside him at his anatomy school in Edinburgh’s Surgeon Square. In 1799 Charles qualified as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and took over the formal teaching at the school. Some 3,000 specimens from the anatomy collection he amassed there was sold to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh for £3000 in 1825.
Robert Knox: The most famous of all Surgeons’ Hall Museum conservators, Dr Robert Knox (1791-1862), was involved in almost every aspect of the museum’s development during its great expansion of the 1820s and early 1830s. He was, at the time, the most successful anatomist in Scotland if not Britain, but it was his involvement in one of Britain’s most infamous serial murder cases that led to him becoming the most fictionalised of all Scottish medical men.
The Greig Collection: David Middleton Greig (18641936), Conservator of the Museum from 1920 to 1936, was an international authority on bone disease and abnormalities of the skull. During his professional life as a surgeon, in and around his home city of Dundee, he formed his own pathology collection, documenting every case in detail and adding photographs, x-rays and drawings.
Instruments: Surgeons' Hall Museums house a large collection of surgical and dental instruments. Some, such as the Sqires Inhaler, hold a significant place in the history and development of safe surgical procedures.
Radiology: In 1971 Scotland’s first radiological collection was begun at Surgeons’ Hall by Dr Bill Copland. Includes the X-ray collection with viewing equipment, donated by Kodak.
The library has over 35,000 books and periodicals dating from 1460 to the present day and an archive resource dating back to 1503 in continuum. The archive holds institutional and other records dating from the 1460s and extensive archival material relating to the college membership and to the history of medicine and surgery in Scotland. It includes minute books; administrative records; manuscripts; architectural plans; letters; lecture notes; early case notes; diplomas, other certificates and honours; class cards; photographs and personal papers; slides and film. The collections include pamphlets, early probationary essays, faculty dissertations and theses.
The Royal College of Surgeons also has a special collection of furniture, dating from 1832, and original drawings of the building by architect William Henry Playfair.
The College is fortunate in possessing a fine collection of silver presented or bequeathed over many years. Examples of some of the silver located in the College include Logan Turner silverware, Goodsir Cup, and College Officer’s badge.
The College has an impressive and growing collection of portraits, paintings and busts, the earliest, James Borthwick, dating from around 1660. A regular addition to the collection is that of a portrait of the College President, commissioned as each demits office, normally after holding the presidency for three years. The most recent addition in this category is that of John A R Smith, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 2003 to 2006. Other significant portraits and busts include Portrait of Archibald Pitcairne; Portrait of Robert Liston; Bust of Sir Charles Bell; and Norman Dott by Sir William Hutchison.
The Gallery of the Rare is an online resource, showcasing images from the collection.