Harvard Medicine

More... Share to Twitter Share to Facebook

Travels and tools of nineteenth-century physicians 

A BONE TO PICK: A Beauchene skull most likely prepared by a French anatomy dealer (mid-nineteenth century). Courtesy of the Warren Anatomical Museum at the Countway Library of Medicine. </br> Photo credit: Paul Morrison

Whether taking the subway to the hospital, flying to a medical conference, journeying by ship to learn from a distant colleague, or driving a team of horses to make a house call, physicians have always traveled for the profession.

Consider the adventurous post-surgery commute of John Brooks Wheeler, Class of 1879. In Memoirs of a Small-Town Surgeon, Wheeler describes hopping onto a moving train in East Swanton, Vermont, with two satchels packed with surgical supplies. “I ran at the side…then I grabbed the hand-rails and missed the steps!…It was the nearest that I ever came to being killed and the memory of it is not entirely agreeable.”

George Cheever Shattuck, Class of 1905, when addressing an assembly at the McGill University Medical School, described the observations he had made during a world tour. In Hong Kong, he saw “30 odd cases of beriberi”; in the Philippines, he traveled “on a government steamer to collect lepers for segregation in the colony at Culion”; and, Calcutta, he observed, “has much elephantiasis, and the ships bring to it diseases of all sorts from ports throughout the East.”PERIPATETIC PHYSICIANS: Before there were computer-generated images of the human body and disposable instruments, there were hand-crafted anatomical models, often collected from abroad, and tortoise-handled lancets kept in engraved silver cases that physicians would carry when visiting patients. The model and instruments shown here include (from left):  a wax model of an eye with ptosis (c. 1875); a silver <i>etui</i> containing a tortoise-shell thumb lancet (c. 1854); and a pocket medical kit owned by John Collins Warren, first dean of HMS (1816–1817).  All objects courtesy of the Warren Anatomical Museum at the Countway Library of Medicine. </br> Photo credit: Paul Morrison


Add new comment



Travels through China

Nineteenth-century watercolor studies of tumor patients in Canton, China

From the collection of the Boston Medical Library at the Countway Library of Medicine

Chinese artist Lam Qua (1801–1860) painted the portraits in the following photo slideshow at the request of Peter Parker, a medical missionary who lived in nineteenth-century China. These portraits may be disturbing to some viewers, for they depict people with tumors of striking size and shape. Yet the very graphic nature of these paintings is part of their value to medicine; they were used to educate medical students in the early twentieth century.

Notes adapted from Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library and from Michigan State University’s online exhibit “The Mysteries of Lam Qua,” by Stephen Rachman.

View the gallery »