The College hosted an event which was repeated on 3rd, 5th and 12th April, on medicine in war and rebellion. This behind-the-scenes tour showed how medicine has adapted over the centuries to cope with the increasingly sophisticated weaponry of warfare and the nature of resulting casualties.

As well as being taken on a tour of the College’s historic eighteenth century building on Queen Street, designed by Enlightenment architect Robert Adam, visitors got the chance to see up close objects from the College’s historic collections and hear four speakers giving short talks on the history of military medicine, covering subjects from sexual licentiousness in wartime to the medicine of Jacobite rebels.

The College’s fascinating collections of medical objects and books displayed the many facets of medical practice in the history of war and rebellion, telling the stories from the front line of medicine.

The speakers at these events were:

Dr E. S. Thomson (medical historian turned crime fiction writer) 

Discussing the home front and rehabilitation at Craiglockhart hospital, close to Edinburgh. Focusing on the work of Craiglockhart in the treatment of soldiers, including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, in cases of shell shock. She considered how studying military medicine has influenced her fiction writing, particularly ‘Bleakly Hall’, a novel about the rehabilitation, and rebellion, of wounded soldiers far from the battlefield.

Mona O’Brien (PhD candidate)

Mona’s PhD explores the emotional and social history of syphilis. In this event she looked at the interconnection between venereal disease and war – how war has encouraged, stigmatised and spread venereal conditions across the European continent and all over the world. She looked at the reactions of society to this spread of syphilis, and whether gender, as well as rank, influenced its reception. Considering the importance of hatred and blame, as well as evidence and statistics, in the reception of the disease.

Professor Angela Thomas

Prof Thomas looked at medicine in the Jacobite rebellion and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s personal physician, Sir Stuart Threipland, who was also President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Included among the objects which Angela had on display was the medicine chest of Threipland, showing the opiates, laxatives and venereal treatments used by the rebels in wartime.

Sam Klein (PhD candidate)

Sam is student at the University of St. Andrews, studying medicine in the First World War. In this event he looked at the dual loyalty challenge that medical officers faced during the First World War (and also in other twentieth century conflicts). He considered how, unlike in a peace-time setting, during a war medical professionals also have a responsibility towards the military (or state), and that this sometimes creates a conflict of interest that is hard to resolve. The importance of getting to only slightly injured soldiers back to health to fight again could trump the need to save the lives of the more severely wounded.

Iain Milne, Head of Heritage at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

“It’s not just the injuries of soldiers that have necessitated the adaption of medical methods during wartime. Poor diet, unsanitary conditions and sexual licentiousness, have all combine to create unique maladies that require innovation in their treatment.

“This event went beyond trench warfare, and told the real stories from the front line of medicine. The conflicts, the romantic lives and the fears. Visitors got a chance to see real eighteenth century medicines, alongside the implements, and the images from the history of military medicine”.




Paul Gillen

Contact: Paul Gillen 0131 247 3658