New Online Archive Catalogue Reveals Historical Treasures
***EMBARGO: NOT FOR BROADCAST OR PUBLICATION BEFORE 00:01HRS 16 May 2012***
NEW ONLINE ARCHIVE CATALOGUE REVEALS HISTORICAL MEDICAL TREASURES
A new online archive catalogue  will, for the first time, enable academics and the public to access a range of fascinating and rare historical letters and other items which have been discovered within the collection of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE).
The RCPE Library and Archives  has tens of thousands of manuscripts and letters within its collections which it has previously not had the resources to catalogue. As a result of a recent, and ongoing, project, funded by the Wellcome Trust , over 8,000 previously uncatalogued items have been identified and recorded in order to open up access to this material for the benefit of the nation. Fascinating items discovered during this work include a draft post mortem report on Napoleon Bonaparte (written on St Helena on the day he died), correspondence with the Marquis de Lafayette (hero of both the American and French Revolutions), notes regarding the conduct of Dr Robert Knox (of Burke and Hare notoriety), a letter from Rudyard Kipling and the correspondence of Edward Jenner (the pioneer of smallpox vaccination) as he reported progress with his discovery .
Previously, only basic information was known about these collections, but as individual volumes and documents have been catalogued and described in detail for the first time, incredible detail is emerging of the treasures within the collection. Lecture notes and research by some of the most eminent doctors of their day, such as William Cullen and Sir James Young Simpson demonstrate developments in medical theory and practice from 1700 onwards, in one of the most important centres for medical education in the world. By way of balance, the collections also include patient case notes, drawings and medical illustrations. These not only provided the doctors with the much-needed evidence for their research but also give the collections a human dimension. So alongside Simpson’s lectures on childbirth is the entry in the case book for the Royal Maternity Hospital showing the name of the first woman to give birth using chloroform in 1847.
The launch of the online archive catalogue coincides with the second phase of the Sibbald Library Appeal which aims to raise funds to help ensure that these collections are available to the researchers of the future .
Iain Milne, Sibbald Librarian, RCPE, said,
“Because of the generous support of the Wellcome Trust Research Resources Scheme a wealth of information of both national and international significance has been unlocked and made instantly accessible at the press of a button.
“The biggest collection is the papers of William Cullen, the 18th century physician and president of the College. Not only did he leave all his lecture notes and other writings but also his consultation letters. Patients and doctors wrote to him from all over the world asking for advice and diagnoses. There are over 2500 of these letters covering anything from the eradication of small pox to treating the plague in Russia; from the suitability of Madeira for convalescence to the problems of mail delivery due to the American War of Independence.
“Large parts of our extensive historic collections remain uncatalogued and we hope to continue this work for the benefit of the nation.”
Alison Scott, Project Archivist, RCPE, said,
“It has been an enormous honour to uncover these surprising finds and a particular favourite of mine amongst the papers of David Craigie, President of the College 1861-1863, was an unpublished account of an expedition to Baffin Island in 1818. No author is given but it was probably Craigie himself, working as a ship’s surgeon to experience the Arctic and record what he saw: how polar bears hunt; an ice berg breaking up; the habits of the local people.”
Contact: Graeme McAlister on 0131-247-3693 or 07733-263453
 The Archives catalogue can be searched at: http://archives.rcpe.ac.uk/calmView/
 The Sibbald Library was established in 1682 when the physician, botanist and geographer Sir Robert Sibbald donated “three shelfes full of books to the Colledge of Physitians”. The collection has grown hugely during its 330 year of continuous existence and the College now looks after what is both one of Scotland’s oldest libraries as well as one of the world’s most important collections of medical books. http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/library/find/index.php
 The Wellcome Trust exists to ‘support biomedical research and the medical humanities, with the aim of improving human and animal health’ http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/index.htm. Support for archives and records is through their Research Resources in Medical History (RRMH) grants scheme for projects to preserve, catalogue and conserve significant medical history and humanities collections in libraries and archives across the UK and Ireland.
 Fascinating examples of the collection include:
(IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST)
 Sibbald Library Appeal – http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/library/donate/
 The RCPE is a professional membership organisation. Our principal concern is to develop and oversee an on-going programme of medical examinations, education and training for qualified doctors who wish to undertake postgraduate education and training in order to pursue a career in specialist (internal) medicine.
While the RCPE is based in Edinburgh, we have a strong UK and international presence, as evidenced by our membership of over 10,000 Fellows and members in 91 countries and covering 56 medical specialties.