Part of the role of the College has always been to regulate the medical profession, to discipline minor infractions and work to keep out the unscrupulous and unethical – by fining them, removing their College membership, and even pursuing them through the courts at our own expense.  Occasionally the College would employ our own private detectives to hunt down particularly difficult individuals.

From our very inception we’ve been grappling with this – records in the College Archives show that within just a few months of being granted a Royal Charter in 1681 the College dealt with an individual peddling ‘poysonous tabletts…as a Vomitur tablett’. Then, just a few months later, with ‘a pretended chirurgeon’, and on one day in May 1683 it was ordered that three separate self-proclaimed physicians ‘be persewed for unwarrantable practising’.

One of the most challenging areas to deal with has always been the borderline between medicine and quackery. In 1851 the College produced Resolutions making it clear that we would not admit a homeopathist, or those who associated with homeopathists, to membership of the College, and would bar anyone who defected to that camp.  From then on self-proclaimed homeopathists were barred.

Suppliers of products such as the ‘Miracle Blood Circulator’ and ‘Disease Curing Electropathic Belts’, and a wide array of other supposed miracle cures, were also summarily ejected.

Electricity treatment at West End School of Massage, Electricity and Nursing.  Treatment for everything from insanity, to epilepsy, gout, indigestion, and the not to be forgotten 'female hysteria'. (1886)

'Men! Men! Hygienic specialist advice.  Discreet side door entrance'. (1914)

‘Dr Massie’ and ‘Dr Temple’ of Glasgow and Edinburgh ran a ‘Medical Practice devoted to treating Diseases and Weaknesses peculiar to men’, with an apparently ‘GUARANTEED CURE’.  Masquerading as doctors, they ran a medical practice and their own shops selling products such as the 'Marvel Whirling Spray Syringe', and a wide variety of contraceptives – including 'Washable Sheaths', 'The Poor Man’s Friend', 'Spanish Skins' and 'The Lady’s Safety Sponge'.  And what is described, somewhat incongruously, as the unabridged edition of the works of Aristotle (this was actually a book on reproduction, considered at the time to be rather lewd and debauched, in reality it was actually quite technical and dry).

Part of the extensive array of specimens presented as evidence in the Massie and Temple court case. (1918)

Local disciplinary cases on the whole though tended to be fairly formulaic, the same issues arising again and again – forging cheques, drunk and disorderly, fake qualifications, and cases of impropriety resulting in complaints from ‘the aggrieved husband of the patient’ or the ‘poor unfortunate nurse’.

The remit of the College spreads further afield though – having members all over the world.  Any attempt at regulating practitioners in countries both geographically and culturally removed was always going to be a challenge.  One case from India in the early 20th Century involved a doctor presenting a medical certificate for an individual who he had not actually treated, to cover a long-term absence.  The supposed patient had left what was then Bombay and spent the time back in his home in the country, apparently taking in the family’s harvest.  This was not the only case of this nature - seemingly migration to the city and the long working hours in part leading to this kind of abuse of medical procedure.

There were also many cases in the late 19th Century of unqualified ‘doctors’ practicing in Australia, or genuine doctors providing home-made treatment rather than approved cures.  A letter from a doctor charged with this offence points out that the enormous distances, lack of local support, and lack of communication with overseers back in Britain meant that doctors out there were working blind – to punish them for the inevitable difficulties of their situation was deeply unfair.  The College’s disciplinary regulations were updated as a result. 

Armitage Forbes, convicted of selling mail order cures in Brisbane, Australia.  (1898)




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