The College, for the last few years, has been sorting and cataloguing all its externally deposited archive collections.

This consists of over 300 collections dating from the 18th to the 21st Centuries - containing papers of many eminent scientists such as Joseph Black (known particularly for his discovery of carbon dioxide), Daniel Rutherford (famous for the isolation of nitrogen) and the first Alexander Monro (founder of the Edinburgh Medical School - a key component of the Scottish Enlightenment).

As well as these, however, we found a figure you might be less likely to expect to see represented in a Scottish medical archives.

Joseph Bell, the original Sherlock

We have also uncovered a letter from Joseph Bell, who is probably best known as the model for Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle worked as Bell’s clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he witnessed his use of close observation in making a diagnosis. Conan Doyle went on to base Holmes’ deductive powers on the observational skills displayed by Bell. It was a source of pride to him that he had inspired the character.

This letter is to William Wood, a successful Edinburgh medical practitioner and a lecturer on Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Wood had referred a patient to Bell and Bell writes:

You will not be surprised to hear that I could not pass your patient.

His breathlessness and puffiness of tissue and his sudden fatness pointed[?]at albumen in his urine…Take him in hand. Knock off his liquor and put him on a diet - milk and potash? And he will possibly make a good recovery.


All our externally deposited collections are now sorted and listed on our online catalogue here.

If you'd like to find out more, you can email us at

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