It would be
best, however, first of all to draw a picture of medical conditions
before modern science gave us the advantages we know and take for
Two hundred years ago the sick were felt to be
each individual's responsibility - a feeling which persists but which
may diminish as State control makes that responsibility automatic. Every
issue of these early (Aberdeen) "Journals" contained, perhaps as
examples to others, announcements of donations received by the secretary
of the Aberdeen Infirmary. The donors were most often anonymous, a
mailed envelope, and they sent their sums as frequently from the country
districts as from the town.
Frequent reports at that time of sudden seizures
and deaths pint to the fact that medical advice was not sought, to the
extent it is today, Whether this table had a direct bearing on the point
is another matter, but it it at least of some value as an indication of
eighteenth century mortality:
A register, which may be depended on, gives the
very mortifying instance of the brevity of human life in an hundred
persons who were born at the same time:
At the end of 6 years there
At the end of 16 years there remained 46
At the end of 26 years there remained 26
At the end of 36 years there remained 16
At the end of 46 years there remained 10
At the end of 56 years there remained 6
At the end of 66 years there remained 3
At the end of 76 years there remained 1
As an indication of the standard and condition of
medicine at the time the following extracts are sufficient:
By the death of Surgeon George Scott there is a
Vacancy for One of the Profession at Monymusk, where, if qualified and
of good Behaviour, he may make a tolerable Figure and get good Business.
The Heritors and Kirk-Session give annually a suitable Reward for taking
care of the Poor and Family Servants who are not able to pay for Advice
and Medicine. There is a convenient House fitted up for one of the
Business in the pleasant Village of Monymusk, which, with Grass for a
Horse, may be had on easy Terms.
We hear that Mr Herman Lion, Dentist and Corn
Operator, from Edinburgh, intends to visit Aberdeen the beginning of
June next. Long experience and well-known success in his profession
abundantly testify that he is the most skilful and safe operator in this
kingdom, and extracts corns without the smallest pain or the least
A quantity of lively LEECHES, wholesale and
retail, at Ironside's Laboratory, Castle Street, Aberdeen.
Of the type of fatality which was common then and
is rare today, there is this example:
We are informed that on Tuesday last William
Cushnie, in the parish of Nether Banchory, died of the measles, aged
above an hundred years.
For a week or two past Influenza has been very
prevalent in Aberdeen, but so far as we have learnt no cases of a fatal
nature have occurred. The ordinary symptoms of the complaint are pains
in the head and breast, accompanied with running at the nostrils and
general debility.... It appears that the same complaint has been lately
experienced in almost all parts of Scotland.
That rehabilitation, and the artificial limbs
which aid it, are no new branch of science is proved by this report of a
hundred and forty years ago:
John Morrison, of Aberdeen, having the misfortune
to lose both his hands whilst in the act of loading a gun, has directed
his attention to the contriving of such instruments as might supply the
unfortunate deficiency under which he laboured. Having laid before the
Society of Arts several drawings, with a written description, in a very
legible hand, of the instruments he has so ingeniously contrived - and
by means of which bothe the drawings and the written characters were
executed - the Society have voted to this ingenious man their silver
medal and a gratuity of forty guineas for his invention.
From the files of the newspaper it is not easy to
follow the development of modern theories of medicine. These were
gradual developments resulting from trial and error. The milestones
stand out, and the ground between we must imagine.
It was in 1803 that the Magistrates of Aberdeen
announced their intention of establishing a public institiution "for the
gratuitous innoculation of the Cow Pock among the children of the poorer
classes, in consequence of the liberal and humane offer of the
Physicians to conduct the same free from expense to the public." Four
years later the "Journal" reports:
We are happy to observer that, not withstanding
all the objections that have been made and obstacles that have been
thrown in the way of the important discovery of the Vaccine Innoculation,
the inestimable benefits of that practice are now universally felt and
acknowledged: and the venerable author of this discovery, Dr Jenner, who
has spent great part of his life and fortune in the investigation of it,
has received a reward of £20,000 from his country.... At the Vaccine
Institution in Aberdeen above 100 children were innoculated during last
The next milestone might be said to be in the year
1847 when ether was used for the first time as an anaesthetic at a
surgical operation performed at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The patient
was a boy of twelve years of age suffering from "a scrophulous affection
of the ankle which had suggested the propriety of amputation."
The little fellow had expressed considerable
anxiety to have the ether administered; and the requisite apparatus was
accordingly supplied. After continuing to inhale the Vapour for some
time, he sank into a profound stupor. The diseased part was then removed
in a twinkling, and the operator proceeded to the more tedious and
trying process of tying arteries, &c. During the whole period the
patient never returned to a state of consciousness, although he
occasionally uttered suppressed cries like one in a disagreeable dream.
The operation over, he was recalled to himself, and a little cordial was
administered. It was quite evident from the questions put to him that he
had felt comparatively little pain, or, 'at any rate, lost recollection
of it when he became wide awake; for he was manifestly unconscious that
the diseased part had been removed. In this case, therefore, the
experiment was made with perfect success.
Forty-nine years later the eye is arrested by a
report of a lecture given under the auspices of the Church Fellowship in
St James's Hall, Aberdeen. The lecturer was Dr M'Kenzie Davidson and his
subject was "Light and Sound Waves."
In the course of the evening Dr Davidson spoke of
"the newly-discovered Rontgen rays, pointing out how they differed from
ordinary beams of light in respect that they seemed incapable of
refraction and reflection." On the magic lantern screen he displayed a
number of "shadowgrams" obtained by this new process, and of these the
slide which attracted most attention was one which showed the exact
position of a needle embedded in a little girl's foot.
The credit of giving the first public
demonstration of X-rays was shared between Aberdeen and London, where
the lectures took place simultaneously, and it was surprising to find
this first mention of radiology in the report of a church lecture....
Or was it Yesterday?
By W A Mitchell