Surgeons’ Hall Museums can be found in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town. It is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) which formed in 1505.The museum was originally set up to be a teaching museum and began in 1699 when the Surgeons’ put out a call for ‘naturall and artificall curiosities’ in the Edinburgh Gazette, making it one of the oldest museums in Scotland. The collection soon garnered the attention of the public who were intrigued by the specimens. After the acquisition of the Bell and Barclay collections in 1832, the museum moved to its current location on Nicolson Street and has remained there ever since.
In 2015 Surgeons’ Hall Museums underwent a huge £4.4 million refurbishment which saw accessibility improved and new interactive features installed as well as more specimens and objects on display than ever before. Surgeons’ Hall is split into 3 different museums- The History of Surgery Museum, The WohlPathology Museum and The Dental Collection. There is also a temporary exhibition space.
In the middle of the History of Surgery Museum is a replica of an anatomy theatre with a body laid out on the table. Visitors can watch a digital re-enactment of the first public dissection carried out on David Myles in 1702. Myles was executed for incest and was dissected over the course of a week, with a different surgeon carrying out the dissection each day. A video of Archibald Pitcairn who led the dissection plays on a screen while images of drawings done during the dissection are projected onto the body.
Around the anatomy theatre are cases filled with surgical tools and specimens prepared by some of Edinburgh’s most influential surgeons of the past including Joseph Lister and James Young Simpson. This gallery also touches on some of the significant historic connections to RCSEd and Surgeons’ Hall including Joseph Bell who provided the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and the infamous murderers Burke and Hare.
The Wohl Pathology Museum is laid out over two floors and is home to the majority of the pathology specimens on display at Surgeons’ Hall Museums. The top level was reopened to the public for the first time on decades due to a charitable donation from the Maurice Wohl foundation and explores different types of surgery and how different diseases can affect the body and what surgeons can do to help. On the lower level visitors are able to learn about the origins of medical conditions, women in surgery and military surgery. This lower level is where visitors can see Charles Bell’s famous Corunna paintings.
The Dentistry Collection explores how dentistry has evolved from the days when people would go to anyone with the right tools (think blacksmith and watch maker) to get dentistry work done. The majority of this collection was donated by John Menzies Campbell, a Glasgow dentist and renowned dental historian.
Surgeons’ Hall Museums are open 7 days a week 10am-5pm. For more information on admission fees visit: https://museum.rcsed.ac.uk/plan-your-visit/opening-hours-and-admission