Fantastic Finds for Friday: New collection of anatomical drawings, 1840s

Our Fantastic Find for Friday this week is yet again a result of a recent cataloguing project, this time of a fascinating collection of drawings which was passed to the archives of the RCOG last year by our friends at the Royal College of Surgeons.

The watercolour and pen and ink anatomical drawings which comprise this collection were created by Joseph Griffiths Swayne (1819-1903), Professor of Midwifery at University College, Bristol. Swayne came from an established medical family based in Bristol, and his early work, following his graduation from the Bristol Medical School and Guy’s Hospital in London, was as a demonstrator and lecturer in anatomy at the Bristol Medical School. It is thought that it was during this time that he worked on a manual in which he etched illustrations of his own dissections onto copper, a work which was never published. Swayne went on to become physician accoucheur to the new maternity department at the Bristol General Hospital in 1853, and in 1893 was appointed to the chair at University College, Bristol. He is known chiefly for his midwifery text published in 1856 ‘Obstetric Aphorisms for the Use of Students’, of which there are six editions held in the College library, the earliest dating from 1880, and annotated pages from this text are included in the collection, possibly gathered together in preparation for an updated version.

The drawings were originally given to the Department of Surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary by Joseph Swayne’s great-nephew: from there they found their way to the Royal College of Surgeons within the papers of a Fellow of that college. Swayne’s great-nephew wrote in 1974:

‘I think the Swayne ward at the BRI was named for all the members of my family who were associated through the years with the Infirmary…my great-grandfather and his brother did, also two of his sons and my father, his grandson.’

This family history is certainly a complex and fascinating one – the nephew of Joseph Swayne, Walter Carless Swayne, also a lecturer in midwifery at Bristol, was tragically shot in 1925 by his son-in-law, suffering from the effects of his traumatic First World War service.

The drawings within this collection have survived from Swayne’s anatomical work of the 1840s, and vary in quality and subject, covering obstetrical cases but also general surgical cases such as cancer, tumours and skin disease. Some of the images have been reproduced below, but it is hoped to display some of them in the College library in the near future.


Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive
Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive
Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive
Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive
Reference: 2013/2 RCOG Archive
Reference: 2013/2 RCOG Archive

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