Fantastic Finds for Friday: Exciting new collections for the RCOG!!

It isn’t often that we receive new collections for the RCOG heritage collections, so you can imagine how excited I am to bring you news of two new and interesting additions to the unique collections held here in Sussex Place! The first is a collection of obstetric and gynaecological instruments which were used in the practise of RCOG Fellow, John Ritchie. John Matheson Ritchie became a Member of the RCOG in 1964, after training at the Middlesex Hospital, and was elevated to the Fellowship in 1977. Ritchie would have been one of the first to take the new style MRCOG exam, which asked for additional training and a third examination paper, and his training would have taken place against a background of concern for the shortage of maternity beds and staffing structures, and changing legislation on medicines.

Obstetric forcep, Ritchie collection
Obstetric forcep, Ritchie collection

The instruments have been stored for many years in a garden shed, so are in varying degrees of decay and we will need to review and assess the collection against the other items currently held by the College. The significance of this donation is that we do not often know anything about the background to our museum objects – who used these things, when, where – all those interesting snippets of information which really intrigue and help to create a sense of history and place. Potentially we may be able to gather more details about Ritchie from his son, the donor, and also from records held in the College Archive relating to his membership of the RCOG, and so begin to build a story around the collection.

The second accession was brought to my notice originally by the manager of the online Oxfam store up in Edinburgh! A rather unusual donation to the charity in the form of a 150 original pencil and pen and ink gynaecological drawings is probably not something you find every day on the Oxfam Online Shopping site! We were informed about this and given the opportunity to have first bid before the items went on sale. The College was fortunate to be successful in this bid, and now has in its possession the original drawings commissioned by London-based obstetrician and gynaecologist, Wilfred Shaw, for the 1954 edition of his respected Text Book of Gynaecology. Most of the drawings are by artist, Leslie Caswell, better known for his work for popular magazines during the 1950s and 1960s, and a few are by the Austrian medical illustrator, Erich Lepier, whose work Shaw was familiar with from his studies in the Continent. Wilfred Shaw was a Foundation Member of the RCOG and received his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital with a Shuter scholarship, continuing to win prizes and scholarships throughout his training. After qualifying, he received postgraduate experience in obstetrics in Dublin and in gynaecology in Vienna, and between 1926 and 1931 held the post of resident assistant physician accoucheur to St Bart’s, rising to surgeon in charge of the obstetric and gynaecological department in 1946. He also held consultant appointments at St Andrew’s, Dollis Hill and Brentwood Hospitals. Shaw is said to have been at his happiest when teaching, but he was also involved in pioneer work on dysfunctional uterine haemorrhage and ovarian tumours, and is also said to have been a pioneer in vaginal hysterectomy at a time when this operation was not largely performed by British gynaecologists. He completed his textbook of operative gynaecology shortly before his death at the age of 55, and it has seen countless editions since that date. He was elevated to the Fellowship of the College in 1932, and served on both the Museum Committee and Pathology Committee of the RCOG during the difficult war years.

Illustration for Shaw's Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell
Illustration for Shaw’s Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell
Illustration for Shaw’s Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell

Digital scans of a selection of the drawings have been matched to the plates in the 1954 edition of the textbook, and cover vaginal hysterectomy, copoperineorrhapy operation, myomectomy, abdominal hysterectomy, ovariotomy, and operation for prolapse. Such a collection certainly adds to the RCOG’s heritage assets: as well as being a direct produce of the work of a respected and important London gynaecologist, it complements the editions of the textbook held in the RCOG Library collection, as well as unpublished correspondence between Wilfred Shaw and College co-founder, Sir William Fletcher Shaw relating to the foundation of the College and it’s early administrative difficulties. I am looking forward to finding ways in which I can use this wonderful collection!


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