A blank order form issued by the Royal Maternity Charity to the patient for the attendance of a midwife. The form includes a list of midwives working in London in 1868.
A completed form from a midwife requesting the services of an obstetrician (1862). The form tells us that the patient is experiencing ‘flooding’ (excessive bleeding post pregnancy), gave birth six days prior, and is ‘very much excited’.
The reverse of the completed form from a midwife requesting the services of an obstetrician (1862).
A letter from midwife Mrs C Young requesting the assistance of Dr Barnes to a case in Hackney Road, London (July 1860)
The reverse of a letter from midwife Mrs C Young requesting the assistance of Dr Barnes to a case in Hackney Road, London (July 1860). The back of letter includes notes (likely from Barnes) recording the patient’s history and current condition.
Letter to Dr Barnes from G. Roper of Shoreditch, describing an obstetric case dated 20th September 1862. The letter describes the patient’s six hour labour and the death of her newborn child, as well as the resulting complications. Roper goes on to discuss two other mothers under the care of the charity who both died form complications relating to difficult pregnancies. The letters give a stark picture of the risks faced by mothers, midwives and obstetricians in the late 19th century and a reminder of the importance of professional collaboration in the field.
Page 2 of Roper’s letter to Barnes (20th September 1862)
This month’s blog post is brought to you with the case book of 19th century English physician Dr Robert Barnes (1817–1907). Barnes was a pioneer of surgical obstetrics and gynaecology. He established the British Gynaecological Society in 1884 and was its honorary president until his death in 1907.
The casebook (archive reference S60/C) contains incredible accounts of cases attended by Barnes on behalf of the Royal Maternity Charity, including sketches, purportedly by Robert Barnes. One is a pencil sketch annotated ‘uterus lays across the pubus like a sack on a horse’s back’!
The Royal Maternity Charity (previously the ‘Charity for Attending and Delivering poor Married Women in their Lying in at their Respective Habitations’, later known as the ‘Lying-in Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women at their Own Habitations’ and finally as the ‘Royal Maternity Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women in their Own Habitations’) was established in March 1757. The Charity offered a service to ‘sober and industrious’ married women ‘destitute of help in time of labour’.
It supplied them with medicines, provided midwives for ‘common cases’ and surgeon accouchers or physicians for more ‘difficult cases’, allowing them to give birth more safely and comfortably in their own homes. Robert Barnes was one of these physicians. Barnes’ casebook provides detailed notes for the patients he attended and is a rich resource for those studying early obstetric practices and the experiences of poor and working class mothers in London in the 1800s.
Front cover of Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C).
A page from Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C) containing the case of a woman with a contracted pelvis.
A page from Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C). This page contains an account of an infant from the Daniel’s family who suffered from Spina bifida and died shortly after birth.
A page from Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C). This one contrains an account of a delivery and a sketch of the baby in utero.
A page from Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C). This page describes a delivery using forceps (image 1 of 2).
A page from Barnes’ Case Book (archive reference S60/C). This page describes a delivery using forceps. The final paragraph reads: ‘In this case forceps saved mother hours of suffering and in all probability conduced to her safety and that of child.’ (image 2 of 2)
The volume features a number of loose papers (see the top of this post), including letters from a midwife, named Mrs C Young, requesting the assistance of Dr Barnes to a case in Hackney Road, London (July 1860); requests and invoices for attendance to cases on behalf of the charity; an interesting letter from G Roper, of Shoreditch, describing outcomes of three obstetric cases and calling for Barnes’ assistance (September 1862). Alongside these are completed forms from midwives requesting assistance from Barnes (1862-1867), mainly for women who experienced prolonged complications post-birth.
The volume was donated to the RCOG library in 1955.