Victorian field surgeon’s equipment box

Dr Harley's practice medical instruments

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    Chesham Museum was approached by retired Chesham GP Dr David Harley, to investigate if the Museum would be interested in accepting his collection of medical instruments that were held at his practice.

    The collection contained various pieces of medical equipment produced throughout the twentieth century as well as a Victorian field surgeon’s equipment box that still retains its protective leather carrying case.

    The contents are fairly complete, containing an array of scalpels, small amputation saws and pliers – presumably for removing bullets or shrapnel. An exquisite Trepan is included, reminiscent of an apple corer, but in fact intended to bore into the skull to relieve pressure after a head trauma.

    Two beautiful Petit screw Tourniquets in brass with cloth straps are present, designed by Jean-Louis Petit (1674-1750), one of France’s greatest eighteenth century surgeons. All steel blades are coated with petroleum jelly to prevent corrosion, so the condition of the tools is very good.

    In addition to medical equipment, Dr Harley also passed on a ledger for the Chesham practice detailing accounts for 1902 through to 1912 which provides a fascinating insight into a pre-NHS health system where only members of the community with funds could expect treatment.

    The mahogany case was made by ‘S Maw Son & Thompson’ of Aldersgate Street, London. A  search of the Science Museum website reveals the company used this address up to 1870, after which they moved to 7-12 Aldersgate until 1901 when John Thompson retired, and his name was dropped from the Company’s title. The company are still trading, under the name adopted in 1940 – Maws Pharmacy Supplies Limited. This would suggest the case was made between 1860 and 1870 with similar preserved examples produced by this company this decade.

    Dr Harley’s collection is slowly being photographed and catalogued, after which it will be added to our online collection. You can view the current items under the ‘objects’ tab.