Scabies in the horse – the first Fellowship thesis

I was recently asked the date and subject of our earliest fellowship thesis.  A quick check on the catalogue showed it was written in December 1893 and titled ‘Scabies in the horse: does it demand legislation?

The thesis is a neatly written document Opening linesaccompanied by 12 hand drawn illustrations.  Regulations in place at the time stated that all fellowship submissions be ‘signed by a motto only’ – this one is signed ‘Advance’.

So whose motto was ‘Advance’?  Well the annual report of 1893/94 reveals that the thesis had been submitted by Veterinary Lieutenant R Butler.

Major-General Ernest Reuben Charles Butler (1864-1959) CB CMG DSO FRCVS qualified at the London Veterinary College in 1884 and was gazetted into the Army Veterinary Department in which he served for 37 years. He spent a total of 16 years in India, was an Assistant Professor at the Army Veterinary School, Aldershot 1892-1897 and Professor from 1901-1905.

During World War One he was mentioned six times in dispatches, and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (1915) and a Commander of the Order of the Bath (1918). In 1919 he was promoted to the rank of Major-General.

Butler also served as an examiner for the RCVS Diploma from 1895 -1904

On retiring from the army at the age of 57 he went to live in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa where his grave can still be seen today.

The thesis might, at just 16 pages plus bibliography, seem rather short when compared to today’s submissions; in fact it is the standard length for that time.  In it Butler outlines the three varieties of Sarcoptidae which produce diseased conditions of horses’ skin, describes the history of widespread outbreaks of equine scabies and discusses means of accurate diagnosis and the fact that errors may arise from:

‘the eruption being mistaken for a non parasitic form of eczema [or from] the presence of non Psoric Acari on the skin’.

Finally he suggests possible legislative controls that could be put in place.

To aid diagnosis Butler provides illustrations of Acari (see below) drawn from materials he examined.

Filed with the thesis is a letter Butler sent in 1914 asking to borrow it from the library -a request which was granted on the proviso it was returned within a week!

A very common variety

“A very common variety”

Species unknown, found on a healthy horse

“Species unknown, found on a healthy horse”

Debris of Acari

Debris of Acari

Debris of Acari

Debris of Acari

Early veterinary education in North America – the Scottish connection

In the early days of the RCVS it was not unusual for Council, and other members, to go ‘on tour’ to visit ‘continental veterinary schools’.  It is perhaps as a result of these trips that we have a small collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century prospectuses from North American veterinary schools in the Historical Collection.

In his paper on the beginnings of veterinary education in North America Donald F Smith1 notes that many of the first colleges were privately owned, for profit, institutions started by veterinary entrepreneurs.

The prospectuses in our collection show that a number of these veterinary entrepreneurs were graduates of Scottish veterinary schools. We  also find  Scottish graduates heading veterinary facilities at universities.  For example:

  • Montreal Veterinary College opened in 1866 by Duncan McNab McEachran (graduated Edinburgh 1861);
  • The veterinary department at Harvard University run by Charles Parker Lynman (Edinburgh. 1874) from 1882 until it’s closure in 1902;
  • Chicago Veterinary School founded by Joseph Hughes (Glasgow 1882) in 1883;
  • Cornell University’s veterinary faculty formed by James Law (Edinburgh 1861) in 1895; and
  • Ontario Veterinary College (OVC)  Toronto founded in 1862 by Andrew Smith.

Andrew Smith (1834-1910) was another Edinburgh  graduate (1861) and a Fellow of the RCVS (1886). 

Prospectus 1902-1903

Prospectus 1902-1903

His arrival in Canada followed a visit by the Ontario Board of Agriculture to Professor William Dick in Edinburgh; they were concerned about the plagues that were devastating European cattle and wanted his advice.   Dick suggested Smith as a suitable person to lecture on veterinary science (he had graduated the previous year with the ‘highest honour’).

As a result of this recommendation Smith was hired, emigrated to Canada and began a series of lectures which soon developed into a formal course of instruction.   The first three students graduated from OVC  in 1866.

The College quickly grew, with Smith financing the building of its first home on Temperance Street  in 1870.  The continuing growth in student numbers meant that the  building needed to be enlarged in 1876 and again in 1889.  In 1897 OVC affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Smith’s connection with OVC, which lasted 46 years, ended when the government of Ontario acquired the College in 1908.  By this time over 3,000 students had graduated from OVC.

The following images are taken from the 1902-1903 prospectus and show something of the facilities on offer to students at that time.  I particularly like the picture of the dissecting room – in his article Smith1 records that on one occasion OVC students lassoed a pedestrian walking along the street below,  hauled him up to the second floor dissection room before laying him out on the table as a specimen.  Apparently they were so scared that they would be reported that they  locked the unfortunate gentleman in a horse ambulance until he swore that he would keep quiet!



Lecture rooms

Lecture rooms

Dissecting room

Dissecting room

Information on the history of OVC after Andrew Smith can be found here.


  1. Smith, Donald F (2010) 150th anniversary of veterinary education and the veterinary profession in North America Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.  Vol 37 No 4 pp317-27.
  2. Jones, Bruce Vivash (2013) Establishing veterinary education in North America Veterinary Record Vol 172 No 2 pp36-38
  3. Miller, Everett B (1981) Private veterinary colleges in the United States, 1852-1927 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association Vol 178 No 6 pp583-393

117 Earls Court Road

Most of the photographs in our collections are portraits of RCVS Council, or other prominent, members of the profession. We do have a few photographs of vets going about their daily work but as far as I am aware the only photograph of the exterior of a veterinary practice is this one of Henry Gray’s surgery on the Earls Court Road.

Henry Gray's practice at 117 Earls Court Road

Henry Gray’s surgery at 117 Earls Court Road

Henry Gray (1865-1939) qualified from the London Veterinary College in 1885.   After a few years as an assistant in the East Midlands he moved to London and set up his own practice in Kensington. Here he rapidly built up a flourishing mixed practice, building up the small animal side as equine work declined. His particular interests were diseases of the eye and the study of birds.

Henry Gray

Henry Gray

On coming to London  Gray developed a friendship with William Hunting who encouraged him in his writing and he was soon in demand as an author. He became a regular contributor to Veterinary Record and Veterinary Journal, for a time edited Veterinary News, revised George Fleming’s Practical horse keeper and wrote chapters for a number of other books.  His interest in birds meant his writing was also sought by non veterinary publications such as Fur and feather

Gray amassed a large library which was given to us following his death and which now forms part of our Historical Collection.  The books are  mainly in English, though there are several in French and German, and most are about birds.  As shown in a previous post many of the books on birds are lavishly illustrated.

In 1955 we were also given a collection of  Gray’s  personal correspondence and research notes  which cover the whole of his working life. The papers give glimpses into the cases Gray saw in his practice and reveal his research interests.  These papers, together with Gray’s library of 123 books, would be of interest to anyone studying the development of ornithological research at the start of the 20th Century.

A note on the back of the photograph identifies the gentleman in the doorway as Dick Green, brother of Robert Green MRCVS.  Henry Gray was assistant to their father after qualifying.

WAHVM Congress 2014

WAHVM Congress 2014Readers of this blog with an interest in veterinary history might like to know about the 41st Congress of the World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine, hosted by the Veterinary History Society  at Imperial College, London  from 10-13 September 2014.

This event, which is being held in Britain for the first time, will welcome speakers from 30 countries to discuss the twin themes of ‘History of One Health‘ and ‘War, animals and the veterinary profession.‘  There will also be sessions on veterinary collections, general veterinary history and oral history. 

The key note speakers are:

Professor Donald Smith, Professor of Surgery and Dean Emeritus, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. – ‘The Three Parts of One Health: Zoonosis, Comparative Medicine and Zoeyia’

Dr Hilda Kean, Ruskin College, Oxford.  – ‘Animals in wartime Britain: The Home Front’

To find out more and  to register  visit

Eclipse and his ‘equine bumps’

In January 1828 the first two British veterinary journals started, these were The Veterinarian and the much shorter lived Farrier and naturalist. Both owed their origins to a desire to comment, and pass critical judgement, on the state of affairs at the London veterinary college. The  Farrier and naturalist is generally believed to be the work of Bracy Clark – it certainly contains a number of unattributed articles that had either previously been, or were later to be, published with Clark as the author.   One of these is ‘A short history of the celebrated racehorse Eclipse’.

Immediately following this is an interesting – again unattributed – article titled ‘Phrenology – it’s utility and importance in animals’ (1)

The article opens with a brief introduction to the ‘science of Phrenology’ and the work of Drs Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim.   Stating that:

“[Phrenology] is being now approved of and encouraged by men of the highest talents and abilities … we therefore wish to call the attention of our readers to its very great importance … in judging of the character, habits and capacities of different animals.

“A knowledge of Phrenology is of vast importance, as in all cases it will be found that an animal’s courage … sagacity, shyness, meekness, and general temper will depend entirely on the brain; and as this organ is more or less developed, in particular parts, so will the character be found … to correspond to the outward indications of the skull.”

Having set the scene and, hopefully, convinced the reader of the usefulness of Phrenology, the author goes on to describe what Dr Spurzheim found when he examined Eclipse’s skull –apparently Dr S not being a sportsman was not even acquainted with the name of ‘this matchless horse”!

So what did he find?

“A remarkably large brain… strongly indicating great and high courage, unusual sagacity, but deficiency in meekness, or rather a vicious temper”

The author ends by stating that “these peculiarities in his character and disposition will be immediately seen on referring to his history… and the remarkable correctness of the Dr’s observations may serve to show that this science will prove eminently useful in judging of the living animal.”

In issue two we find the second part of the article – which opens with this plate

Animal phrenology

Animal phrenology

and explanation

Explanation of plate

Explanation of plate

The numbers refer to Dr Spurzheims classification into organs (there is an explanation of Spurzheim’s organs here) there then follows an explanation of how these can be related to animals.  For example

Secretiveness – propensity, to conceal , or cunning. “where this part of the organ is found large and active in … the Fox….the dog … and the cat, when watching the mouse”


Melody – or tune where “the heads and skulls of birds which sing, and of those which do not sing … present conspicuous differences at the place of this organ.”


According to the article in 1828 you could buy a cast of Eclipse’s skull, with the marked organs, from a Mr Deville 367 Strand.   I wonder if any still exist  so we can investigate further?

  1. Farrier and naturalist vol 1 (1) pp34-5, 71-75, 106-109

Robert Stordy’s extraordinary journey

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book: Robert Stordy in Abyssinia: an extraordinary veterinary surgeon Stordy book cover

The  main body of book is an account of an extraordinary journey made by Robert Stordy which is held in our archives.

Stordy worked for the colonial veterinary service in British East Africa; in 1911 he decided to take a different route back to Britain for his home leave.  He travelled from Nairobi, walking most of the way, across Northern Kenya and Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) to Addis Ababa and on to the Red Sea.  A journey of close to 1,500 miles.  Arriving in Djibouti four months later Stordy and his companion Lord Cranworth crossed to Aden and boarded a P&O liner for England.

The journal he kept along the way gives a unique record – in both words and photographs – of the places he visited, the people he met and the countryside through which he passed.

Robert Stordy in Abyssinia: an extraordinary veterinary surgeon is published by Granville Penn Press  and available from the Veterinary History Society.

Strickland Freeman’s observations on the horses foot

Our historical collection has over two hundred books on farriery and horse shoeing many of which contain anatomical drawings of the foot of the horse.  One such book is Strickland Freeman’s

Observations on the mechanism of the horse’s foot its natural spring explained, and a mode of shoeing recommended, by which the foot is defended from external injury, with the least impediment to its spring

which was published in 1796.

Strickland  Freeman was a Buckinghamshire landowner and sporting gentleman  who wrote a number of works on horsemanship and farriery.   Observations is his most important anatomical work: focusing on horse shoeing practices and methods, the work consists of  109 pages of text and 16 coloured plates with outlines.

I have found two reviews of the book from the period.  One in The Critical Review is less than complimentary.   Speaking of the illustrations it says:

“[they] do not illustrate the complete anatomy of the foot:  they are imperfect, from a total neglect of the nerves and absorbent vessels of those parts, two points in the structure, which have been found to be inseparably connected with many diseases of the feet of horses”

The reviewer also takes issue with the cost of the book given its alleged shortcomings:

 “When a voluminous and expensive work is laid before the public…we are led to expect something approaching toward a complete account of that subject… To the anatomist he affords no information, to the gentleman, we fear, he conveys little knowledge which can be applicable in practice… We would advise further adventurers in scientific pursuits with which they are not fully conversant, to be more backward in taxing the world with expensive books”.

A more positive review appeared in The Monthly Review which describes Observations as a ‘most splendid work’ and says:

“it is evidently the result of attentive observation…that will afford useful hints to those who are practically concerned in the subject”.

Writing in 1929 Frederick Smith in Volume 2 of his Early history of veterinary literature says:

“[Freeman] knew nothing of the anatomy of the horse’s foot.  The text is consistently weak, though largely atoned for by…[the] beautifully coloured plates”.

I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of either the text or illustrations, but can’t help but agree that the illustrations, which are by G Kirtland who was a leading anatomical artist at that time, are beautiful.  Four of them are shown below, what do you think?

Plate 3. Front view of the bones of the fore foot of a horse in their relative situation

Plate 3. Front view of the bones of the fore foot of a horse in their relative situation

Plate 4. Back view of the bones of the fore foot in their relative situation

Plate 4. Back view of the bones of the fore foot in their relative situation

Plate 8. View of the posterior surface of the foot to shew the arteries and veins

Plate 8. View of the posterior surface of the foot to shew the arteries and veins

Plate 9. Side view of the foot to shew the arteries and veins

Plate 9. Side view of the foot to shew the arteries and veins

10th International Veterinary Congress: a case of unfortunate timing

At 11pm on 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.  That same evening at the Natural History Museum 300 guests were gathered for the conversazione and reception of the 10th International Veterinary Congress.  A Congress that had been many years in the planning ….

Programme of music at the reception

Programme of music at the reception

London had been chosen as the venue for the 10th meeting of the International VeterinaryCongress  (IVC) at the previous meeting in 1909.   The original plan had been to hold the 10th IVC in 1913 but as there was already an international medical congress in London that year the date was moved to the summer 1914,

The organising committee consisted of Sir John McFadyean, Principal of the Royal Veterinary College, his son-in-law Stewart Stockman plus 28 others including the RCVS Registrar Fred Bullock.  In July 1911 the Committee met for the first time – the main topic of discussion was how the estimated £3,500 needed to run the Congress would be found.

By October 1912 good progress was reported to have been made with the scientific and social programmes but only £300 had been raised.  Planning continued throughout 1913 – the RCVS voted to make distinguished foreign visitors Honorary Associates and the ‘coffers’ increased to £3,180.

In early 1914 it was announced that: the money had been raised; places at the commercial exhibition were selling well, and the papers to be presented had been translated into English, French and German ready for printing.

By June some 1300 delegates had registered and the stage was set for a successful congress and then … on  the 28th Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and everything changed.

Over the coming weeks as the threat of war grew McFadyean and his committee considered postponing the congress but in the end, with so much at stake, they decided to carry on.

Congress badge

Congress badge

The first event, an evening reception at the Hotel Cecil on the Strand, took place on the 2nd August with far fewer attendees than had been expected

The following morning McFadyean officially opened the congress. There was good representation from the USA, Canada, China, Brazil and South Africa but representation from Germany, France, Austria, Serbia, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy was practically none existent.

After the opening addresses and the election of officers for the meeting, McFadyean announced the scientific programme would start the following day.

At 11am on the 4th August McFadyean again mounted the podium and uttered the following words “Yesterday we felt the cloud of anxiety… and today the cloud has become much darker”. He then proposed that the meeting should adjourn and reassemble at 3pm to transact the “business necessary to bring the Congress to a close”.  This they  did with all activities cancelled except for the conversazione that evening.

Thus 300 delegates were at the Natural History Museum, listening to the String Band of the Royal Artillery and studying the specially selected exhibits, as Britain officially entered the war.

Boxes of unused badges from the 10th International Veterinary Congress

Boxes of unused badges

It would appear that much of the winding up activities were left to the RCVS registrar Fred Bullock. This is probably why the records (letters, receipts, minute book, accounts etc) are in our archives.  Perhaps the most poignant memento we have of the congress that never was are the boxes of pristine congress badges whose intended recipients never even made it to London

For a  fuller account of the 10th IVC  see Bruce Vivash Jones (2014)  Unfortunate timing Veterinary Record  174(25)  pp 627-629

A time for reflection: Lieutenant Vincent Fox

Last Friday the Royal College was delighted to accept a portrait of Lieutenant Vincent Fox from his great grand-nephew.   Vincent Fox was killed in action on the 26 August 1914: the first member of the RCVS to die during World War 1.   His obituary in the Veterinary Record 3 October 1914, simply read:

Vincent Fox, MRCVS, Lieut AVC, Dublin: December 1911

Vincent Fox

Vincent Fox

Vincent Richard James Fox (1889-1914) was born at Hacksballscross, Carrickastuck, County Louth.  The youngest of 10 children, his father died in 1890, his mother in 1908. The 1911 census shows the family, headed by the eldest son, Patrick, living at 25 Quay Street, Dundalk.

Fox entered the Royal Veterinary College in Ireland in 1907, and graduated MRCVS in December 1911. He initially worked in Dundalk, then in May 1912 he sailed to Calcutta. Here he worked for RS Hart Bros, described as a ‘Royal Horse Repository and Veterinary Infirmary’ by its owner Robert Spooner-Hart MRCVS. The work was varied, ranging from veterinary surgery to horse breeding and dealing; the company also acted as consulting veterinary surgeons to the Calcutta Turf Club. Spooner-Hart died in March 1914, and about that time Fox returned to Ireland, keen to pursue a military career.

Fox received his commission, in the rank of Lieutenant, on probation, in the Army Veterinary Corps, on 31 July 1914. His entrance into the army had obviously moved at quite a pace, since by 22 July  he had already obtained his uniform from W T Castle, Military Outfitters of 23 Saville Row, London, for which he was invoiced a total of £22 18/-.

Fox was one of the first veterinary surgeons to depart for France.  Serving as Brigade Veterinary Officer to 8 Infantry Brigade he arrived in Boulogne on 14 August.  The Brigade were deployed north into Belgium, and by 22 August were at Mons, facing the advancing German army. The position of the British troops meant there was a real risk of their being cut off and on 22 August the order was given to retreat. By 25 August 8 Brigade were positioned in the town of Audencourt, to the east of Le Cateau.

Here the commanding officer deployed the bulk of his troops around Le Cateau to provide support for the men of I Corps as they retreated on his eastern flank. He was ‘advised’ to withdraw but informed the Commander in Chief that he was unable to move any men, and that he had decided to stand and fight.

The Battle of Le Cateau took place on Wednesday 26 August.  The headquarters of 8 Brigade were initially sited in a farm in Audencourt, The brigade diary reported that:

No field ambulance and no medical officers being available,
the wounded were taken into the church, a very solid stone structure
and here Lieut V Fox AVC
took charge and dressed the wounded.

At about noon the brigade came under a sustained artillery barrage and it was decided to move south. The horses were taken to a nearby orchard; the wounded, being treated by Fox, were to be left in the church, since it was considered strong enough to withstand shell fire. At 2.30pm the Germans commenced a bombardment of Audencourt, with disastrous consequences. Shelling of the orchard led to the death of all the horses and in the late afternoon the church was hit. Witnesses described how the spire was struck, followed by an explosion and the building caught fire. At least one high explosive shell entered the building, causing substantial damage and destruction, resulting in the death of Lieutenant Fox. His family were later to receive reports that his dead body was found, ‘without a mark or scar on it’.

RCVS World War 1 memorial

RCVS World War 1 memorial

Fox was buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Caudry (British Cemetery)  and is commemorated on the RCVS Memorial  alongside 66 other MRCVS who died in World War 1

Vincent Fox died whilst treating human, not animal, patients, and in doing so clearly demonstrated his commitment to the treatment of the sick, regardless of species. Although so little was written about his actions at the time in the veterinary press, an obituary in his local paper, the Dundalk Democrat, said that he was:

Killed whilst in pursuit of his humane duty behind the British firing line.
A man could not well die a nobler death.


For more information on the Battle of Le Cateau see The Battle of Le Cateau and subsequent actions via “The Long, Long Trail: the British Army in the Great War (accessed 20/8/2014)

I would like to thank Dr Paul Watkins MRCVS for his help in compiling this post. 

Indian materia medica

In Volume 5 of The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India, published in 1887, there is a two part article by T J Symonds ‘Illustrations of Indian materia medica’.

Thomas J Symonds (?-1892) graduated from the London Veterinary College in December 1870. He entered the Army Veterinary Department in March 1871 and  served in the Afghan War 1880-1881; taking part in the march from Quetta as part of the relief of Kandahar.  At the time of his death Symonds was involved in purchasing remounts for the government in Madras.

His obituary in the South of India Observer (reprinted in The Veterinarian September 1892) says that he was ‘engaged in literary work for a portion of his professional career and was the author of some books connected with professional subjects’.  We have several of Symonds’ books in our historical collection which are all about plants and their use as material medica

Saunders  Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary (3rd ed 2007) defines materia medica as:

“the study of materials used in medicine. It used to be a subject in veterinary curricula and dealt mostly with the physical and chemical characteristics of the medicinal substances. As a science it has now been largely superseded by pharmacology”.

Given that materia medica was taught in the veterinary schools it is not surprising that the early journals contain lots of information on plants and their use as veterinary medicines. For me Symonds’ article stands out because of the full page colour illustrations that accompany the text

Aloe Indica –. ‘[its] juice … gives an inferior kind of drug’

Aloe Indica from The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India

Calotropsis Gigantea –useful in diarrhoea, dysentery and chronic rheumatism

Calotropsis gigantea from The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India

Cinchona Officinalis – its bark can be used in the treatment of fevers.

Cinchona Officinalis from The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India

Azadirachta Indicaused as a poultice to relieve nervous headaches, the juice of the leaves are  said to be anthelmintic, diuretic and to resolve swellings.

azadirachta indica

Carum (Ptychotis) Ajowan – used as an antispasmodic, carminative, tonic and stimulant

Carum Ajoean from The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India

(Note  how this plant is to bushy to fit on the page! The leaves stray outside the border and it is printed on a bigger sheet of paper which had to be folded to fit with the rest of the volume).

For more information on the The quarterly journal of veterinary science in India .