George Fleming’s travels on horseback

A view beyond the Great Wall of China

A view beyond the Great Wall of China

In 1859 George Fleming  volunteered to serve as a veterinary officer on the expedition to North China.  Whilst there, in July 1861, he embarked on a journey of almost 700 miles from Tien-tsin, where he was stationed, to Mantchu Tartary.  Two years later he wrote an account of the journey which was published as Travels on horseback in Mantchu Tartary  (Hurst and Blackett, 1863)

In the preface Fleming explains his reasons for writing an account of ‘his novel ride through one of the most distant regions of the great Chinese empire’ :

“Little in reality is known regarding the far north, more especially of those hitherto inaccessible districts which border on, or lie beyond, that marvellous monument of human industry – The Great Wall, in its course along the eastern margin of Old China.

It is therefore hoped that an attempt to describe the general features of the country and the special characteristics of the northern Chinese … may prove in some degree interesting. It may be a long time before Europeans will again venture so far as from the vicinity of Peking to the birthplace of the Mantchu dynasty … So until a more leisurely survey can be made … these notes of a holiday pilgrimage the author hopes will not be unacceptable.”

The book is 566 pages long and describes the people Fleming met; their customs; the landscape and the climate etc. He also gives descriptions of agricultural practices in the various regions and of the hardships he faced along the way  The text is accompanied by 54 illustrations a number of which are reproduced below.

Chinese Horse dealer

A Chinese horse-dealer ‘who had all the vices and dodges of his Western confreres’

Warning to robbers

A warning to robbers

Pig driver

A Pig-driver – wearing a ‘first-rate waterproof of rushes’

Roadside sanctuary

The roadside sanctuary

Inn at the Wall

Inn at the Wall – the useless passport

The Horse Doctor

The Horse-doctor

Fast in the mud

Fast in the mud

Tartar Solldiers

Tartar soldiers

Courtyard wall

Courtyard wall – ‘the open brick-work in front was literally plastered with human faces’

For other posts about George Fleming

Shining a light on veterinary artists

The Lightbox in Woking, is currently showing an exhibition describing the role of horse and mules in World War 1.  The Horse at War: 1914-18  has a wide ranging display of artwork both from the war itself as well as more recent works, most noticeably ‘Joey’ the life size puppet from the National Theatre’s stage production of War Horse. Amongst the many paintings on display are works by a number of official war artists including Sir Alfred Munnings, CRW Nevinson and Lucy Kemp Welch.

There are a number of interesting veterinary connections amongst the paintings.  We have loaned two paintings by Lionel Edwards .  Born in Bristol in 1878, Edwards was one of the most popular illustrators of hunting and sporting subjects of the twentieth century. His artistic talents were apparent early in life, drawing horses from the age of six. He studied in London at Heatherly’s School of Art, before pursuing a professional career as an artist. At the outbreak of war he enlisted and served as a Remount Purchasing Officer, responsible for purchasing horses, an experience he described as ’four solid years of nothing but horse.’

Also on display are a number of works by official war artist Edwin Noble.  Noble studied at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy and became an established illustrator prior to the war.  He served with the Army Veterinary Corps, rising to the rank of sergeant, spending much of the war at No 8 Veterinary Hospital in France. Here he recorded in great detail the diseases affecting horses, ranging from mange through to the effects of mustard gas. His pictures were described as providing an ‘almost veterinary eye view of the misfortunes of horses on active service.’

A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble

A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2922)

There are three works of art on display produced by a veterinary surgeon, but one who was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the conflict.

Herbert Lake was born in 1883, at 33 High Street Camden, London, where his father owned a jewellers shop. Qualifying from the Royal Veterinary College in 1905, he initially worked in London passing the examinations for an Inspector of Meat and other Foods, in December 1908. Soon after he entered University College London to read medicine, gaining MRCS, LRCP in 1913 and MB in 1915. On graduation from UCL Lake joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to northern France in October 1915, to serve as medical officer to 2 Cavalry Field Ambulance (2CFA) (part of 2nd Cavalry Division). War diaries show how he used both his medical and veterinary knowledge.

Herbert Lake 1883-1869

Herbert Lake 1883-1969

Soon after his arrival, responding to the cold and wet conditions, Lake noted that horses had been standing out all the time and though there had been no sickness among them, they had generally fallen off in condition. To provide protection he moved horses into the trenches. It was recorded that ‘it has not been entirely successful owing to the heavy mud, but they have been sheltered in this way from the cold winds.’ Two months later his veterinary skills were again to the fore, when he was asked to give a course of lectures in horse mastership and stable management to each field ambulance.

However it was his medical work that was to be recognised when on 8 October 1916 he led a digging party in the Ginchy area of the Somme. The party dug out three men; one was dead, the other two wounded. Lake would later be mentioned in dispatches for his actions.

Herbert Lake was also an accomplished artist, although unlike many of his contemporaries, he appears not to have had any formal training.  Making use of a number of media, he portrayed his experiences in war, and invariably horses are at the centre of his work. He graphically depicted the role of the field ambulance in a number of sketches.

Horse pulled ambulance by Herbert Lake 1917

Horse pulled ambulance by Herbert Lake 1917

In March 1917, Lake witnessed the cavalry charge at Arras, the last cavalry charge by British troops in Europe. His painting ‘Cavalry Before Arras’ portrays the intensity of the preparations for battle amongst both horse and rider. Later Lake would treat many of those injured in the battle,

Cavalry before Arras by Herbert Lake

Cavalry before Arras by Herbert Lake

After the war Herbert Lake settled in Beaminster, Dorset where he established a general medical practice. However, he remained on the register of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons until 1958, and treated patients, both human and animal, for many years.

The exhibition runs until 1 March.

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


A Horse Ambulance Pulling a Sick Horse out of a Field by Edwin Noble © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2922)   reproduced under the IWM Non-commercial Licence

Photograph of Herbert Lake and the paintings by him are reproduced with the permission of the Lake family.

A Gift Horse

Gift Horse by Hans Haacke, Trafalgar Square

Gift Horse by Hans Haacke, Trafalgar Square

Sitting proudly on top of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square currently is ‘Gift Horse’ by Hans Haacke.

The sculpture is based on illustrations from George Stubb’s Anatomy of the horse and so feels strangely familiar to me – apart from the live share-price ticker tied to its foreleg.

Looking at our catalogue I found we have another book of the same title in our collection – Ernst Gurlt’s  Anatomy of the Horse (A Schloss 1833, translated from the original German by J Willimott) and like the Stubbs it is lavishly illustrated.

Ernst Friedrich Gurlt (1794-1882)  was Professor at the veterinary school in Berlin where the anatomy collection  still bears his name.

He published a number of works on anatomy the first of which was Handbuch der vergleichenden Anatomie der Haus-saugethiere  (Handbook of comparative anatomy of domesticated animals).  This covered the anatomy of the horse, ox, sheep, swine, dog and cat.

A review of the English translation of Gurlt’s Anatomy of the Horse in the Veterinarian (1833 pp 46-50) begins by setting Gurlt’s anatomical works in the context of those that had gone before describing  his  Handbuch der vergleichenden Anatomie der Haus-saugethiere ‘as the great treasure of the veterinary anatomist’.

Of the English translation of the Anatomy of the Horse it is less favourable – though no discredit is attached to Gurlt.  Instead it argues that by taking the plates on the horse from Gurlts more comprehensive earlier book of comparative anatomy  the publisher, Mr Schloss, has ‘destroyed the charm of the work, as one of comparative anatomy and rendered it incomplete as an elementary book’.

The review does go on to say however that ‘to the student who confines his inquiries to the horse, it is still a most valuable present’.   The cost of this ‘valuable present’ is given as £3 5s.

Anatomy of the horse was published in two parts – the text which is an index to the plates (128 p 8vo) and the 35 folio sized plates several of which are reproduced below.

Gurlt Plate 1 Skeleton seen from the left sidePlate 1 Skeleton seen from the left side

Gurlt Plate 7 Muscles of the headPlate 7 Muscles of the head

Gurlt Plate 10 Fourth layer of muscles seen from the left sidePlate 10 Fourth layer of muscles seen from the left side

Gurlt Plate 13 Salivary glandsPlate 13 Salivary glands

Gurlt Plate 15 Intestinal canalPlate 15 Intestinal canal

Gurlt Plate 22 Pregnant uterus of the mare, opened from belowPlate 22 Pregnant uterus of the mare, opened from below

Gurlt Plate 24 Female foetus 57 days oldPlate 24 Female foetus 57 days old

Gurlt Plate 28 arteries on the head and neck

Plate 28 Arteries on the head and neck

Robert Stordy and the Uganda Transport

In 1898 Robert Stordy, who was working for the Colonial Veterinary Service in British East Africa, embarked on a 400 mile journey from Nairobi to Kampala.   This journey was the first made by the Uganda Transport which had been set up to convey the effects, equipment and rations of troops serving in Uganda.

Stordy wrote an account of this journey – ‘The Uganda transport – through the tsetse fly belt of British East Africa’ which appeared in The Veterinarian  January 1899 pp 11 – 20.

Stordy's map of the route dated 2 August 1898

Stordy’s map of the route dated 2 August 1898

The original plan had been to use both bullocks and mules but an outbreak of rinderpest meant that the first journey was  entirely reliant on mules, 102 of which had landed at Kilindini Harbour Mombasa, having travelled by steam ship from Cyprus.  From Kilindini the mules were taken by rail, along with carts and other equipment to the start point of the journey in Ndi, some 109 miles away.

As well as the mules the convoy consisted of 25 carts, five ponies, 4 Officers including a Medical Officer, Stordy and a number of  ‘Cape boys’.  They set out on 1 April and arrived on 19 April covering around 20 miles a day.

Team of the Uganda Tranport

Team of the Uganda Tranport

Stordy tells of the animals they encountered including ‘his Lordship’ the man eating lion who had previously claimed seventeen victims and a rhino they mistook for an anthill!  He also records their game hunting exploits – giving a detailed description of shooting his first lion (not ‘his Lordship’) on which he performs a post-mortem.   The account includes this photograph, taken by Stordy, of a lion skin drying on a hut – it doesn’t say if it is the one he shot.

Skin of lion drying on a native hut

Skin of lion drying on a native hut

There are numerous descriptions of the scenery they passed through – ‘Reaching the River Simba … a beautiful sight met our gaze in the form of innumerable fireflies lighting up the river banks with brilliant flashes’.

Stordy  records some of the veterinary work he undertook e.g. performing a post-mortem on a bullock with rinderpest at Machakos. There is also a description of the precautions taken against tsetse fly: the mules were given balls of arsenic, quinine and gentian; all the animals were regularly smeared with Jeyes fluid with the ponies having additional  protection when they were  ‘arrayed in their pyjamas’.

Pony in pyjamas as a protection against tsetse fly

Pony in pyjamas as a protection against tsetse fly

Stordy finishes by recording that only one mule had died on the road and the others were in fair condition and that the journey was ‘full of hard work, and anxiety, yet abounding in experience not to be gained in the dear old country’.

You can read about another of Stordy’s journeys.

The RCVS stained glass

Display of Coat of Arms

Display of Coat of Arms in reception

The addition of the Coat of Arms of the University of Nottingham to the display of stained glass in the reception at Belgravia House, the RCVS HQ, has awakened interest in the history of the glass in this display and elsewhere in the building.  As a result I spent several days pouring over 170 years of Council minutes to see what I could find out.

The story begins in 1884 when the College decided to knock down its existing building in Red Lion Square and erect a new home on the same site.  This new building was to be ‘fitting for the home of the veterinary profession’ and tenders were invited for three stained glass windows in the Council Chamber facing on to Red Lion Square.  Money was tight though and Council decided they couldn’t justify the extra expense.

The idea of having ‘coloured’ windows must have appealed to sections of the profession as the Central Veterinary Medical Society offered to pay for stained glass in the middle window.  Practitioners HL Simpson and JF Simpson (prominent members of the Royal Counties Veterinary Medical Association) jointly offered another.  So, whilst the building opened on 6 April 1886 with plain windows, stained glass was installed in two of them in time for the AGM a month later.

In an editorial about the new building in May 1886 The Veterinary Journal reminded ‘societies and individuals that there is much yet to be done in the way of furnishing, fitting and embellishment of their building, and that now is a good opportunity for their assistance’.  Perhaps this plea was aimed at the remaining plain window in the Council Chamber?

If so it seems to have worked as the following year the Norfolk and Eastern Counties, the Western Counties and the Lincolnshire Veterinary Medical Associations agreed to jointly fund the final stained glass window.  They presented the design to Council on 3 April 1888.  The window would show:

‘a veterinary surgeon examining a horse, which was made to appear as jaded as possible, to carry out the idea of a sick animal. After the stable-master’s explanation about the animal, the veterinary surgeon appears to be cautioning him for the future, telling him never to leave till to-morrow what might be done to-day. There was a Latin inscription under the subject to that effect. In the background a shepherd was seen driving a flock of sheep for the veterinary surgeon to examine. The subject was surrounded by an oval interlaced with the monograms of the counties by which the window was presented’.

Finally the three windows were complete and they disappear from the records until 1941 when they are mentioned in reports of the damage caused by the bombing of Red Lion Square in the final month of the Blitz.   The damage was so serious that they had to be removed and replaced by plain glass.

It was not until 1953, following payment of war damage compensation, that the windows were repaired and returned to their original position. Or were they? Photographic evidence (see below) seems to show that, for some unknown reason, the two outer windows switched sides.

Windows in Red Lion Square

The three windows as they looked when first installed. The window depicting the sick horse is on the right.

Council Chamber 1927

Photograph of Council from 1927 again showing the window with the horse on the right

Last RCVS Council Meeting in Red Lion Square September 1960

Last Council meeting in Red Lion Square September 1960 – the horse is now on the left

 The 1953 Annual Report also records that the idea of adding the ‘armorial bearings of the universities having veterinary schools and of the veterinary colleges which have their own bearings’ in the windows at the opposite end of the building was being considered. It was hoped that these would be paid for by ‘the universities and colleges concerned or by the alumni thereof’.

There is no record of when this happened but the six university coats of arms must have been added before 1960, when the College moved out of Red Lion Square and put the stained glass in storage, as they are mentioned in discussions about which items from Red Lion Square could be incorporated in to the new building in Belgrave Square.

 In March 1962 a representative from Goddard and Gibbs (the stained glass studio where the windows were being stored) reports that it was not practicable to include the main windows in the new building but it would be possible to ‘incorporate one panel of the Royal College coat of arms [from the middle one of the three windows] and the six existing panels of the coats of arms …  in the window at the garden end of the large room on the first floor’.

This was agreed and these panels, with the addition of new stained glass representations of the coats of arms of ‘the veterinary schools under the old one portal system’ (Royal Veterinary College, Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, Glasgow Veterinary College and the Veterinary College of Ireland) plus Trinity College, Dublin and University College, Dublin were installed in the Historical Library in Belgrave Square.

Window containing the Coats of Arms in Belgrave Square

The coats of arms from the universities and veterinary schools as well as the RCVS Coat of Arms from the original middle window installed in Belgrave Square

It is the stained glass from this window that can now be seen in Belgravia House – the university coats of arms in reception and the RCVS Coat of Arms in the Members’ room.

The question of what happened to the rest of the three larger windows remains a mystery. Minutes of 1962/63 record discussions of possible homes, including a new student hostel at RVC’s Hawkshead Campus.  These all fell through.  The final mention of them in the official records is in October 1963 when Registrar WGR Oates reports that he has written again to the associations who presented the windows to see if they have views on their future.

You can see glimpses of the windows in Red Lion Square in a film produced by Paul Greenough MRCVS in 1960   (3.07 mins  and 4.42 mins)

RCVS Coat of arms

RCVS Coat of arms – all that remains of the original three windows

200 year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo: Unique records to be digitised

At our recent Summer Reception, guest speaker Kirsten Rausing announced £387,275 in funding from The ALBORADA Trust for a five year project to catalogue, properly store and digitise priority pieces from our historic collections and make them available for free online.

Amongst the documents we plan to digitise is a manuscript ledger recording the work of the Board of Ordnance Veterinary Hospital at Woolwich Barracks from 1802-1855 – a unique record of significance for the veterinary history of both the Battle of Waterloo and the Crimean War.woolwich 2

The hospital’s origins stem from February 1796 when the artillery horses stationed in Kent were reported to be in a diseased state.  Edward Coleman, Professor at the London Veterinary College, was asked to investigate.  His report confirmed that many of the horses had glanders and had been destroyed and recommended that a portion of the stables at Woolwich be set aside as an infirmary.

Coleman suggested that the infirmary could be staffed by a pupil from the veterinary college, who could remain in residence, and that he could attend once or twice a week. This plan was agreed very quickly and Coleman started as Medical Superintendent on 25 March 1796  at 10s a day and John Percivall as Assistant at 6s a day.

The ledger is divided into two parts – the first section lists the admissions of sick and injured horses from the

  • Horse Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery,
  • The Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers, the Riding Establishment
  • Senior officers of the regiment stationed in Woolwich.

The second section is a store issuing and receipt book for the hospital which allows researchers to see the huge increase in supplies required directly after the Battle of Waterloo and during the build up to the Crimean War.

The National Army Museum’s Waterloo 200 project carries the strapline ‘discover the battle that changed the world’.  We are delighted that on the 200th Anniversary of the Battle  this document, which highlights the role of veterinary surgeons in this world-changing event, will soon be made available for all to view.

The digitisation project will start later this year – and I will post the history behind our most interesting and rare pieces and updates on progress here, so watch this space!

Image credit: Jacob Bland


Edward Mayhew on dogs

In our collection of watercolours by Edward Mayhew there is only one featuring dogs.

Illustration of dogs by Edward MayhewThe top image is captioned ‘Dog with retracted eye – near the termination(?) of  distemper’ and the bottom ‘The lasting effect left by nitrate of silver when applied to an ulcer on the eye of the dog.’

The fact that there is only one painting of dogs could be considered somewhat surprising as Mayhew wrote regularly on canine matters.  For example

  • On the effects of inhalation of the fumes of ether on dogs and cats, and by inference, on the horse; with the probable utility of such in veterinary medicine. (Veterinarian 1847 Vol XX pp 86-89)
  • Comparative pathology elucidated by injection of cold water into the uterus (Veterinarian 1848 Vol XXI pp 554 -561) which describes the treatment of a bitch with an inverted and protruding uterus.
  • The catheter passable in dogs (Veterinarian 1849 Vol XXII pp 16-19) which was the first account of the passage of a urinary catheter in dogs.

In the 1848 article Mayhew reveals that his practice dealt mainly in dogs – ‘[the] public have favoured me by consulting me largely upon the disease of dogs”.  His writings on dogs culminated in the 1854 publication:

Dogs: their management:  being a new plan of treating the animal based upon a consideration of his natural temperament (London: George Routledge).

The title page states the work is ‘illustrated by numerous woodcuts depicting the character and position of the dog when suffering disease’ but the illustrator is not named.  Was it Mayhew? If not were they based on originals by Mayhew like his later books on horses?

A possible clue to the illustrator can be found in Volume 4 of Frederick Smiths Early History of Veterinary Literature and its British development  where he describes two works by Mayhew published in 1854 –  the one listed above and another Dogs: their management and treatment issued under the pseudonym F. Forester.  However Frank Forester is now known to be the pseudonym of Henry William Herbert (1807-1858)  a novelist, journalist and illustrator who emigrated to the United States in 1831.

Searching for Forester and dogs quickly lead me to a revised edition (published 1857)  of a book titled The Dog by Dinks, Mayhew and Hutchinson compiled, abridged, edited and illustrated by Frank Forester.  This book is a compilation of  three separate, previously published works, on dogs including Mayhew’s which is described as the second American edition.  Does this mean that the illustrations in Mayhew’s 1854 book (which are exactly the same in the Forester compilation as in the individually published version)  were by Forester?  Certainly that is what most people seem to believe according to my internet search.

Further searching on Forester/Herbert led me to the Life and writings of Frank Forester edited by David W Judd (London, F Warne, 1882).  The section on Forester as editor states

“As the editor of other persons’ writings … Herbert was little more than a bookseller’s hack, lending his name and making a few annotations to previously published volumes, to secure for them a more rapid sale”

So presumably the version of Mayhew’s book that Smith refers to as issued under the pseudonym F. Forester was simply a repackage for the American market.  All of which might be considered to cast doubt on Forester as illustrator of Mayhew’s book.

Whoever the illustrator was the pictures offer an interesting insight into canine practice in the 1850s.  They show how to recognise healthy dogs as in the case of the Scotch Terrier below where ‘the coat is by the artist truthfully depicted as remarkably long, full and hairy’.

Scotch Terrier

Scotch Terrier

Illustrate dogs suffering from various diseases

Edward Mayhew Dogs: their management - Inflammation of the lungsEdward Mayhew's Dogs: their management - A mad dog on the march

(Note the man running away in the background from the rabid dog)

Edward Mayhew's Dogs: their management - Acute rheumatism

and show various veterinary treatments

Edward Mayhew's Dogs: their management - Dog with canker cap onEdward Mayhew's Dogs: their management - A dog taped or muzzled for operation

Examining the Veterinary Examiner

Illustration of a Common Greenland Seal

Illustration of a Common Greenland Seal

In the Historical Collection there are numerous bound volumes that simply say ‘Pamphlets various’ on the spine.  They don’t look that interesting but I always have a sense of anticipation when opening one for the first time as they usually contain an eclectic mix of material – prospectuses for vet schools, unpublished correspondence, reprints on matters veterinary (or not), individual issues of journals etc.  Flicking through one such volume last week I found what appears to be the complete set of a short lived periodical called The Veterinary Examiner:  monthly record of physiology, pathology and natural history

Index to the volume of pamphlets

Index to the volume of pamphlets

The subtitle makes a bold statement about the frequency of publication but in reality The Veterinary Examiner seems to have only lasted for three issues December 1832-February 1833.  Or at least these are the only issues I can trace in libraries worldwide.

Our issues, bound slightly out of order, are tucked away in the volume between the ‘Rules and regulations of the National Veterinary Benevolent & Mutual Defence Society’ for 1867 and Thomas Challis on ‘Smithfield  and Newgate Markets as they should and might be’, 1851

The issues do not give an editors name, or indeed any real clues as to who the editor might have been. I have however found two short reviews in the  London Literary Gazette (1832) and The Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, mineralogy, geology and meteorology (1833) which give the editors as Professor Dewhurst FWS, FLVS &c and Henry Braddon Esq..

Professor Dewhurst is Henry William Dewhurst who taught anatomy and physiology at his Theatre of Anatomy in Sidmouth Street, Bloomsbury.  In a work published in 1822 he is described as Professor of Zoology, Human and Comparative Anatomy, Fellow of the Westminster Medical, Royal Jennerian, and London Veterinary Societies.

The three issues of The Veterinary Examiner have a total of 120 pages and more than one third are taken up with publications written by Dewhurst and Braddon. Dewhurt’s contributions include  a lecture on the circulation of the blood and its vessels and  his ‘Observations on the natural history of the Phoca Groenlandica or Common Greenland Seal’ (presumably based on research undertaken when he served as a ships surgeon on a journey to Greenland) Whilst Braddon has a three part essay ‘On the structure and oeconomy of the Horse’s foot’ (in three parts).

In contrast to the other veterinary periodicals started around this time (The Veterinarian and the Farrier & Naturalist) the purpose of The Veterinary Examiner does not appear to be to “attack” Edward Coleman and the Veterinary College.  In fact the first issue is complimentary about Coleman: “Professor Coleman opened the session at the Royal Veterinary College, by the delivery of an excellent introductory discourse” and goes on to state  that the:

“Pages of our journal will be open to all, and influenced by none,  …. However [we will] never permit our columns to be defiled, with personal abuse, or in assailing the private character of any individual – Measures not men, must form the theme of the discussion” (pp30-31)

As well as the articles by Dewhurst and Braddon there are reprints of articles first published elsewhere, reviews of newly published works  and a long – and quite interesting  – article on the ‘History of Veterinary Medicine’ which is spread over the three issues.  Part 3 of the history article  in issue 3 ends ‘to be continued’ so that and other mentions of items to be included in the next number indicate that another issue was planned.

I wonder if there were more or did something happen to prevent further publication?

Illustration of the frog from Braddon's article on the hoof

Illustration of the frog from Braddon’s article on the hoof


“A Good Deal of Spade Work” – The RCVS Archives Project

In June this year, RCVS Knowledge were thrilled to announce that the Alborada Trust had provided funding for a five year project to catalogue, preserve and digitise the Historic Collection and Archive of the Royal College. Now, five months later, it is time to update you with the progress that has been made so far!

One of the first steps of the project was to employ a qualified Archivist, to oversee the execution of the project, including the cataloguing, recruitment of a digitisation assistant, and development of the digital platform which will provide greater access to the collections.

That Archivist is me!

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

I’m Lorna Cahill, and I started working here at RCVS Knowledge six weeks ago. Previously I have worked in the Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Natural History Museum, and Royal Holloway, University of London. I have lots of experience working with material from the 19th century, particularly relating to science and education. So this post is a perfect fit! I am incredibly excited to delve deep into these fascinating collections, and to draw out some of the stories and characters and share them with the public. I hope to regularly update this blog, and the @RCVSKnowledge Twitter feed, with interesting bits and bobs I find along the way. So keep an eye out for those.

Archivist's Desk at RCVS Knowledge

This is where you will find me for the next five years!

So what have I been up to for the past six weeks – and what’s the next step of the project?

Happily for me, my main task thus far is exploring the collection. I need to get an idea of what the collections contain, the context around the material, who the people are that created the papers, and how best to look after them. It didn’t take me long to realise that I would first need boxes. Lots and lots of Archive boxes.

Archive Boxes

Tower of empty Archive boxes ready to house collections

First I took a sample of papers by Connie Ford MRCVS (1912-1998), who worked for the Veterinary Investigation Service for nearly 30 years. She was a specialist in cattle fertility, and I very soon got used to reading a lot about bull testicles and cow abortions (archives work is not always so glamorous!). The research carried out by Ford seems incredibly thorough and there is a great deal of data for me to sift through. However, sometimes it can be rather touching, such as this list of cow abortions. Poor Betty, Shirley and Joyce.

Ford Cow Abortions

Research data from the papers of Connie Ford

The collection I will be focussing on for the near future is that of Major General Sir Frederick Smith MRCVS (1857-1929). Smith served with the Army Veterinary Service during the Second Boer War, and was eventually appointed Director General in 1907. He wrote several veterinary manuals and histories of the veterinary profession, and carried out extensive research. I have just looked through nearly 20 years of correspondence between Smith and Fred Bullock, Secretary of RCVS, which has revealed to me a great deal about Smith’s character. I even found Smith’s prediction, in 1920, that one day I would come along to curate his papers:

Excerpt from Letter from Smith to Fred Bullock, 8 Jan 1920

“I am leaving all my books, papers, notes &c to the College with one or two exceptions. If I live long enough I will index the papers & notes still in M.S, they may save some man a good deal of spade work.”

It has taken 95 years, but finally someone is giving them all the attention they deserve. However, he couldn’t predict that it would be a woman!

Smith’s handwriting is a little challenging to read, so I certainly do have my work cut out for me. But I look forward to spending the next few months with Fred Smith, and helping everyone else get to know him better too.


Thomas Somerville: an inspiration to others

This month marks the 75th anniversary of ‘Operation Compass’ which took place in the North African desert, in western Egypt during World War 2.  It was here, on 11 December 1940, that a member of the veterinary profession was recognised for gallantry of the highest order.

Dr Thomas Somerville was born in March 1887 in Ceylon, the son of a successful tea planter and merchant. After attending Framlingham College Suffolk, he entered the Royal Veterinary College in 1904, graduating MRCVS in 1908.  He immediately gained a place at the London Hospital Medical College, believing that a dual qualification would aid his plans to work abroad.

Somerville passed the conjoint medical examination (MRCS, LRCP) in the summer of 1914 and, at the outbreak of war, was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served in France throughout the war: in January 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for ‘distinguished action in the field’, and in 1918 received a bar to the MC ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.’

Captain T V Somerville c1918

Captain T V Somerville c1918

Following the armistice in 1918 he was posted to Northern Russia where he worked as a medical officer on hospital trains, caring for the casualties of the Russian Civil War.  He was awarded an OBE in 1920 for this service.

After demobilisation from the army, Somerville pursued a career in medicine, rather than veterinary medicine, working in general practice, initially near to Whitely Bay, Northumberland and then in Bournemouth.

At the outbreak of World War 2, Somerville, aged 52, volunteered for military service.  He was commissioned in September 1939 and posted as Medical Officer to the 3rd (Kings Own) Hussars the following month. The 3rd Hussars were despatched to Egypt in the summer of 1940, arriving in Cairo in September, to serve as part of the 7th Armoured Division, the ‘Desert Rats.’

Somerville quickly realised that medical officers would need to be highly mobile in order to provide treatment swiftly. With ‘light-hearted support’ from senior officers, and using a captured Italian ambulance, he designed a vehicle which would allow treatment of casualties on the battlefield. The Medical Assistance Vehicle (MAV) was effectively a mobile surgical unit. Being lightly armed, it could not display a Red Cross, instead Somerville emblazoned the regimental emblem, the Horse of Hanover, on each side.

‘Operation Compass’ commenced on 8 December 1940, with allied forces attacking Italian troops at Sidi Barrani The Italians soon withdrew, and the 3rd Hussars were ordered to pursue the retreating forces.  On 11 December the tanks of the 3rd Hussars became trapped in the soft crust of the dried salt lakes at Ras El Saida. – they were ‘sitting ducks’ for the Italian artillery.

Somerville drove out onto the battlefield to rescue the injured.  A tank commander recalled how he was trapped in a tank, unable to get out and thought he was going to die, when:

“Suddenly this officer appeared from nowhere. I didn’t know who he was. He tried to pull me out but he couldn’t. High explosive shells were coming in at a terrific rate. I told him to get away before we got hit again but he just dived into the turret head first, just his legs sticking out. He came out and pulled at me again. This time I popped out and he dragged me down the side of the tank onto the ground. I was nearly passing out but he sat me up and told me I was going to lose my leg but I could make it if I could hang on. I didn’t know much about it but I learned after that he was Captain Somerville and he took my leg off in that vehicle and saved my life.”

Somerville’s actions that day were clearly described in the citation for gallantry:

“…Capt. Somerville went out among the tanks attending to the wounded regardless of the heavy fire and with no consideration for his personal safety.  He continued to attend to and bring in the wounded until all were under cover from the main enemy position, and thereafter he dressed them in a position where they were still unavoidably under fire from snipers.  His cool gallantry was an inspiration to others who assisted him, and the means of saving many lives.  I consider that in view of the shattering fire of the enemy Capt. Somerville has earned the highest decoration for valour.”

Headstone of Captain Somerville, Suda Bay, Crete

Somerville’s Headstone Suda Bay, Crete

He was recommended for the award of the Victoria Cross (VC). This was agreed at all levels  of command until it reached the Commander-in-Chief in February 1941,- Wavell crossed through the recommendation of VC and approved the award of the Distinguished Service Order.

In May 1941 Somerville was posted to Crete where he provided medical care to those injured in the fierce fighting following the invasion by German paratroopers earlier that month.   At the end of May he was ordered to retreat, but remained on the island to treat casualties. He, along with his batman Corporal Fred Marlow, was befriended by local partisans, and lived in the hills and mountains during the summer of 1941. During this period Somerville was taken ill; he died on 23 November 1941 and was buried in a local cemetery lying between a local soldier and a local woman. At the end of the war, he was reburied at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Suda Bay, Crete.

Thomas Somerville is recognised on a number of memorials in this country, including Framlingham, the London Hospital and The Roll of Honour of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; he is yet to be recognised by any veterinary institution.

Detail from War Memorial of the London Hospital

Detail from War Memorial of the London Hospital


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