Cattle plague in the colonies

It has recently been announced that the Wellcome Trust funded project to digitise the veterinary medicine reports that form part of the National Library of Scotland’s India papers collection has been added to the Medical History of British India website

The veterinary collection, which covers the  period 1864-1959, contains important material on research into diseases such as surra and rinderpest (cattle pSelection of reports from Egypt on cattle plaguelague).

This digitised material has sparked interest in our Library too, as we are in the middle of a project to retrospectively catalogue our material relating to the colonial veterinary services.  We are working through them country by country and have travelled as far as Africa, where we also find that cattle plague was written about extensively.

The work of the colonial veterinary services is well represented in our collections.  One particularly intriguing item is From Nairobi to the Red Sea through Ethiopia which is an account of mission to the Abyssinian government undertaken in 1911 by the Chief Veterinary Officer for British East Africa, Robert Stordy.  This account is peppered with photos and personal anecdotes and makes fascinating reading.  A transcription of the first chapter is available on the Trust Library website.

Image: Selection of reports on cattle plague held by the library.

Slaughterhouses in the Tropics

One of our ongoing library projects is to catalogue the RCVS Fellowship Theses.  The collection spans approximately 120 years and fills more than 20 metres!

Sheep and goats being killed

An interesting thesis, by A. Blake, Chief Veterinary Officer in the Rangoon Municipality, Burma, is entitled ‘The management of slaughter-houses in the East’ and was submitted around 1910.  He draws on ten years worth of experience in abattoirs in the Tropics and temperate zones in order to have “something fresh to say on a subject about which much has been written”.

Blake includes an A1 sized fold out for a plan of a cattle market and slaughterhouse, filled in with watercolour paints.  He also uses some graphic photos of a working slaughterhouse to illustrate his points.

Before offering his advice on the management of slaughterhouses, he explains the eating habits of those living in a tropical climate: “this day our daily bread” is a strictly accurate expression, for each day’s supply is bought each day”.  It is the custom for the cook to attend “the bazaar”, every morning at 5am, in order to buy the meat for the day.

Moving out of the market and to the slaughterhouse, Blake notes that meat would not keep fresh for longer than a day in the heat, so “all operations from the killing to the consumption of meat are finished within 24 hours”.  Before slaughter, animals were housed in “lairs” and kept under observation for four days, to check if any of the animals were stolen or contagious.  Any animal showing symptoms of tuberculosis and Sturgis disease were rejected for food consumption. However, Blake does comment that carcasses showing early signs of cattle plague and foot and mouth disease could often be passed for consumption as long as “the flesh is not fevered and the animal has been well bled,” but the liver, guts and head must be destroyed.

Animal ‘lairs’

According to Blake, a slaughterhouse should be off a good road, on the outskirts of town and must be “remote from Temples, Monasteries, Cemeteries and Dwelling-house”.  To allow for a town’s rapid expansion, the site must be set as far from residential areas as possible.  The site must be near a railway – most municipalities banned pigs being housed within their limits and due to the large Muslim population it was illegal to take pigs along a public road, except in a covered cart.

Images from the  Fellowship Dissertation ‘The management of slaughter-houses in the East’ by A. Blake, c.1910

View our Fellowship Theses here:

The thrill of ‘The Chace’

William Somervile The Chace 1767 feeding hounds

Feeding hounds

Today is  World Poetry Day, so to mark the occasion we have brought out one of the poetry books we have in our Historical Collection, William Somervile’s The Chace: a poem (id 15172).  This was first published in 1735 and we have a copy of the fifth edition which was published in 1767.

William Somervile (1675–1742), was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford.  Showing no early aptitude for literature, Somervile turned his hand to poetry in middle age. For most of his adult life he lived on the family estate in Edstone, Warwickshire where he devoted himself to field sports, the subject of his best known poems.

The Chace is written in four books of blank verse in which Somervile conveys the excitement and dangers of hunting, as well as its place in history. It also covers dog breeding and training, hare and stag hunting and, in one section, even takes in hunting in the ‘magnificent manner of the Great Mogul.’

It starts with the call to the chase: ‘the sport of kings’ from the ‘horse-sounding horn’.  It goes on to describe in detail not only the thrill of the hunt, ‘the huntsman ever gay, robust and bold,’ but what Somervile sees as the cruelty.  The poem also explores the bond between the huntsman and his horse.  The death of  a much loved horse is greatly mourned:

‘Unhappy quadrapede! No more, alas!
Shall thy fond master with his voice applaud
Thy gentleness, thy speed; or with his hand
Stroke the soft dappled sides, as he each day
Visits thy stall, well pleas’d; no more shalt thou
With sprightly neighings  … glad his proud heart’

Want to read more?  You can find the 1802 edition here

Horses and the problem of sore backs

“Sore backs appear inseparable from mounted service, they have existed as long as the horse has been used in war … it was reasonable to suppose … as knowledge advanced, a reduction in this class of injury should have been possible.”

So says Frederick Smith in his book A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 (item id 003722) in the section on the history of sore backs.  He then goes on to claim that in the 40 years following the Battle of Waterloo all “the lessons of war appear to have been forgotten.”

Later campaigns meant that the topic became a matter for discussion again. In the early 1880s General Sir Frederick FitzWygram, Commander of the Cavalry Brigade, studied the problem showing that it was often the construction of the saddle that was to blame.

Smith - skeleton of a horse shoing back bone and ribs

Smith’s Skeleton of horse showing back bone and ribs

The topic then became the subject of a series of lectures, delivered by Smith, at the Army Veterinary School in Aldershot. These lectures were eventually published in 1891 as A manual of saddles and sore backs (item id 26542).

The manual is set out in four sections: the first covers the anatomy and physiology of the back because, as Smith states, “no accurate conception of the fitting of a saddle … can be formed until we have some knowledge of the structure on which the saddle rests.” This is followed by 16 pages on the construction of a saddle, 8 pages of instruction on how to fit one properly and finally 17 pages on ‘sore backs – how they are caused, prevented and remedied.’  The book contains 11 illustrations – 6 are anatomical, 5 on fitting a saddle with the final one showing the sites of the various injuries.

In spite of the lectures and manual it would appear that little changed – when referring to the South African War Smith states that “sore backs represented one of the chief causes of inefficiency.”

Smith - How to fit a girth correctly

Smith – How to fit a girth correctly

This view is also expressed by William Snowball Mulvey in his little (20 page) book Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign (item id 26379) which was published in 1902. Sore backs had been the topic of Mulvey’s RCVS Fellowship Thesis and one of the reasons for this choice was “The fact that nine out of every ten cases which came before my notice in South Africa were the so-called sore backs.” By publishing his thesis Mulvey hoped to make his observations more widely available.

The book is very much a practical manual – it identifies 9 causes of sore backs and  then shows how to prevent the injuries occurring in the first place – as Mulvey says in his closing words “the rational treatment of sore backs, is of course, the removal of the cause.”

Interested in finding out more? The notes and illustrations Smith made when carrying out research for his lectures and manual form part of the Frederick Smith Collection , they provide a fascinating insight into the meticulous way Smith carried out his rearch on this topic.


Mulvey, William Snowball (1902) Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign . Fellowship theses later published by H & W Brown

Smith, Fred (1891) A manual of saddles and sore backs London: HMSO

Smith, Frederick (1919) A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 London: H. & W. Brown

Brunel on the power of the horse

Title page of Youatt The Horse

Title page of The Horse with Brunel’s name incorrectly written

Search the library catalogue for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born on this day in 1806, and you will find one entry – for William Youatt’s book The Horse: its history, breeds, and management to which is appended, a treatise on draught first published in 1831.

The link to Brunel?  The inclusion of his ‘treatise on draught’ – though the work is not always attributed to Brunel and in at least one of the editions of The Horse his name is given as J. K. Brunel (see picture to the right)

 Brunel’s opening paragraph states:

“the subject of draught by animal power … has long … occupied the attention of theoretical and practical men … our object [is] to collect what has been said and done … arrange it methodically, to show in what manner the information may be applied … rather than to attempt to produce anything absolutely new.”

So the treatise is in effect a literature review which covers, in nearly 50 pages, the practical  application of theoretical investigations into the power of a horse.

A glance at the contents reveals the breadth of the topics covered:  ‘the power of the horse, how calculated’; ‘difference of opinion as to wheels’; ‘draught regarded as to the act of drawing, and the resistance to power employed’; ‘the manner in which the animal adapts himself to his load’; ‘errors with regard to this in some ancient sculptures: real action of the horse in walking, trotting and galloping’; ‘advantage of springs [on carts]’; ‘hardness of road surface’ etc.

Illustration from Youatt The Horse -

Illustration showing the action of the horse when pulling depending on the angle of the harness.

Brunel includes theories from ancient history, referring to the Elgin marbles and the usage of horse harnesses in the Illiad, as well as those that were current at the time he was writing.  He also includes a number of predictions about  the future eg the demise of the canal system due to the growth of the railway system.  (The treatise was written two years before the founding of the first major British Railway, the Great Western Railway in 1833.)

So how is it that a treatise by Brunel is included in Youatt’s book?  It would appear that it is for the simple reason that both works were commissioned by the ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ and put together as each complemented the other.  (See Ewer, TK (1991) Youatt and Brunel.  Veterinary History Vol 6 No. 4 pp120-124 for an exploration of the link between Youatt and Brunel.)

We will return to The Horse and look at Youatt’s much larger contribution in a later post.

The many layers of the dog

There has been a lot of discussion of anatomical illustrations recently following the opening of the exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery Leonardo da Vinci anatomist.  We have a number of stunning anatomical illustrations in the Historical Collection – the most well known would be in Stubbs’ The anatomy of the horse and then there are those in Carlo Ruini’s Anatomia del cavallo, infermita, et suoi rimedii and Andrew Snape’s Anatomy of an horse.

Although I admire these works my favourite anatomical items are the books of models that we have.  Turn the page and lift the flaps to see what lies behind – it is like being a child again.

We have two complete series of these ‘flap books’:  Vinton’s livestock models – which includes the pig, the sheep, the bull, the cow, the horse, and the mare and foal and Philips’ anatomical and technical models, series 2.

This second set by Philips covers domestic animals.  Again we find the horse, the ox, the sheep and the pig but interestingly we also find the dog. Why interestingly? Well these books were produced in the 1890s, a time when the practice of keeping a dog as a companion animal was not common.Cover of The Dog: its external and internal organisation

The dog: its external and internal organisation: an illustrated representation and brief description was edited by Alexander Constant Piesse MRCVS who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1885 and the anatomical description is by William S Furneaux.

It starts with a 28 page text which gives the general characteristics of dogs, then divides dogs into two types – non-sporting and sporting and gives the characteristics of the main breeds.  This section is illustrated with some rather nice images.

There then follows “a detailed account of the anatomy of the body of the dog; [which] will be illustrated by means of a folding model of the St Bernard”.  The various ‘layers’ are then discussed – starting with the exterior, the skin, and ending with the genital organs.

Finally, there is an explanation of the folding plates with each section numbered to correspond to the model. So we have: Head  – (1) Nose (2) Crest of nose (3) Mouth and upper lip etc

There are 5 folding plates in all – and you lift the flap to reveal the next ‘layer’. The inner ‘layers’ are a mass of flaps – so much so that instructions are given as to how to open them “No 13 [left lung] may be turned upward and 18 [left ventricle] to the left …the interior of the hear them become[s] visible”.

The Dog: its external and internal organisation. Plate 5 the internal organs

Plate 5 showing the internal organs

Please get in touch if you want to visit and explore the layers of the dog – or horse or pig ….

Rabbits: from prey to pet

Domestic rabbits in 'A Practical Treatise...' by Moubray, 1834

Domestic rabbits in ‘A Practical Treatise…’ by Moubray, 1834

Even though the domestication of the rabbit occurred 2000 years ago, rabbit care before the 19th century was not in the local vet or farmer’s repertoire.  This explains the lack of lagomorph related content in our historical collection.

Contrary to what you may think, rabbits don’t belong to the rodent order but sit in a separate group called lagomorpha.  Lagomorphs have four incisors in the upper jaw and are entirely herbivorous – unlike their similar-looking cousins, the rodents.

We can thank central European monks for the full domestication of the wild European rabbit.  Within the monastery walls rabbits would freely roam and eventually became tame.  In 600 AD, Pope Gregory the Great declared that unborn or new born rabbits were no longer considered meat.  Strangely enough they were to be thought of as aquatic creatures.  Conveniently, this meant they could be eaten during Lent and so the practice of rabbit keeping steadily increased in monasteries.

One of the few books in our historical collection about rabbit keeping has the rather wordy title A practical treatise on breeding, rearing and fattening all kinds of domestic poultry, pigeons and rabbits; also the management of swine, milch cows and bee; with instructions for the private brewery on cider, perry and British wine making by Bonington Moubray (1834).  In this book, the subject of rabbit rearing is lumped together with all the activities that could take place on a small holding, so that a countryman could have one volume for all his needs.  The book contains tips on cooking rabbits (“they make a good dish, cooked like a hare”), extols the quality of the skin and fur (the author is “in the habit of drying the skins, for the linings of nightgowns”) and mentions the four types of rabbits (warreners, parkers, hedgehogs and sweethearts, in case you were wondering).

By 1840, the Metropolitan Rabbit Fancy Club was established in England, were members showed only one breed, the ‘lop eared’.  As animal fancying swept Europe in the late 19th century, rabbits were still killed for their meat but were increasingly kept as parlour pets and exhibited at shows.

Rabbit care has changed a lot over the centuries but one thing still rings true “the teeth of rabbits are very effectual implements of destruction to anything not hard enough to resist them” (Moubray, 1834).  Those lagomorphs can bite!

A Sporting Nation – Great British Horsemanship

Love them or loathe them the Olympic Games have arrived.  Britain’s oldest royal park, Greenwich Park, will host the Equestrian(and modern Pentathlon) events.   The picturesque venue dates back to 1433 and is the former hunting ground of the rich and athletic.  King Henry VIII introduced deer to the park in 1515, and considering himself an accomplished athlete, engaged in stag hunting and horse racing on the grounds.

Horsemanship and its related activities feature prominently in our Historical collection, so we couldn’t resist pulling out some information on the affluent country gentleman’s favourite pastime.

Livestock, in health and disease by J. Prince-Sheldon (1903?) recommends gymnastics and drill as a warm up for children learning horsemanship.  Horse riding was thought to have a number of health benefits and was often prescribed to patients whose damaged health was brought about by ‘insolence and excesses of the table, or by sedentary pursuits – intellectual or financial’.   Prince-Sheldon also cautions his readers to ‘never begin to fight with a horse unless you have breath and strength enough to win’. Sound advice.

What of female equine enthusiasts? A ‘Mrs Hayes’ instructs women on riding side-saddle in her book The Horsewoman (1893).  To ride a horse one need ‘good hands, strong seat, firm nerves, even temper and physical strength’.   Mrs Hayes recognised that perhaps the women of the day lacked the last attribute, physical strength, but were a man’s equal in ‘touch, patience and courage’.  Mrs Hayes endeavoured to match the type of horse to a woman’s figure:

‘A young lady with a slight pretty figure will look best on a horse which is all blood and quality; though a portly and dignified matron will be best suite with one of the weight carrying hunter stamp ’.

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

The subject of ‘Riding Dress’ is addressed even before instructions on riding.  The question of what a woman should wear when out riding was an important consideration – one on which Mrs. Hayes had strong views.  A lady may have wished to wear the latest fashions when riding but her only aim would have been to attract attention to herself and in doing so  ‘she will neither look, nor, in many cases, will she prove to be a horsewoman’.  The author believes that a veil has no place on a horsewoman as it ‘confers no possible benefit on its wearer, if her sole object is to ride and not to show off’.

The modern horsewoman is lucky not to be subject to quite as much sartorial scrutiny and we look forward to seeing Great Britain compete in the dressage events at the weekend.

On exercise

Without exercise, the body’s ‘juices will thicken, the joints will stiffen, the nerves will relax… and a crazy old age must ensue’.

This less than comforting thought is presented by George Cheyne in his Essay of Health and Long Life, published in 1724.  Although the science in Cheyne’s musings might be considered a little off, I can agree with the sentiment.  Exercise and outdoor pursuits keep our energy and our spirits up.  Even watching other more athletic types exert themselves gives us enjoyment; the Olympic Games never fail to enthral legions of sport-phobes and sport fans alike.

Despite being a veterinary library we do have some volumes that aren’t, at first glance, entirely animal related – one example is The Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette, a magazine which ‘contains every Thing worthy of Remark on hunting shooting, coursing, racing, fishing…wrestling, crickets, billiards, rowing etc’.  Donated by a veterinary surgeon and included in our collection because of the animal orientated sport it covers.

Not unexpectedly a lot of the activities mentioned in The Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette are, what we would now call, blood sports.  A reader can expect to learn about the ‘Adventures of a hunter; by himself’ or inform themselves on ‘The observations of the present system of hunting’.

The precociously titled ‘Confession of a Young Sportsman’ (The Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette, Vol. 5, pp. 41-47, 1824) gives the experiences of a naïve young man who visits his friend, Bullstrode, in Yorkshire to shoot ‘grouse on the wing’. After a day of unsuccessful shooting he finally manages to hit some game:

I pointed a gun in a careless manner, not expecting to bring anything down, but was never so delighted in my life as when I saw it bounce upon the ground’.

Pheasant shootingSuccessfully shooting down a grouse was obviously the object of the day’s hunting but the young man also revelled in the companionship, the challenge and especially the hunting party’s supply of alcohol.  His hunting companion ‘produced a bottle of rum… Bullstrode’s eyes sparkled with joy as he beheld the unexpected and copious supply’.

The Sportsman’s Vocal Cabinet by Charles Arminger (1830) is an entire volume dedicated to songs in praise of sport and rural pursuits.  Many of the songs are about hunting and talk of the thrill of the chase or  celebrate  a successful hunt but I prefer the sillier extract below:

“Oh! day of joy! long wish’d for day!”
The sportsman cries, and bends his way:
The air is fresh, the morning clear,
The fields in spangled green appear’

Another song (with sixteen verses) relates the joys of crown green bowling and starts:

‘I am a jolly bowler,
Of the free thinking club;
and all my notes are fly, fly, fly,
Rub, rub a thousand, rub.
And a bowling we will go, and a bowling we will go’

Unfortunately bowling isn’t an olympic sport so we don’t have an excuse to sing this one at the moment.

Image: ‘Octobers own’ from The New Sporting Magazine 1846

Jean-Pierre Megnin – skilled illustrator and pioneering forensic entomologist

The beautiful botanical illustration which you may have seen in an earlier post is  the work of Jean-Pierre Megnin.

It forms part of a collection of material by Megnin, which includes books, manuscripts, drawings and engravings, which the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons acquired in the 1980s.

Jean-Pierre Megnin (1828-1905) graduated from Alfort Veterinary School in 1853 and served in the French army from 1860 until his retirement in 1885. Retiring from the army he founded the journal L’Eleveur (The Breeder).

Throughout his life Megnin wrote articles and books on a wide variety of subjects (his main interests were parasitology and skin conditions in domesticated animals) illustrating most of them himself.  There are many examples of his skilled draughtsmanship in our collections.

In 1872 and 1873 he produced a set of posters, on topics such as ‘the age of domestic animals’, ‘the unsoundness and defects of the horses’ and  ‘the shoeing of the horse, mule and ox’ which were sold mounted on cloth and folded (as the ones in our collection are) or mounted on a roller.  They were published in the UK as Veterinary Diagrams in tabular form with the text translated in to English (probably by George Fleming) but unfortunately Megnin was never acknowledged as the illustrator.

Illustrations from Veterinary Diagrams in tabular form

Veterinary diagrams: the shoeing of the horse, mule and ox

Other examples of his illustrations  can be found in our books on parasitology.    The Pulex Canis, shown here  drawn in great detail, is from Megnin’s Atlas: iconographie des insectes parasites de l’homme et des animaux domestiques Paris, 1869

Illustration of the Pulex Canis

Illustration of the Pulex Canis

And there is this illustration of a species of feather mite – the Megninia Cubitalis,  which Megnin discovered in 1877, in  Les acariens parasites.  Paris: Gauthier-Villars c1892.

Feather mite

Illustration of a feather mite

Amongst a series of ornithological drawings we have this fearsome looking bird – is it a Capercaillie?

Illustration of a bird believed to be a capercaillie

As well as his illustrations Megnin is also known for his work and papers on forensic entomology.  The most significant of his papers was later published  as La Faune des Cadavres, Application de l’Entomologie à la Médecine légale.

Whilst we don’t have a copy of this we are fortunate to have Megnin’s handwritten notebook titled Memoire sur l’application de l’entomologie a la medecine legale au point de vue des questions de l’identite des cadavers [Account of the application of entomology to legal medicine from the point of view of the question of the identity of cadavers] which is dated 1884.

A 100 years later in  1986 Kenneth Smith dedicated his book A manual of forensic entomology to Megnin and two others (Marcel LeClercq and Pekka Nuorteva) describing them as  ‘Pioneers in the application of entomology in forensic science’  so the work, as well as the illustrations,  of this pioneering Honorary Associate of the RCVS still lives on.