Celebrating women’s achievements

Thousands of events will take place around the world tomorrow to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD).  This day has been observed, in one incarnation or another, for over 100 years.   Today, IWD celebrates women’s achievements and looks forward to a bright, safe and equal future for women.

Over the next few days the Library blog will feature two guest posts, on ‘Equal pay for equal work’ for female veterinary surgeons, from Julie Hipperson, PhD student at Imperial College London.  The RCVS Charitable Trust, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), are supporting Julie’s PhD entitled ‘Veterinary training and veterinary work: a female perspective, 1919 -2000.’  You can follow Julie’s work here, on her blog, Pioneers and Professionals.

In honour of IWD, the Library has designed a small display that showcases our extensive archive on the first female president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), Dame Olga Uvarov, a Russian refugee.

Queen Victoria and the vet who ‘took this turn for horses’

As part of the celebrations for her Diamond Jubilee the Queen recently launched a website documenting the life of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.  The site contains the journals that Queen Victoria kept from the age of 13 (1832) until just before her death in 1901.  The diaries contain a staggering 43,765 pages.

Diamond Jubilee Floral Crown,

Diamond Jubilee Floral Crown, St James’s Park

After her death Queen Victoria’s diaries passed into the keeping of her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice who set about creating a transcript.  It was only when this was completed that the journals were transferred to the Royal Archives.

On the website there are scanned images of four versions of the diaries – the original which Queen Victoria wrote; the abridged transcript written by Princess Beatrice; a later typed transcript prepared for Lord Esher; and some draft volumes written by the Queen.  There are also 141 images from the journals.

At present, entries from July 1832 through to February 1840 – the date of Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, have been fully transcribed and are fully searchable.  Later years will be added as the project progresses.

Now I guess most people would search for ‘Albert ‘or ‘marriage’ but not me!   I entered ‘veterinary’ to see what it would come up with.

The answer is two results:

Wednesday 17th July 1839 which reads  ‘Talked of a Veterinary Surgeon who is dead.’ Unfortunately there is no indication of who Queen Victoria is referring to!

Saturday 1st December 1838 is more informative – it reads

‘Talked of Goodwin being our Veterinary Surgeon, who, he says, is a very clever man; he was bred to Surgery and then took this turn for horses; “it’s just the same; horses are made just the same with some slight difference”; which made me die with laughing’

It would appear that in a conversation with ‘Lord M’ (Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister 1835-1841) about their horses, the talk had turned to who they trusted to care for them.

I then wondered if there were any further references to Goodwin so I entered ‘Goodwin’ and found:

Tuesday 15th January 1839 where it says

‘Talked of Goodwin’s being made to decide always, if the horse was sound or not, &c., and of the possibility of his often not saying quite honestly what they were &c.’

So who is Goodwin?  It is William Joseph Goodwin (1799? -1869) who served as Veterinary Surgeon to George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria.

Goodwin had obtained his Diploma from London Veterinary College in April 1817.  As Queen Victoria hints in the phrase ‘he was bred to Surgery’ he was medically trained, and had been a contemporary of Edward Coleman (Professor at the London Veterinary College 1793-1839) at Guy’s hospital.

In 1824 Goodwin fell out with the Governors of the London School, when they dismissed a motion of his at the subscriber’s annual meeting, and from that point onwards he was at the forefront of moves to reform the school.  His obituary in The Veterinarian  states he ’took a leading part in obtaining the Charter of Incorporation of the veterinary profession.’

Goodwin was one of the first elected members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Council, serving for 17 years, was RCVS President in 1853 and was instrumental in the RCVS obtaining its first permanent home at 10 Red Lion Square.

I am looking forward to reading more of Queen Victoria’s views on the abilities of Goodwin and his successors as ‘her’ veterinary surgeon as the online collection grows.

Peeping behind the curtains: a look at our Historical Collection

Curious about what we keep behind our doors? Intrigued about the beginnings of theGuide to The RCVS Collection veterinary profession? Want to know the origins of the RCVS Presidential Regalia? We cover all that and more in an exciting new publication which the Trust and the RCVS have recently produced.

The RCVS Collection: paintings, artefacts, presidential regalia, books and archives is a full colour booklet which gives readers a chance to discover more about the books and journals, archival material and portraits and paintings that form the Historical Collection of the RCVS.

This important Collection can be found on the walls of Belgravia House, on display in the library and even hidden behind the curtains in the cupboards in the Members Room.

Copies of The RCVS Collection can be purchased from our online shop or by contacting Beccy on 020 7202 0721 or r.fellows@rcvstrust.org.uk price £5 plus p&p.

Want to find out more about the Collection or see the items themselves?  Contact Clare on 020 7202 0710 or c.boulton@rcvstrust.org.uk.

Spoken Histories

If you listen to Radio 4 regularly you can’t have failed to have heard the trailers for The Listening Project.  The Listening Project is a partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC local and national radio stations, and the British Library in which people are asked to share a conversation with a close friend or relative, to help to build a unique picture of our lives today. Some of these conversations will be broadcast across BBC radio and archived by the British Library, preserving them for future generations.

 If you have been lucky enough to catch one of the actual programmes (many of which are still available on iPlayer) you will have hear just how powerful oral testimony can be and how it can provide extraordinary insights into the everyday lives of individuals.

 Oral history has a unique ability to capture vital details and impressions that would otherwise be lost. This is why the Trust is collaborating with The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) at Newcastle University and the British Library on Capturing Life in Practice. The project will conduct in-depth interviews to record and preserve accounts of veterinary practice within living memory, in the words of vets themselves. As with The Listening Project the recordings will be made permanently accessible at the British Library.

We also plan to use material from the recordings to invite young vets to reflect on issues that affect their work today, and to promote public understanding of the veterinary profession and its role in society.

If you are interested in finding out more, if there is someone whose story you want to bring to life, or if you can offer funding to support a specific interview, do get in touch we are waiting to hear from you!

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.

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.