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

The Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Management

‘The Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Animal Management’

We have recently uploaded our collection of ‘The Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Animal Management’. In our Library we hold all eight volumes and the specimen issue.

This Quarterly Journal was the very first British veterinary periodical to be devoted to India. We are actually quite lucky to hold these surviving volumes as copies are scarce.

Specimen issue of ‘Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Animal Management’. Published in 1882

Fred Smith (who you can read about here) contributed to the journal by providing noteworthy papers on hygiene and diseases along with clinical records.  Smith writes about the ‘The Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Animal Management’ in his own autobiography, which is an interesting insight into the struggles the journal went through. Smith had to go to great lengths in order for it to be published. At one point in his autobiography Smith writes; “I had to live in the printing office while the Journal was being printed”. The first printer and publisher Smith worked with (who could read English but not speak it) died before the first volume managed to be distributed.

The journal did not make a profit at any time during its print run and Smith and the founding editor John Henry Steel would have to use their own funds to cover its expense.

“We received no help from home. I do not think we had a single English Subscriber … It was a bold and expensive venture and I was glad to be relieved of the financial burden”

In 1885 Smith severed his ties to India as he was invalided back to England and withdrew from co-editorship in 1887 leaving Steel to carry on alone until his death in 1891.  With Steel’s death the Quarterly Journal also met its demise.

The last editorial of John Henry Steel entitled ‘Cui Bono’. Steel passed away in January 1891

It’s rare to find out some of the history behind a journal, how it came to be and the obstacles it faced. It’s provided me with a deeper appreciation of the content and certainly explained the continuity errors which, at times, frustrated me during the digitisation process. Now I’m very much impressed by Smith and Steel’s work. Especially Steel; who wrote throughout his serious illness. He shouldered the journal largely alone. You can find out more about this dedicated man, in this blog post here including further insights into this pioneering periodical.

Smith believed the journal was of equal interest to an English audience as it was to an Indian one. I hope those interested in veterinary history and literature will enjoy reading the volumes now.

As you can see the image below features content from the periodical  including work  by T. J. Symonds: ‘Illustrations of Indian materia medica. If you are interested in seeing more of these gorgeous full coloured illustrations and also finding out more about their creator please click the link above.

You can read the volumes of ‘The Quarterly Journal of Veterinary Science in India and Army Animal Management’ on our Digital Collections website here

Selection of diagrams and illustrations featured inside the periodical.

A delve into veterinary case notes…

From February to April this year, RCVS Knowledge were very pleased to welcome Claudia Watts, an MA History student from King’s College London. As part of her studies, Claudia was tasked with selecting highlights from Fred Smith’s veterinary case notes, and digitising and transcribing them for us. The results are now published in our Digital Collections, and here Claudia shares some of her thoughts on the project.

Over the past few months, I have had the wonderful task of exploring and transcribing the incredible sources left behind by Veterinary Surgeon Frederick Smith during his time in India in the 1880s.

The further I delved into the mountain of work he left behind, I developed a clearer picture of this man; relentless, dedicated and a complete workaholic.

I have uncovered some truly unique treasures – often turning a page only to have my breath honestly taken away as I stumbled upon beautiful artwork (FS/2/2/2/1/7), unique photographs (FS/2/2/2/1/10) and of course mounds of fascinating case notes and reports. His work provides wonderful insight not only into the man himself, but also the workings of the Army Veterinary corps. In addition to this, it has been fascinating to see how he has used his findings and research to educate. Many case notes appearing in his articles and manuals. Within these folders are pieces of crucial veterinary history as Smith helped guide the profession, contributing to the institution today.

Sub pleural Emphysema [FS/2/2/2/1/7]

Transcribing his work has been a challenge I have never faced before, and I have a newfound appreciation for the patience and hardwork of an archivist. Smith’s handwriting, to say the least, is rather tricky! But after a few days, and then a few weeks I have cracked it. That satisfaction of becoming a specialist in one individual’s handwriting is strangely thrilling! Staring at one mystery word for an hour and triumphantly declaring “manually!! He means manually!!!” has probably caused my colleagues sitting near me a few headaches….

“was got up two or three times during the day in order to ease the lungs…” Extract from the case notes for Horse E-16 [FS/2/2/2/2/3]

At times his work left a bitter-sweet taste, as he describes horses who despite all odds cling to life. When reading his work it becomes clear he had a deep appreciation and respect for the animals in his care. A piece which has become a personal favorite of mine, comes from the folder on Fractures and Wounds. Horse E-16 while being treated:

“…suddenly wheeled round,

ran back then rushed forward, turned sharp and jumped a

Bamboo hen Coop and then started off at a mad gallop

towards the troop lines and bolted into the angle formed by

two walls dashed his head against the wall and lay doubled


Smith includes a sketch of the horse, and states that the horse “with its characteristic facial expression enabled me to recall this case when I raised this in June 1927 namely 47 years after the event.” Despite all that time, and probably after hundreds of other horses had come under his care he remembered E-16.

Sketch of Horse E-16 [FS/2/2/2/2/3]

It truly has been an eye opening few months, and to have had the opportunity to work so closely with such wonderful materials has been a pleasure. I am so grateful to everyone at RCVS Knowledge. I hope the sources I have transcribed and digitized will be of use and potentially encourage individuals to take their own journey into these amazing resources.

by Claudia Watts, MA History, Kings College London

To explore these veterinary case notes yourselves, visit our Digital Collections website, or contact us to view the full collection in person.

The Veterinarian is Complete!

After starting our huge scanning project with Volume one back in January 2016, we can finally celebrate the release online of the 75th and final volume of The Veterinarian, free for everyone to read in its entirety. The Veterinarian ran from 1828 to 1902 and offers a fascinating insight into the changing veterinary thought throughout a century filled with experimentation and invention.

Click here to browse The Veterinarian online!

This celebration would not be possible without the hard and meticulous work of our Archive and Digitisation Assistants, Adele Bush (Jan-Dec 2016), Helena Clarkson (Jan 2017-Sep 2018) and Jayna Hirani (Sep 2018-Nov 2020), who together created around 65,000 scans and over 1000 sheets of metadata, listing every article title and author.

Copy of a handbill promoting ‘Pin-Cushion Jenny’, from The Veterinarian, Vol 60 No 4, April 1887

About The Veterinarian

Since the Vet History project was first proposed by RCVS Knowledge, making The Veterinarian available has been a key priority. Launched in 1828 by William Percivall and later joined by William Youatt, both critics of the London Veterinary School and eager for reform, the journal captures the birth and development of the veterinary profession in Britain and its place within the context of an explosive era of scientific discovery.

The Veterinarian was one of the major organs of discussion, debate and dissemination of new veterinary practice and theory in Britain. Each issue will typically contain accounts of specific veterinary cases, summaries of current knowledge on specific diseases or injuries, news of developments in legislation or national events, reviews of new publications, and reports from the numerous local and national veterinary societies.

Beyond the strictly veterinary, the journal also covered wider scientific developments of the time. For example, editorials and articles from 1885-1886 discuss the legal implications of Pasteur’s pioneering treatment of rabies, and early examples of ‘Röntgen photographs’ created using X-rays ‘for want of a better title’ were featured in 1897.

‘Röntgen photograph’ of a rabbit, from The Veterinarian, Vol 70 No 5, May 1897

Helping researchers find what they want

The wealth of information contained in this journal covers a very broad range of subjects and includes contributions from many of the most influential veterinary surgeons working in Britain and its colonies. As such, we have worked hard to make sure researchers can easily find and discover articles most relevant to their interests.

Every issue has been digitised individually, and with a full list of contents and article authors. We have also added tags to each issue for specific ailments, anatomy, and organisations. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most used tag on Vet History is ‘horse’, with 966 items!)

The most frequently used tags in the Digital Collections

Finally, you can also easily search for content within each issue by using the full-text search in the Universal Viewer.

One of our regular users of the Digital Collections, Sandi Howie, who is working to complete her doctoral thesis on the veterinary community in late nineteenth century Scotland, told us:

The addition of the Veterinarian to Vet History’s Digital Collections, and the keyword search facility, is transformative of historical research. Veterinary historians can for the first time readily access this key source material at any time and from anywhere. As a researcher, I can’t thank the RCVS Knowledge team enough.

A labour of love

The most recent member of the RCVS Knowledge team to take on The Veterinarian digitisation is Jayna Hirani. As the person to finally take this project over the finish line, she was both relieved and sorry to see the project end. The painstaking process of scanning, cropping, converting, uploading, tagging and creating metadata required incredible attention to detail, but also allowed Jayna to really delve into the content and get a comprehensive oversight of the concerns and preoccupations of vets in the late nineteenth century.

Jayna noticed that the main issue at this time was legitimising the profession, and protecting its reputation from unqualified practitioners, following the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1881. However, another trend was for articles about strange experiments and discoveries about what was and was not scientifically possible – such as transfusing the milk of a cow into the veins of dogs to treat fever and cholera.

Excerpt of article from The Veterinarian, Volume 52 No 1, January 1879


Other highlights suggested by Jayna demonstrate the broad variety of the content in the Journal:

An 1872 account of truffle hunting in France, using ‘pig-greyhounds’ and paying them with acorns!

Article from The Veterinarian, Volume 45 No 3, March 1872

An 1890 poem ‘The Doleful Ballad of Germs’ demonstrating that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Poem from The Veterinarian, Volume 63 No 11, November 1890

The first photograph to appear in the Veterinarian of an ox afflicted with laminitis.

Photograph from The Veterinarian, Volume 67 No 8, August 1894

Go Explore!

Issues of The Veterinarian received nearly 10,000 views in 2020, so why not explore the journal for yourself and discover articles about every weird and wonderful subject from around the world, captured through the specific lens of nineteenth-century men of letters.

Click here to browse The Veterinarian online

Edward Coleman lectures – a 200-year-old time capsule of veterinary science

Screenshot of digitised and transcribed version of Coleman’s introductory lecture, on the Digital Collections website

Two hundred years ago today – which was a Monday not a Friday – students attended the Introductory Lecture of the 1821/1822 session at the London Veterinary College, now known as the Royal Veterinary College.

The lecture was delivered by Edward Coleman, Professor of the College, and thanks to notes of the lecture taken by student Edmund Gabriel, we can know exactly what he taught.

Gabriel’s notes from this lecture, and over 70 others, are held in our collections and are now being digitised, transcribed, and made available to all via our Digital Collections.

Plaster bust of Edward Coleman, on display in the Members’ Room at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

The teacher

Edward Coleman (1766-1839) was a medical surgeon, with no veterinary training, who became head of the veterinary school in 1794, and Principal Veterinary Surgeon to the Army in 1796. He held both posts until his death in 1839. After the sudden death of the College’s first Professor, Charles Vial de St Bel, in 1793, Edward Coleman and William Moorcroft were jointly appointed to rescue the fledgling institution, which was mired in financial difficulties. Moorcroft resigned after only a few weeks, possibly due to a desire to focus on his private practice, or due to conflict with Coleman.

Reports of Coleman describe him as ‘mercurial’, but an intelligent man, and a gifted teacher. However, Frederick Smith, one of his severest critics, complained that his lack of veterinary experience, and fierce resistance to change, impeded the progress of the veterinary profession for decades. What is certain is that Coleman dominated the veterinary sphere in Britain for over 40 years, and greatly contributed to the growth of the profession in the early 19th century. Growth that would eventually lead to its reform and the creation of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Engraving of the Royal Veterinary College, published in The Farrier and Naturalist journal, January 1828

The course

St Bel’s original plan for the College was a 3-year course, for boarding students, with an admission fee of 20 guineas (equivalent to around £1700 today). During Coleman’s time, the course length was eventually reduced to as little as 3 to 4 months, with the expectation that students would also attend lectures on comparative anatomy and pathology at medical schools.

Students could then attend a viva voce examination by a board of prominent medical men, held quarterly at the Freemason’s Tavern. We know of at least 15 men who passed their examination in 1822, including Edmund Gabriel, the scribe of this collection of lecture notes.

Portrait of Edmund Gabriel, donated to the RCVS in 1883

The student

After graduating, Edmund Gabriel (1800-1864), seems to have remained in London, with his address listed as Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street. Later, in 1844, he became the first Secretary of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, where his distinctive sloping handwriting can be seen in the first book of Minutes of the Council.

When the RCVS first moved into 10 Red Lion Square in 1853, Gabriel resided there for a portion of his annual honorarium. In 1856, he was elected veterinary surgeon for the RSPCA. He remained Secretary until ill-health forced his resignation in 1861, and died in 1864. His obituary in The Veterinarian describes him as “active and energetic in mind, gentlemanly in his demeanour… and was respected most by those who knew him best.”

Screenshot of first page of Lecture 9 – Structure, ecomony and diseases of the bones.

The lectures

Gabriel’s notes comprise of 77 lectures, delivered from the 12th November 1821 to 19th June 1822. They almost completely relate to horses only, with the occasional mention of other species as a point of comparison. Most comparisons are made between equine and human anatomy and pathology, which is perhaps unsurprising, due to Coleman’s medical background, and the assumed medical experience of many of the students.

Extract from Frederick Smith’s list of subjects of Coleman’s Lectures

The lectures provide a fascinating snapshot of veterinary education, and general scientific knowledge, at the time. This was 10 years before Darwin sailed on HMS Beagle, and before the term ‘scientist’ was coined by William Whewell. Coleman taught that everything that happened in the body was for a purpose, even if that purpose could not yet be observed. The lectures include frequent mentions of trials and experiments carried out and the conclusions that are drawn from the results. For example, in Lecture 3, which relates to blood, Coleman speculates as to the cause of coagulation. At this stage, science is aware of red blood cells, but this was still the early days of microscopy, and it would not be possible to view platelets until higher-resolution microscopes were developed several years later. Similarly, in Lecture 4, Coleman says of glands:

“We know but little of their functions but those must be either something added or abstracted, we cannot suppose they should enter them for nothing, why do they go through them at all unless for some particular purpose”

The discovery of hormones and a wider understanding of endocrinology would arrive several decades in the future.

The transcriptions

As well as digitising all these lectures to add to the Digital Collections, we have begun the lengthy process of fully transcribing the text to make them even more accessible. Several volunteers who contributed to last year’s transcription project have gamely agreed to tackle Gabriel’s handwriting and lend their experience and veterinary expertise to help decipher more obscure anatomical terms that are a mystery to me!

Twenty of the lectures are uploaded already, and so far, five of them have transcriptions available. More will be added in the coming months – so watch this space!