Mystery apparatus

sebian barrelbure 3










An apparatus made from barrels played an important public health role in the early 20th century.

What is the name of the apparatus shown in these photos ?

Where and when was it used?    What was it used for?

There is a clue in the second photo which is a reconstruction, not the original,  made by the National Museum of Valjevo,

the photos are taken from  with permission.

Gresham lectures – programme and videos

The  programme for the 2016-17 Gresham College Lectures is now available at:

The lectures are of a high standard and are free. Several relate to the history of medicine.

Past lectures are available as video downloads. These include :

“Germs , Genes and Genesis: the History of Infectious Disease”  by Prof Steve Jones and

“War Health and Medicine” by Prof Mark Harrison

Mystery plant


I photographed this plant at Lopham Fen in Suffolk this week.

How does it relate to the history of medicine?

A clue is in the botanical name.

Chris Derrett


Farewell Dr Finlay – BBC Radio 4


Dr Margaret McCartney poses a question:

Almost every day general practice, or practitioners, are somewhere in the news. Usually it’s not good news either. Strikes, vacancies, waiting lists: we are riddled with delays and fail to meet targets. But seldom do the mechanisms of the problems – especially the way we work and organise to work – reach the media. In the process of writing a book -The State of Medicine- I started to realise that bad organisation, poor quality NHS spending and non evidence based policy was nothing new. In fact, it was a repeated cycle. We had said goodbye to Dr Finlay but how were we deciding who was replacing him?

The history of general practice is long and precedes the NHS. The doctors and historians who contributed to the series have illuminated a history that makes sense of the present – why GPs have a tension with their contract, being usually contracted to the NHS rather than directly employed by it: why overwork and working days into nights was simply impossible to continue with increased demand. My hope is that by looking backwards we can learn enough to make more sense of how to go forwards.

There is one question I would love historians to tell me: when was the first recorded use of the term ‘general practitioner’? Irvine Louden says 1809, but  @mc_hankins tweeted a reference to a job advert in the Times for ‘a gentleman, properly qualified, and wishing to settle in London, as a general practitioner in one of the three departments of the profession’…I hope they had some respondents.

Dr Margaret McCartney is a general practitioner in Glasgow and BMJ columnist who presented the recent BBC Radio 4 programme Farewell Dr Finlay; a history of general practice. ‘

To hear the programmes go to

Mystery Object 2


Peter Homan (past president of the BSHM) has sent us a photo of another item from the Victorian sick room.

What is it? What was it used for?  How was it used?

The answers will appear as a comment on this Blog in early August

Dr Isaac ‘Harry’ Gosset Collection

Dr Isaac Henry Gosset sitting outside in front of weeping willow tree at spring around teatime by daughtr Janet

Future 20th century medical historians will lament that there is very little surviving United Kingdom archival material relating to the development of premature baby units and general paediatrics from the end of the Second World War to the mid 1960’s.

‘The Gosset Collection’ is an online repository of the life and work of Dr Isaac ‘Harry’ Gosset, consultant paediatrician Northampton General Hospital, illustrating exemplary general paediatric and premature baby care (1947-1965). Within it, you can take the healthcare journey of the newborn child or paediatric case of that time.

Established as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr Gosset’s untimely death, the ‘Gosset Collection’  has complete premature baby and general paediatric care protocols, together with original film taken by Dr Gosset of the Premature Baby Unit as well as the General Paediatric Ward.

There is also a section on the development of the ‘Gosset icterometer, which Dr Gosset invented, developed and introduced into perinatal practice from the 1950’s and in use until the 1970’s. Made of Perspex the icterometer could rapidly and accurately identify neonatal jaundice, saving unnecessary blood tests and focusing attention on the sicker jaundiced newborn. The ‘Gosset Collection’ also contains the 1960 Lancet paper of a successful trial of the icterometer (through permission of Elsevier) an important landmark in neonatal medicine.  

Lastly, there is a short vodcast placing Dr Gosset’s pioneering work in premature baby care within the context of the early development of this sub speciality.

submitted by Dr Andrew Williams