Guest post: Dr Morven McElroy, Honorary Librarian

Written by on August 23, 2019
Honorary Librarian and Consultant Geriatrician, Dr Morven McElroy

This is my first blog as Honorary Librarian. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by since I took on this role in our College in December 2018. There have been amazing events put on by the Heritage team that I’ve had the privilege of being involved in, including a short film screening in association with Global Health Film – http://www.globalhealthfilm.org – as well as the Goodall Symposium, entitled “Great minds: innovations in brain surgery” focusing on a favourite surgeon of mine, Sir William Macewen. Our College is fortunate enough to have a large archive collection of his papers, which people can come in to see. I think I will need to do several blogs just to capture his amazing and varied career!

The Heritage team have also started to put together the programme for Autumn 2019 onwards. The first is event is “Creative genius and mental health in the lives of Robert Burns and Robert Lowell”. You can register here – https://rcpsg.ac.uk/heritage-events.

When I became Honorary Librarian I started to get a bit more obsessed about finding out about my predecessors in this role. There’s some good information in some of the books about the College, but I felt I needed to know more. As a geriatrician I like to learn about people and their lives so this came naturally to me. This is still very much a work in progress, along with other areas of interest which I promise I will blog about soon!

At the time of writing I am on holiday with my family in Elie in Fife, so I thought I should first talk about a previous Honorary Librarian who lived laterally in Elie until his death. The person in question is Dr James Duncan MacLaren. He was Honorary Librarian from 1869 – 1875.

This is a photograph of Dr MacLaren during his time as Honorary Librarian in 1870 from our College archives.

Dr James Duncan MacLaren, Honorary Librarian from 1869 – 1875

His residence in Elie still survives, it is called Dunreggan, although is now subdivided into flats. I pass it every time I arrive in this beautiful corner of Scotland.

He was born in Dunipace, Stirlingshire on the 2nd of January 1833. Unlike a lot of doctors at that time, his father was not a doctor but a grain merchant. He died in his 95th year in 1927, which I am sure you will agree was quite a feat in the 1920s.

He studied Medicine in Edinburgh and gained his MD there. He was a resident in Edinburgh alongside Lord Lister among others. Almost immediately after that he served in the Crimea at Scutari and Renkioi Hospital. Following on from his military service he took up a position in Glasgow Royal Infirmary taking over from Professor Harry Rainy, where he worked until he retired. He became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (as it was called then) in 1866.

He was elected as a Honorary Fellow of our College in 1924. In his letter of acceptance he wrote “I look upon myself as one of the few relics of my generation. I am sole survivor of the medical staff at the Renkioi Civil Hospital planted on the Dardanelles during the Crimean War from May 1855 to 1856”

He also wrote “May you all have as long and happy an old age as has fallen my lot” which I personally think as a geriatrician is a good standard to wish for!

To finish, as I am currently basking in sunshine, admiring the beach, I echo Dr MacLaren’s sentiments again from his honorary fellowship acceptance letter “Should any of you come to Elie on holiday, kindly pay me a visit”.

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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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