Our 420th birthday

Written by on November 29, 2019

Today is the College’s 420th birthday!

On 29th November 1599, surgeon Peter Lowe, physician Robert Hamilton, and apothecary William Spang, were granted a royal charter by King James VI of Scotland. The charter set out the responsibilities of a new institution whose aim would be to improve the standards of healthcare of the people of Glasgow and the west of Scotland. The original charter is written in old Scots and contains 8 key points. Here is a very brief, translated version:

The College’s members will –

  1. Examine anyone who wants to practice surgery, and if found worthy, authorise them to practice. If they practice without authorisation, they will be fined (40 pounds) or imprisoned.
  2. Attend to anyone hurt, murdered or poisoned etc, and report the case to the Magistrate.
  3. Make statutes for the practice of surgery, for the common good of the people.
  4. Check the qualifications and testimonials of physicians before they can practice medicine.
  5. Supervise and control the sale of drugs in the city (under the pain of confiscation).
  6. Regulate the apothecaries who are allowed to sell dangerous substances (e.g. rat poison, arsenic).
  7. Meet on the first Monday of each month to provide care to the poor, for free.
  8. Be exempt from bearing arms and playing a role in any conflicts etc.
Transcription of the Charter in the College’s first minute book (1602-1688) RCPSG 1/1/1/1a

The purpose of the College is fundamentally the same as it has always been (apart from the stuff about murder and rat poison!). In addition to these formal responsibilities, the College grew and nurtured a community of doctors and surgeons from day one. Its first meeting was attended by only a handful of clinicians and for many years they met in coffee houses and churches. Senior members mentored new admissions and apprentices, and gradually they were able to develop teaching as well as examination as part of their function. By 1698 the College had its own Hall, near the Trongate, with a library and museum for teaching.

Our archives contain the records of all of these first meetings – by far the most important items in our collections. The College’s archive is catalogued and searchable on the Archives Hub.

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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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