On Friday I finally set up the display of physicians canes that I’ve been curating. It feels like I’ve been working on it for a loooong time, but really it hasn’t been that long, and if I’d been devoting time to it daily, as I would if I worked at Sibbald instead of coming in once a week, it would have been less than a week’s worth of work. That’s the nature of an internship where you only go in once a week, things seem to take forever because the actual hours spent don’t add up very fast.
I ended up choosing four canes for the display. I wish I had a better photo but this is the best I could do with the glare on the glass. I’ll take my nice camera in this week and try to get a better shot.
The canes, from left to right, are the Presidential Cane, Holmes’ Cane, Cullen’s Cane, and Bright’s Cane. The Presidential Cane dates to the mid 19th century and is featured in a number of portraits around the Hall, some of which are early photographs of sitting presidents, which are not on display. Holmes’ Cane belonged to an RCPE fellow, Matthew Holmes, who traveled widely and died in New Zealand in the great influenza outbreak of 1918. Cullen’s Cane belonged to the illustrious and influential Dr. William Cullen, another RCPE fellow and sometime Sibbald Librarian. Cullen practiced medicine in Edinburgh in the 18th century and was friends with the likes of such Edinburgh literati as David Hume and Adam Smith. Bright’s Cane originally belonged to Dr. Richard Bright, also a fellow of the College, and the man who is considered the father of nephrology (the study of kidney diseases.) There is a wonderful bust of Dr. Bright in the Great Hall, which I featured in my last post.
Then, on Monday, I gave a tour of the Physicians Hall to my MSc program. It really went well and I think everyone had a great time.
The highlight of the day, for me, was a tour of the president of the RCPE’s office, which is in the Robert Adam portion of the building. Though I’d read about it and seen pictures of it in books, I hadn’t been in there because it’s not open to the public. Well, really none of the Physicians Hall is open to the public, but I pretty much get free roam of the place while I’m there, just not the administrative offices and the President’s office.
Here’s how we got a tour of the president’s office: I was taking my class down into the conference center to see my display, but wanted to pause and talk a little about the College and the building and the symbology associated with the RCPE before we got going. I was talking about the symbology associated with the cockerel. The cockerel is an unofficial symbol of the RCPE. It is associated with Asclepius, the god of medicine in classical Greek mythology. That Asclepius would be associated with the RCPE, or any medical establishment, is not even slightly surprising, and in fact his rod with a serpent wound round it is a symbol for medicine the world over. Anyway, the cockerel is associated with Asclepius because cockerels were sacrificed to him as an offering, and it is said that when Socrates died some of his final words were that he owed a cockerel to Asclepius. So I was just talking about the cockerel and this nice man walked up and offered to show us the president’s office. I was thrilled because, as I said, I’d never been in it before. Then about ten seconds later we realized that that nice man was the president! There was a portrait in the conference center, just a few meters from where I was telling everyone about the cockerel (and forcing them to appreciate my favorite portrait in the collection, which features a man in a chicken suit pecking at the dirt, as well as a number of other interesting things) when Adam, my tutor, pointed out to me that the man who had just talked to us was the same as the man in the portrait! Whoa. And I had spent several minutes on Friday looking at that very portrait because it had just been unveiled that day, but I didn’t make the connection till it was pointed out to me. Sheesh!
So we got a tour of the president’s office and it was amazing. It is literally the most stunning office I have ever actually been inside of, though I don’t have much experience with beautiful offices as I come from a land where felt-walled cubicles and dreary windowless offices are the norm.
Kelly took some photos on her phone, including the one above. Here are a couple more: