Should I see a doctor?

Before you jump into this enthralling blog post, we do want you to know that it is about medical illustrations that show depictions of medical conditions, and they may not be for everyone.

Richmond Surgical Hospital was opened in 1811, consisted of 120 beds and was housed in an old converted convent on Channel Row, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7. It was named after Charles Lennox, fourth Duke of Richmond and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1807 to 1813.

Richmond Hospital

Richmond Hospital. Courtesy of the INMO website.

In 1816 a new operating theatre, designed by Francis Johnston, was built at the rear of the hospital and in 1838 the surgeons subscribed £2,700 to the cost of founding and maintaining a museum which contained ‘1,000 very expensive drawings and about 2,500 wax preparations’. We are told that this museum was ‘resorted to by foreigners from all parts of the world’.

The UCD Archives Richmond Hospital Medical Illustration Collection (UCDA P263) consists of nearly all ‘1,000 very expensive’ medical illustrations. They depict such ailments as syphilitic and skin diseases, diseases of the nervous, digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems amongst others. Some of Ireland’s most respected surgeons are named on the illustrations as attending these cases, they include Robert Smith, Benjamin George McDowel, Robert Adams and Richard Carmichael to name a few. Also the name of the artist can be found in the bottom corner of the majority of illustrations.

The artists are believed to have trained at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). Two of those named are mysterious as we have their surnames but only the initial of their first names. They are J. Connolly and J.H. Burnside. A third artist named has a mystery all to himself! He was charged in 1852 with the murder of his wife on Ireland’s Eye and served 25 years penal servitude, his name is William Kirwan!

Brian aneurism/aneurysm

Medical illustration of an aneurism/aneurysm at the base of the brain (UCDA P263/598).

These illustrations are part of a collaborative digitisation project being planned by the libraries and cultural heritage units of Trinity College Dublin, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and UCD Archives. This collaborative project entails making available online a unique and distinct archival collection of Dublin medical illustrations dating from the nineteenth century. If successful the project will digitise and create a unified digital platform for nearly 1,700 illustrations. Also many illustrations have accompanying case studies shedding light on the illustrated disease, the treatment used, and on the patient themselves.

We believe that the research potential for this project is immense and diverse. Not only would it benefit the teaching of modern medics but also appeal to the areas of the history of medicine, social history and art history. A myriad of research areas would be able to draw inspiration from these illustrations: fashion, design, modern art and installation, authors etc.

So we ask you, would this collaborative project be one that you would potentially utilise in your research and if so how? We are trying to gauge the research potential before taking the application further so any ideas/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. If this project is something you would be interested in utilising please leave a comment and we will get back to you. Or follow us on Twitter to see more of these amazing yet slightly gruesome illustrations #drawingdisease

  • This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.

3 thoughts on “Should I see a doctor?

  1. Juliet Roberts says:

    This is a wonderful project, and certainly extremely pertinent to my PhD project. I’m carrying out a comparative study of medical portraits from the Great War by the English artist, Henry Tonks and a French illustrator Raphael Freida (he is much less well-known than Tonks). The history of the medical portrait is a little-researched area of inquiry, particularly where the subjects are identified. It is difficult to source medical portraits before the nineteenth century, where it is clear that case-study based medical education began to emerge. These images from the Richmond are perfect examples where I can place the works of Henry Tonks and Raphael Freida in the continuum of medical illustration but in particular in the practice of medical portraiture. The digitised materials from the UCD archives would be very useful indeed. I would particularly like to know if there is any sort of communication recorded between the clinicians and the artists? Any mention of the doctors’ appreciation of the art which illustrates their cases?

    • ucdculturalheritagecollections says:

      Hi Juliet,
      Thanks for your comment and interest in our medical illustrations.
      I know that the collection in UCD Archives does not have any communication between surgeons and artists or the surgeons’ opinions on the illustrations accompanying it, unfortunately. The collection is just the catalogue and then the illustrations.
      The William Wallace Collection in RCSI Heritage Collections has casebooks etc with it so may have some of what you are looking for. They can be contacted at
      We were unsuccessful in securing funding from The Wellcome Trust for our proposed project. But that won’t stop us getting these illustrations out there for researchers like yourself to study. It may take a little longer than hoped, but watch this space!
      Slán go fóill,

      • Juliet Roberts says:

        Hi CHC,
        Many thanks for your response, and thanks for the link to the RCSI. I will indeed follow that one up.
        With very best wishes,


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