Collection of Papers relating to Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister (1827-1912)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-416
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      circa 73 letters, miscellaneous manuscript and printed material, and 1 box containing honorary degrees and diplomas.
  • Location
      Dc.2.76/25; Dc.2.85/10/1-3; Dc.2.96, ff.1-73; Dc.2.96, ff.87-88; Dc.2.96, ff.108-111; Dc.2.96/3; Dc.2.96/6/2; Dc.2.96/7; Dc.2.96/112; Dc.3.99/8-9; Dc.4.98/6 (13); Dc.4.101-103; Dk.7.60/2; Dk.7.60/10; Gen. 178/4; Gen. 716F/1, 34, 36, 40, 101; Gen. 1425/345-346; Gen. 1731; Gen. 1733/44, 91; Phot.Ill.15; E88.110; E2006.30

Scope and Content

The material includes: holograph testimonial, 1854; letters to Dr. Hooper May and testimonial, 1854-1899; testimonial in favour of Edward Hooper May, 1860; letters to Baillie Johnston about the Chair of Surgery, Edinburgh University, 1864; letters to Sir W. Turner, 1867-1907; commission of appointment as Professor of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh University, from Queen Victoria, 1869; letter to Dr. Sharpey, circa 1870; letter discussing work on antiseptics; letters to A. Wilson, 1878-1907; letters to Sir A. Geikie, 1893-1897; letters to Dr. D. Aitken, 1896-1897; letters to David Christison about the Queen's death, John Beddoe, malaria, and Lister's work, 1900-1902; letters of recommendation and support and thanks, 1879-1908; miscellaneous letters, 1873-1908; prescription, 1892; certificate of attendance at classes, 1879; menu and table plan for a banquet in honour of Lister, 1897; congratulatory address to Rudolf Virchow, 1901; photographs; diploma, Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 1905; photographs of some of the letters in the collection, and prescription; facsimiles of some of the letters in the collection; and, and inventory of donation, 1928.

There is also a collection of honorary degrees and diplomas, awarded by UK and foreign institutions.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Lister was born in Upton, Essex, on 5 April 1827. He qualified as a doctor at London's University College Hospital, graduating with B.A. and M.B. in 1852. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, the same year. In 1853 Lister came to Edinburgh to build on his surgical experience, and was then elected to vacancies that arose at the Royal Infirmary and at the Royal College of Surgeons in the city. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, in 1855. In 1860 he became Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University and a surgeon at the city's Royal Infirmary. Lister returned to Edinburgh University in 1869 as Regius Professor of Surgery, and then in 1877 he became Professor of Surgery at King's College, London. Joseph Lister was famous for his work on antiseptics in surgery. He had taken the research of Louis Pasteur (working on air-borne organisms) a stage further. He realised that some of the organisms could cause post-operative wound infections such as tetanus, blood-poisoning, and gangrene. He countered this by using carbolic acid soaked in lint or calico around the wound and replaced slow-to-absorb silk stitching with cat-gut stitching which absorbed the carbolic acid better. He also experimented with gauze swabs and a disinfectant spray for operating theatres. Lister was appointed Serjeant-Surgeon to Queen Victoria in 1878, and was created a Baron in 1897. Lord Lister died on 10 February 1912.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Letter, 6 May 1879, acquired October 1960, Accession no. E60.24. Certificate and letters to Aitken, acquired 1961, Accession no. E61.41. Letter to C. Brinsley Marlay, 1901, purchased 1963, Accession no. E63.4. Diplomas and letters, including to Sir W. Turner, and commission from Queen Victoria, acquired 1963, Accession no. E63.23. Letters including address to Virchow, purchased November 1966, Accession no. E66.43. Geikie letters, acquired August 1968, Accession no. E68.24. Letter to Williams, 1898, purchased May 1972, Accession no. E72.12. Undated letter to Crawford, purchased 1973, Accession no. E73.24. Letter to Cornish, 1890, purchased October 1973, Accession no. E73.34. Letter to Cheatle, 1905, purchased November 1973, Accession no. E73.50. Letter to Fortescue, 1908, purchased December 1974, Accession no. E74.37. Letters to Baillie Johnston, acquired April 1976, Accession no. E76.15. Diploma, Hon. FRCSE, 1905, transferred from Old College, May 1976, Accession no. E76.22. Letter to an unnamed, 1873, purchased February 1979, Accession no. E79.9. Letters to Dr. Hooper May, purchased March 1979, Accession no. E79.33. Letter to Hart, 1873, purchased July 1980, Accession no. E80.56. Letter to Sharpey, purchased October 1980, Accession no. E80.218. Letter to nephew, 1898, purchased January 1981, Accession no. E81.3. Testimonial, Edward Hooper May, 1860, purchased November 1982, Accession no. E82.79. Inventory, 1928, acquired September 1988, Accession no. E88.110. Box honorary degrees and diplomas accessioned August 2006, Accession no. E2006.30.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Who was who ... 1897-1916. London: A. and C. Black, 1920. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes also show: mention of Lister in a letter of John Brown M.D., author of Rab and his friends, circa 1880; appreciation of his character in a letter from Sir William Turner to the Rev. Dr. Wallace Williamson, 1912; and, the unveiling of a plaque to Syme and Lister in High School Yards, Edinburgh University, 1957. The local Indexes also show various references to material related to the Lister Memorial Scheme (check the Indexes for more details): printed papers relating to the Scheme, with MS notes, 1937, including minute of meeting 15 June 1937 and a brief historical sketch of the Scheme, at Gen. 784/9/19-21; and, general purposes committee, 1950-1953, duplicate TS, at Gen. 2248/4.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Ref. NRA 9521 RCS scientific, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; letters (14), 1897-1909, Royal College of Physicians of London, Ref. NRA 9520 RCP, and correspondence with Sir Thomas Barlow, 1897-1909, Ref. NRA 9520 RCP; correspondence and papers, 1869-1912, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Ref. RCPSG11 NRA 22540 Physicians Glasgow; correspondence and papers, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Ref. NRAS 1412 NRA 20261 Royal Coll Surgeons, and, correspondence with John Chiene, 1870-1908, see Scottish Records Association datasheet no 6 part 37; correspondence, diary, sketch book and papers, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Ref. MSS 3298-3303, 5018 NRA 25910 Wellcome Inst, and correspondence and papers with notebooks, 1833-1910, Ref. MSS 6961-6989 NRA 36159 Lister, and notes of W. Sharpey's lectures, 1849-1850, Ref. MSL MS 80, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982, and notes on his lectures on clinical surgery by Albert Wilson (3 vols), 1874-1877, Ref. MSS 5356-58, and letters to Lister Institute, 1893-1907, Ref. SA/LIS NRA 29786 Lister Inst., and correspondence with Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer, 1888-1899, Ref. PP/ESS NRA 25584 Sharpey-Schafer, and letters to Sir Thomas Barlow, 1886-1907, Ref. PP/BAR NRA 41070 Barlow; notebooks, Coomonwealth Mycological Institute, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; case notes, for the location of these papers see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; dissertation, Royal Medical Society, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; correspondence and papers, Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; 1878-99: letters to Sir Henry Acland, 1878-1899, Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Ref. MSS Acland NRA 22893 Acland, and correspondence with Sir Henry Burdett, 1882-1901, Ref. MSS Eng b 2068-69, c 5894-6032, d 2867-89 NRA 39820 Burdett; letters (10) to Sir Alfred Kempe, 1894-1907, West Sussex Record Office, Ref. Kempe papers NRA 17595 Kempe; and, letters, Birmingham University Information Services, Special Collections Department, Ref. L Add NRA 13481 Birmingham, see Accessions to repositories 1969.

Corporate Names