Records of the Extra-Academical School of Medicine and Surgery, Edinburgh

Scope and Content

The collection includes: institutions of medicine, 1775; notes on surgery, 1874; diseases of the eye, 1884; practice of medicine, 1874-1875; notes on the brain, 1904; and, notes on systematic medicine, 1910-1911.

Administrative / Biographical History

Medical education in Edinburgh began some two centuries before Edinburgh University founded its Faculty of Medicine in 1725-1726 under Professor Alexander Monro primus (1697-1767). Medical education probably started in 1505 when the Incorporation of Barber Surgeons applied for their Charter and requested at the same time the body of a condemned man, once a year, for teaching purposes. The Incorporation of Barber Surgeons would eventually become the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Complementary to this teaching of anatomy, the Edinburgh surgeons planted a physik garden in 1656, and use was made of it for instructing students not only in botany but also in 'pharmacie'. In addition to anatomy and pharmacy, chemistry was also taught by the surgeons. In 1697 they built a new Hall and Anatomical Theatre, and in 1703 and 1704 public dissections were carried out there.

Although the University's new Faculty of Medicine provided a complete course of medical education from the 1720s, this did not end the extra-mural or extra-academical teaching of medical students. Pioneer teaching of surgery and dentistry was undertaken at the city's Royal Infirmary. This encouraged the possibility of a Chair of Surgery being set up at the University. Professor Alexander Monro secundus (1733-1817) was opposed to this however, holding that the Chair of Anatomy included Surgery. Indeed, in 1777, Monro received a new commission - that of 'Professor of Medicine, particularly of Anatomy and Surgery'. The city's surgeons therefore appointed there own extra-mural professor, the first being John Thomson in 1804. The next extra-mural professor, J. W. Turner who was appointed in 1821, went on to hold the first Chair of Surgery at Edinburgh University in 1831. Turner was one of many extra-mural teachers who would later become University professors.

Other important extra-mural teachers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included John Bell, John Lizars, John Barclay, John Gordon, William Cullen, and Robert Knox. In 1790, Bell began lecturing on surgical anatomy in an anatomical school that he built close to Surgeons' Hall in the city. Lizars, an apprentice of Bell, was a pioneer in the operation of ovariotomy. Barclay, a Church of Scotland minister, began to teach anatomy in 1797 and retired in 1824. Gordon began to teach anatomy and physiology in 1808. Cullen, a grandnephew of Professor William Cullen (1710-1790) lectured on anatomy from 1822 and gave demonstrations on the stethoscope. Knox was a popular teacher of anatomy and his classes were the largest ever held in Britain, but his innocent association with the Burke and Hare murders in 1828 led to his withdrawal from Edinburgh

For the most part, anatomy and surgery had been the subjects taught in the extra-mural environment but a wider field was provided by physiology, microscopic anatomy, chemistry, medical jurisprudence, diseases of the eye, the history of medicine, gynaecology, midwifery, mental diseases, tropical diseases, ear, nose and throat diseases, histology, pathology, and the diseases of children. By the end of the nineteenth century, the extra-mural school had reached the summit of its success due to the excellence of the teachers and the novelty of the subjects taught. With the admission of women into the medical profession at the end of the nineteenth century, Edinburgh University became the first university in Britain to open its doors to women - in 1869. Among the extra-mural lecturers at that time were Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake, in midwifery, Dr. Marion Newbigin, in natural history, and Dr. Jessie MacGregor, in histology.

At this time too - and largely because of the difficulty of finding class-rooms - a number of schools had been instituted in different localities, such as Surgeons' Hall, the New School (on Bristo Street), Minto House School, Park Place School, and Nicolson Square School. In around 1892, an Association of Extra-Mural Teachers from these different schools was set up. This was an attempt to achieve a sort of organic unity between the various extra-mural teachers. From 1895, and the Charter of Incorporation for the School of Medicine, intra-mural and extra-mural teaching developed side by side and the reputation of Edinburgh as a medical teaching centre spread internationally.

Into the twentieth century, extra-mural teaching was being conducted in physiology, surgery, pathology, medical jurisprudence, and midwifery.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Notes of lectures by Andrew Duncan, presented December 1961, Accession no. E61.40. Material on practice of medicine, received 1968, Accession no. E68.5. Notes on systematic medicine, purchased December 1981, Accession no. E81.94. Notes on surgery, purchased December 1984, Accession no. E84.65.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Guthrie, Douglas. Extramural medical education in Edinburgh and the School of medicine of the Royal Colleges. Edinburgh and London: E. and S. Livingstone Ltd., 1965.

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 show other references to Extra-Academical School material (check the Indexes for more details), much of it with shelfmark Da (Class Cards): anatomical demonstrations, by John Innes, taken out by William Dean, 1768; anatomy and surgery, lectures on chemistry, material medica and pharmacy, 1805-1806; chemistry, by J. Murray, taken out by Thomas W. Robinson, 1821; mineralogy; institutions of medicine; theory and practice of midwifery and the diseases of women and children; and, terms of attendance on chemistry lectures. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes for the Extra Mural Medical School, Edinburgh: register of lecturers, minutes, list of students and Dean's correspondence, 1855-1945, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, see Scottish Records Association datasheet no 6 part 37.