Records of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Science, University of Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

The collection is comprised of the records created by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University in its roles of research, teaching, and medico-legal work for the Crown authorities. There are seven series reflecting the range of functions of the department. Series include departmental administrative records, case files relating to criminal and civil cases as well as enquiries made upon the department, police photographs, departmental photographs, and materials relating to the production of departmental publications including textbooks, articles, and reports.

Administrative / Biographical History

With the royal appointment of the Regius Chair of Medical Jurisprudence in  1839 , the  Department of Forensic Medicine and Science at the  University of Glasgow was founded. Although teaching in forensic medicine had been provided in the Medical School of Glasgow prior to 1839, it had not been formally instituted in the University. The first appointment to the Chair was  Robert Cowan, whose title appeared in Royal Warrant as Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Forensic Medicine, but was known in practice as Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Medical Police and was described as such in the University Calendars. Teaching was initially provided within the Faculty of Medicine and in 1864 forensic medicine also became a part of the law curriculum. During the tenure of the second Regius Professor,  Harry Rainy, the chair was usually referred to as Forensic Medicine rather than Medical Jurisprudence. In 1894 the department itself became known as Forensic Medicine, but still offered teaching in medico-legal subjects and public health. Lectures were intended to elucidate the application of medical science to civil or criminal judicial proceedings. The department was housed in the new Gilbert Scott building (opened in  1870 ) in the East Quadrangle, occupying a lecture theatre and three rooms. When  John Glaister was appointed in 1898, it was as Professor of Forensic Medicine and Public Health, teaching medical jurisprudence to law students and both medical jurisprudence and public health to medical students. In 1903 Professor Glaister began teaching the first Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Doctor of Science (DSc) degrees in Public Health at the University of Glasgow, but gave up teaching this subject in  1922 , ending the relationship between public health and forensic medicine at the University. A new chair of public health was created in 1923 (Ordinance 113). In 1907, Forensic Medicine moved into purpose built accommodation in the new medical buildings. Glaister became a hugely influential figure in the Scottish legal system, after becoming Medico-legal Examiner in Crown cases in the West of Scotland and providing medical evidence in notable criminal trials in neighbouring and other districts. His son,  John Glaister Jnr. joined the department in 1919 to work as an assistant, returning in 1931 as Regius Professor. The two men built one of the United Kingdom's leading Forensic Medicine and Science departments, and their impact and influence remains significant in the field due to their high profile work and their textbook, Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, which ran to thirteen editions between 1902 and 1973. In 1979 the department became known as Forensic Medicine and Science, the name it retains to this day. At the end of 1987, the department moved from 8 University Gardens (which it had occupied since 1955) to its present location in the Joseph Black building. The Department is now part of the Division of Community-Based Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine. The academic unit of Forensic Medicine and Science encompasses the two disciplines of Forensic Pathology and Forensic Toxicology. Both are primarily service-based, but with additional involvement in teaching and research. The unit is now the longest established academic forensic institution in the United Kingdom (founded 1839), probably the largest, and one of the few to combine pathology and toxicology under one roof. The Forensic Medicine and Science Department provides undergraduate teaching in the faculties of Medicine, Science and Law. The Forensic Pathology section of the department carries out post mortem examinations for the Procurator Fiscals of Glasgow and the surrounding regions under contract with the Crown Office (the central legal authority in Scotland). Pathologists within the Section carry out up to 2,500 examinations each year.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received and is described in many instances to item level.

Access Information

Certain files are restricted in accordance with data protection legislation. Bona fide researchers should apply in writing to the University Archivist.

Acquisition Information

Parts of the collection were transferred to the University of Glasgow Archive Services by the Department of Forensic Medicine and Science in 1979 (Accession number 0020), 1988 (Accession number 1025), 1989 (Accession number 1075) and 2001 (Accession number 2133). The remainder of the material was transferred from the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Glasgow in 2002 (Accession number 2239).

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist Any work based on the use of this material, which is intended for publication, must be submitted to the University Archivist for approval prior to that publication.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Material from the Department of Forensic Medicine and Science was received directly. The material transferred by the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Glasgow had been brought together in the research for the publication On Soul and Conscience: The Medical Expert and Crime (1988) by M Anne Crowther and Brenda White.


None expected

Related Material

See GB 248 DC 403: Papers of John Glaister Senior (1856-1932) and John Glaister Junior (1892-1971), Professors of Forensic Medicine

Location of Originals

Some originals of reports submitted to the Crown authorities are held at the National Archives of Scotland


Crowther, M.A. and White, BrendaOn Soul and Conscience: The Medical Expert and Crime : 150 years of forensic medicine in Glasgow. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press , 1988 .

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Monica Greenan, Archivist, 03 February 2004.

Amended by Sam Maddra, Assistant Archivist (cataloguing), 15/12/2014; Amended by Kath Roper-Caldbeck, Cataloguing Volunteer, 12/12/2018.

Geographical Names