Odds and quads

These instruments (see image, right) - inhaler, ether mask, bedpan, a syringe made by Philip Harris and Company and a device used during anaesthesia that contains a Sparklets bulb similar to those in soda siphons - are all held by the Seacole Library at Birmingham City University.

August 18, 2011

Together with catheters, leg drains, wound replicas, mouth gags and hip protheses, the instruments were used to teach students at the schools of nursing formerly based at City Hospital, Selly Oak Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Good Hope Hospital and East Birmingham Hospital. These were gradually amalgamated into a single health faculty, which is now one of the largest in the UK.

The library is named after the Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole (1805-81), who believed that her knowledge of tropical medicine would be useful in the Crimean War. After her offer of help was rejected by Florence Nightingale, arguably on racial grounds, she borrowed money to make the 4,000-mile journey from London to the Crimea under her own devices.

Despite receiving several awards for her work, Seacole was largely forgotten until recently, when her pioneering achievements won renewed recognition.

The Seacole Library also houses the records of inmates in Birmingham's mental asylums during the 1880s and 1890s.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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