Hidden Treasure Trail 12 - The People's Museum In Scotland

By Caroline Lewis | 15 May 2006
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Welcome to the Hidden Treasure Trails on the 24 Hour Museum, exploring the hidden treasures of the People’s Museum.

The BBC series People’s Museum explores the most fascinating objects on show at museums all over the country and asks the viewer to vote for their favourites - what they would put on display in a museum. A masterful portrait, a scientific first, or perhaps a touching journal? It's up to the people!

Joseph Lister's Carbolic spray transformed medical practice in the ninenteenth century and improved the chances of recovering from surgery. Now the spray device held at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow has made it into the People's Museum.

photo of a grey cannister attached to a glass bottle and with a spray nozzle and wooden handle

Joesph Lister's Carbolic Spray - Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

The 24 Hour Museum is revisiting the featured venues and more, taking another look at at some of the amazing artefacts also featured in the People's Museum programme.

We have arranged them into region-by-region trails. Read on to discover some of Scotland’s rich collections and surprising finds – we hope it inspires you to get out there and visit them for yourself.

Scotland’s history and culture are well represented by its fine museums and galleries. They contain many hidden and intriguing treasures like at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow – Robert the Bruce’s toe bone and Whistler’s paint palette to name just two.

Sir Roger the Elephant and an arcane orrery can be found at The Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery and the city’s Museum of Transport takes you back in time with its locomotives and 1930s street scene.

The Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians in Glasgow and its counterpart in Edinburgh show just how much the country has contributed to science and medicine over the years and reveals the surprising connection between Florence Nightingale and Sherlock Holmes.

Edinburgh University’s Reid collection of musical instruments is packed full of (almost) forgotten instruments and the Museum of Childhood shows what happens when you cross a goose with ludo. The Museum of Scotland has an early guillotine, Viking chessmen and reminders of Mary Queen of Scot’s fateful reign.

photo of an artist's palette complete with paint

JM Whistler's palette. Courtesy the Hunterian Museum

As one of Britain’s biggest cities and a former industrial powerhouse, Glasgow amassed many fine works of art and museum exhibits with the help of wealthy collectors, its renowned university and illustrious scientific community.

In 1783 the anatomist and medical teacher William Hunter bequeathed his large and eclectic collection to the University of Glasgow.

He provided the funds to build a suitable museum to house his collection, and this fine classical building was opened in 1807, enduring as the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. The elegant Charles Rennie Mackintosh Chair at the museum has been nominated - will it make the final cut and become part of the People's Museum?

Hunter's original bequest has been added to and the Hunterian’s art gallery has one of the world’s foremost collections of works by the celebrated 19th century American-born and British based impressionist James McNeill Whistler. In addition to 80 oils and several hundred watercolours and drawings, it also has many of his personal effects, including his brushes, paints and palette.

The oval palette still has oil paint on it, laid out in the usual Whistler fashion – white in the middle; yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, cobalt and mineral blue to the left; to the right vermillion, Venetian red, Indian red and black.

The museum includes important zoology and anatomy collections as well as many antiquities and items from pre-history.

An unusual artefact was inadvertently discovered during construction of a new church next to Dunfermline Abbey in 1818. Excavations the following year unearthed the tomb and body of Robert the Bruce, the 14th century king who secured Scotland’s independence from England.

photo of an old bone fragment

Robert the Bruce's toe bone. Courtesy the Hunterian Museum

Bruce’s second right metatarsal (toe) bone made its way into the museum’s collection, as well as a fragment from his funerary shroud, a handle from the coffin, a macabre plaster cast of his skull and several marble fragments from the tomb itself. They are currently in storage and the toe will be dusted off as a star exhibit when the main part of the museum, currently being refurbished, reopens in time for its bicentenary in 2007.

The Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians, Glasgow has a wonderful array of artefacts and extensive library of medical history, including Joseph Lister's carbolic spray, which has already been selected for the People's Museum. Anyone can visit, but an appointment is necessary.

Sir William Beatty was ship’s surgeon on board HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Beatty attended to Nelson after his fatal bullet wound during the battle and his case of instruments was later donated to the college. It includes a screw tourniquet, trephines, forceps, a fine-toothed bow saw for amputations, knifes and other surgical instruments.

photo of a case with metal instruments inside

Beatty's instruments. Courtesy the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians Glasgow

Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar ensured British naval dominance and helped to pave the way for a flurry of trade and exploration. Scot Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873) was one of the first westerners to explore central Africa and to traverse the continent.

He died of malaria and dysentery in present day Zambia and his body was transported via Zanzibar to London. His corpse was unrecognisable on arrival but evidence of a compound fracture to Livingstone’s left arm identified the body. The fractured humerus was the result of Livingstone being mauled by a lion on his first trip to Africa in 1857, and can be seen in the College’s collection.

One year after Livingstone’s death William Macewen became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and was appointed to the staff of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

photo of a bone with a healed fracture

Livingstone's humerus. Courtesy The Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians Glasgow

Macewen strove to create the ideal germ-free conditions for his operating theatre and was instrumental in the adoption of sterile working practices. His journals in the college archive show his meticulous attention to detail and his pioneering work to correct the deformities caused by the bone disease rickets.

Also in Glasgow, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery is set to reopen in July 2006 after a major restoration programme. It is considered one of Europe’s foremost civic museums and has plenty of attractions, including artworks by Dali and Van Gogh and one of the finest arms and armour collections in the world. Marianne Grant's concentration camp painting of Bergen-Belsen is in the running for the People's Museum.

Sir Roger the (stuffed) elephant has always been a well-loved Kelvingrove feature but many smaller treasures are waiting to be discovered, such as John Fulton’s orrery.

photo of a globe and moon attached to a clockwork mechanism

Part of Fulton's orrery. Courtesy Kelvingrove Museum

An orrery is a model demonstrating the movement of the bodies in the solar system and the one on show is Fulton’s third attempt from 1833, which took him four years to build. If he had to make it today it would be even more complex, as several planets have since been discovered.

Glasgow’s Museum of Transport demonstrates the former shipbuilding industry centred on the River Clyde but also houses vehicles from an armoured car to a prison bus, the oldest surviving pedal bicycle and the world’s best collection of Scottish-built cars. Its scale model of the Queen Mary I is up for voting into the People's Museum.

Locomotive manufacture was an important local industry and the museum has an impressive number of famous engines like the Gordon Highlander. It also reconstructs a 1930s Glasgow street scene, complete with subway station, shops and old Glasgow trams.

photo of a gallery featuring old vehicles

Trams, buses and vintage cars at the Museum of Transport. Courtesy Glasgow Museum of Transport

Edinburgh, as Scotland’s ancient capital, also has a wealth of museums and galleries, with collections of national and international significance.

For example, Edinburgh University’s collection of musical instruments at houses a treasure trove of musical instruments packed into their Victorian display cases, covering a time span of more than 400 years, and its Zumpe piano has been nominated for inclusion in the People's Museum.

The collection also includes rare horns, baroque guitars and lutes, 18th century bagpipes and items from around the world including the famous golden gong, struck with aplomb at the start of Rank films.

close-up photo of gold filigree beads and locket

Mary Queen of Scots' jewellery. © National Museums Scotland

National Museums of Scotland run a whole host of venues in the country, including the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh - Logie Baird's original televisor is in its collection, and is one of the nominees for the People's Museum.

Here you can find many pointers to the country’s rich history, and a group of chess pieces discovered in Uig on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1831. Made some 700 years earlier, they are carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth, and probably originate from Scandinavia – Vikings settled in Scotland from the ninth century.

Mary Queen of Scots was one of Scotland’s most notorious monarchs, eventually executed after a long imprisonment in 1587. The museum has a gold necklace and locket, thought to have originally been a pair of Mary’s bracelets. It was possibly filled with perfume and was a gift to her from faithful servant Giles Mowbray just before her death.

At the time of Mary’s reign, the Scots were using a grisly beheading machine known as the Maiden, the forerunner of the guillotine. From 1564 until 1710 more than 150 people were executed using it, long before devices like this were made infamous by the French Revolution.

photo of a plain guillotine

A Maiden - forerunner of the guillotine. Courtesy the Museum of Scotland

As Scotland entered the age of Enlightenment in the 18th century its colleges were to produce many of the foremost thinkers, inventors and surgeons of the time.

Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842) was a surgeon during the Napoleonic Wars and worked tirelessly at the Battle of Waterloo, operating on the wounded and producing many oil paintings and etchings of gunshot wounds to the combatants. Many of these can be found on display at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, where he was appointed Professor of Surgery in 1836.

The museum's nomination for the People's Museum is James Young Simpson's brandy decanter he used for his early work on anaesthetics.

Joseph Bell (1837-1911) was another eminent Scottish doctor, famed for his diagnostic skill and powers of observation. His reputation certainly made a lasting impression on one of his pupils – Arthur Conan Doyle – who went on to use Bell as the model for enduring literary sleuth Sherlock Holmes.

The College’s extensive Joseph Bell Collection includes the original letter from Doyle to Bell admitting his inspiration and other papers from well-known figures of the time, including a letter from Florence Nightingale, thanking him for services to nursing.

an illustrated book cover for Grimm's Fairy Tales in Victorian pen and ink style

An early edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Courtesy the Museum of Childhood

Scotland has many other interesting museums covering a broad range of subjects. Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood was the first museum in the world to focus on the history of childhood.

It has traditional toys and games like the ‘Game of Goose’, rare editions of classic children’s stories such as the Grimm Brother’s fairy tales and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, which is in the running for nomination to the People's Museum, and even an example of the first disposible nappy – thankfully in mint condition.

More museums with fascinating collections to be found in Scotland...

Hidden treasures are seemingly around every corner in Scotland and one of the most unusual is Scotland’s Secret Bunker. This concealed relic of the Cold War is hidden beneath an innocuous-looking farmhouse,and has 24,000 square feet of accommodation, enough for 300 key personnel.

Of course, if you are in the capital, then the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh shouldn’t be missed, with works by such luminaries as Titian, Raphael, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Gaughin, Monet and Cézanne and the much loved Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddington Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn.

The dramatic ruins of Melrose Abbey are reputedly the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart and it has a new visitor centre with artefacts from the abbey.

The Scottish islands also have several interesting museums and Taigh Chearsabhagh on North Uist, which explores the culture and heritage of the Outer Hebrides, was shortlisted for the Gulbenkian Prize for Museums and Galleries in 2005.

Click here to go to the BBC People's Museum website and find out more about the featured objects.

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The Hidden Treasure Trails have been produced for The Campaign for Museums by the 24 Hour Museum with support from the Foyle Foundation.