20+ members of the Company visited the Wellcome Museum for a Technical Visit
WCSIM: Visit to the Wellcome Museum Thursday 15 November 2018
Report and illustrations by Liveryman Barrie Reece
And so a meritorious band of 20+ people from the Company gathered at the Wellcome Museum at 11.30am for a Tour excellently organised by Raul Abreu. Having first been refreshed in the Café on the Ground floor, we were met by Jordan Blake, Historian, who whisked us up to the next floor on a winding staircase to the Medicine Man gallery where we saw many controversial exhibits from shrunken heads (Shuar tribe in Ecuador/Peru), Darwin’s expensive ivory walking sticks (one with real large emeralds in its eye-sockets), early surgical implements of “torture”, paintings of medical procedures in the early days (most vividly illustrated!), infamous Gin Alley portrayed by William Hogarth, paintings of the sectioned human form (à la Leonardo da Vinci) that would rival Gunther von Hagen’s 3D plastic infusion of cadavers), a 30+ stone man who enjoyed swimming, horse riding, etc but never had more than a “normal” diet (so we were told) and died comfortably in his sleep in his 40’s; a 16th century painting called “Purgatory” which portrayed naked people cavorting happily in the “after-life” in the style of Hieronymous Bosch.
We were treated to a historical account of the Museum’s founder, Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), who made his fortune from his extensive pharmaceutical business. He was an enthusiastic traveller and amassed a vast collection of books, paintings and objects, on the theme of the historical development of medicine worldwide.
We saw a very rusty blade of a French Guillotine, used to execute Jean-Baptiste Carrier in December 1794 during the French Revolution and we noted that the French used the guillotine up until 1977 – just 41 years’ ago!!!! We saw preserved human remains with intact wrinkled skins, a splendid array of masks for the witch-doctor to wear in administering his toxic medicine, and many other such artefacts as man attempted to intervene and control diseases and perform operations. All of these objects were surrounded by fascinating glimpses of scientific innovation and old instruments; in particular we took notice of an original method of resuscitation for a “drowned” person by pumping tobacco smoke up the rectum using a modified bellows taken from the fireplace thus providing “warmth and stimulation”! Many of these devices were placed along the Thames for emergency use! We saw a medicine "box" used by Scott in the Antarctic containing medicaments that were well preserved when found years’ later, and a metal medicine chest used in an attempt to scale Everest by 70 people without oxygen masks. The assault didn't succeed but put England alongside Germany in the race to be the first to conquer Everest! Having savoured these tastes of the past, and thanked our Guide for his fascinating explanations, we then proceeded to savour excellent food served in the Restaurant on the top floor.
After Lunch we were encouraged to proceed on our own to view the extensive Library, the Reading Room complete with an old dental chair and an old X-ray machine and adorned with names of famous entrepreneurs to vibrate in our memories such as Aristotle, Hipocrates, Pasteur, Koch, Darwin, Jenner……..
Then there was an exhibition of building design and healthy accommodation against a background of the psychological “sick building” syndrome and examples of buildings that invited people to work in enjoyable conditions bringing happiness, contentment and ownership, and not disinterest, depression and associated psychiatric problems.
On entry into the amazing Foyer, you were confronted above your head by a man standing upside down on the ceiling. His name was “Feel”! The Museum is meant to promote meditation in “understanding and improvement of health”, and, he does, just that!
Master Ken Sanders thanked Raul for organising a highly interesting tour, and having sojourned on our own a little more in the Museum on the busy Euston Road, we eventually went home feeling highly satisfied and contented for a most enjoyable time…………..END.