This boxed set of surgical instruments is typical of the instruments carried by regimental and staff (hospital) surgeons on campaign.

This boxed set of surgical instruments is typical of the instruments carried by regimental and staff (hospital) surgeons on campaign. The kit was used in a field or larger hospital and contained instruments made of a form of steel, with organic handles (e.g. ebony, bone or rosewood).

A surgeon dealing with the consequences of conflict had to be prepared to encounter some pretty unpleasant challenges. It has to be remembered, however, that these men, both surgeons and patients, did not have the knowledge or facilities to give help to wounded men that we have today. Men and women were used to suffering and pain, accustomed to early or unexpected death, painful surgery and inevitable post-operative complications. What surgeons lacked were anaesthesia, antisepsis and also knowledge of disordered physiology after injury.

The brass-bound hardwood case was usually kept in a stout leather slip-case and had an inside felt lining to protect the brittle instruments. There were surgical tools to perform several operations. The case had to provide instruments for wound care (scalpels, probes and scissors), amputation (capital or large knives, saw and ligatures) and trepanning the skull (trepanning or trephining required small circular saws, elevators to lift bone fragments).

When wounds became infected, pus would need to be let out by a lancet. The latter instrument was also used for bleeding the patient, a useless form of therapy that was part of a regime believed to be useful in warding off infection.
Care of the instruments was the responsibility of the orderly who worked with the surgeon. The cost of such a set was around 15-30 guineas.

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This object is in the collection of Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons