Since the origins of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1505, almost 50,000 people have been elected Fellows or Members of this institution, the world’s oldest surgical College. Today, men and women who hold the FRCSEd or MRCSEd can be found in over 100 countries across the globe, practising every specialty of surgery and dentistry.
All those who received these awards, from the earliest days of the barber-surgeons through to 1927, are recorded here in searchable databases. Famous medical names in our history include Joseph Lister, whose innovations in the field of antisepsis saved countless lives; James Young Simpson, the man who transformed anaesthesia; and Elsie Inglis, surgeon and suffragist who founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service during the First World War.
However, here you can also find information on people who – in addition to their surgical achievements - have had lasting effects on wider society and culture. Surgeons such as John Rattray, creator of the first formalised rules of golf; Joseph Bell, the original inspiration for the legendary Sherlock Holmes; and Thomas John Barnardo, philanthropist and founder of the famous Dr Barnardo's homes for children.
So whether you’re researching the history of medicine, studying Scotland’s past, or perhaps exploring your family tree, here you can find the name and date of admission for every surgeon who received our Honorary Fellowship; Fellowship; Licentiateship; or Diploma, with further biographical information and additional recommended reading where available.
A basic guide to the qualifications listed here:
In June 1671 the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers of Edinburgh decided to start awarding “honorary freedoms” to individuals of note – often individuals of political and social significance - who could help to boost the reputation of the Incorporation. Today, Honorary Fellowship is considered the highest award available from The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
For over 500 years, Fellowship of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (FRCSEd) has been recognised as the main qualification offered by this institution. Usually obtained via examination, over 2,000 surgeons were elected to Fellowship by 1918, all of whose names are recorded here.
Originally from this College’s inception in 1505 the only examination available was that for the full 'Mastership' [Fellowship]. However, in 1757 at the request of the War Office, a John McLean was admitted with a new “Diploma” of the College - a separate examination that licensed the successful candidate as competent to practice surgery. In the 1770s this Diploma was fully introduced and developed.
From 1815 the Diploma was standardised and renamed 'Licentiateship'. It was a highly respected and officially recognised medical qualification, often used as an alternative as much as an addition to a university medical degree.
From 1858, after the Medical Act, candidates could continue to take the single license examination of the College, but by this time RCSEd entered into negotiations with The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh to create the "Double Qualification", licensing successful candidates as Licentiates of both Edinburgh Colleges.
From 1884 the "Triple Qualification", adding Licentiateship of the Faculty (later the Royal College) of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, was introduced. This was an extremely popular route to an initial medical qualification parallel to the university degree, attracting medical students from all across the globe.
Licentiateship in Dental Surgery
Before the Dentists Act of 1878, there had been no real attempts to professionalise dentistry, and there were no specific Scottish dental qualifications on offer. A few RCSEd Fellows had turned their attention to dental matters during the second half of the eighteenth century, but largely within the context of general surgery. It would take considerable efforts to persuade both doctors and the public that dentistry had its place alongside medicine, surgery and pharmacy, and RCSEd had a key role to play in this process. A year after the aforementioned Act, the College established its first Dental Licentiate examination (LDS RCSEd) in 1879.
While much of the information you will find here comes from primary RCSEd resources, we remain extremely grateful to the thousands of researchers who have worked with us over many years, and who have been happy to share the results of their research with us. Likewise, it would be remiss not to mention three outstanding books on the history of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, without which this resource would be greatly reduced:
All of these books can be purchased from RCSEd and are highly recommended.
As you can imagine, over 500 years of our history some nomenclature has change, and you will see evidence of that here. For example, RCSEd will – in our early records – often be referred to as “the Incorporation”. Similarly, our main qualification – Fellowship – was originally called “Mastership”. If you have any questions regarding the terminology used, or anything else regarding the Digital Collections project, please Contact Us.