‘The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes’

“Where was the truth? Madeleine asked the African violet on the window-sill. She was no longer sure. The vile dog Bob had been dead for years but he would have lied in any case, had he been able. ..”

Three characters:

Ruth pulls the old man’s bag open and stares “into the cat’s unblinking eyes. His back was arched, his ginger hair bristled around his neck, and his legs, fixed firmly to the stand, were stiff and straight. Every part of his body signalled, ‘Keep off!’ ” And Ruth (“the lady with the sky in her hair”) gives up nursing to become a taxidermist.

Lisa poses with fellow mathematicians by the patterned brick ‘masterpieces’ and she imagines the picture the camera will preserve: “Dr Lisa Wallace with her long blonde hair, dome-headed, an achondroplasic, small and imperfectly formed, against a backdrop of miniaturised perfection.”

Madeleine, widowed sheep-farmer in the Lake District, realises that “hiding, and hidden away, she had wasted her married life because she hadn’t known she had the strength to resist. But she knew now …”

Friendship, memories, objects: how do we preserve the past? And how do we deal with the hand that life has dealt us?

For the three very different women, whose lives become intertwined, these stark questions have been the undercurrent of their lives – but, within the Cumbrian landscape, they learn to deal with them with warmth and humour .

ISBN 9781503036918
Littoralis Press/Amazon CreateSpace, p/b, £9.95 p/b 2015 (2nd edition)

Also Kindle versions through Amazon, and as ePub versions through Kobo etc

Comments and reviews

An intriguing novel in a haunting setting, rich in texture, humorous and concerned, raising important questions about science and our relation to the natural world, to the individuals we know and to the communities we live in. A lovely book. Jenny Uglow

An exhilarating and compelling read. A powerful and haunting story of genetic difference, interwoven with maths, taxidermy, and the tragedy of foot and mouth disease.Professor Sir John Sulston, Nobel Laureate

A many-faceted book … The account of the dreadful days of foot-and-mouth disease in the last epidemic is agonising and the Cumbrian accent is perfect.Jane Gardam

A charming, intelligent and engrossing book, with enough dark heart to drag it away from the domain of standard female fiction fare and into much more engaging territory. I found myself drawn in by the delicate prose and fascinating descriptions … an engrossing and enjoyable read.Kat Arney, LabLit Read the full review

A rich, absorbing, intriguing novel … All of (the characters) felt like real people, whom I would want to know. And they were dealing with authentic issues; from everyday problems like relationships and family rivalry to the impact of foot-and-mouth on the local Cumbrian community. … An absorbing, clever writer …. – Mary Zacaroli, Oxford Times Read the full review

Ann Lingard skilfully weaves a handful of lives together … This engrossing and unusual tale is a window on the soul… and highlights something no embalmer can preserve: what it means to be an ordinary human being. – Michael Brooks, New Scientist

The book’s strength lies in the intense sense of time and place it creates in the reader’s mind. Images are conjured like old Polaroid photographs; faded snapshots filled with tinted memories – whether they are the horrors of sheep farming during the foot and mouth epidemic, or fleeting moments shared between illicit lovers. … a warm and atmospheric read. – Amy Strange, Bionews



The anatomists

Dr Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731) – anatomist, embalmer, man-midwife and praelector of the Amsterdam Surgeons’ Guild, botanist with an interest in insects …

van neck & ruysch
The anatomical lesson of Dr Frederik Ruysch: Van Neck

The Surgeons’ Guild was housed in De Waag in Amsterdam. My friend and former colleague, Dr Wil van der Knaap, was able to gain entrance for the two of us to see not only the painted heraldic shields of the surgeons, including the central shield for Frederik Ruysch himself, inside the roof of the restored Theatrum Anatomicum, but also the ‘masterpiece’ patterns of the bricklayers’ Guild (see ‘Patterns’ below).

Ruysch sometimes referred to himself as a konstenaar, or artist, and his Wunderkammer – of preserved plants and animals and human foetuses, dried, embalmed or fixed in alcohol, and his moralistic preparations and Tableaux of skeletons that were symbols of vanitas mundi – was visited by many high-ranking academics and others, including Peter the Great (who eventually bought the collection).

Cornelius Huyberts’ engravings of the Tableaux are preserved in the volumes of Ruysch’s Opera Omnia, the Thesauri,  in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Photographs of all the pages of the Thesauri have more recently become available on the website of the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médécine.

Tableaux from Thesaurus VIII
© BIUM Paris: by courtesy of the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médecine (Paris)

These Tableaux show Ruysch’s artistry in preparing tissues such as blood vessels and the mesenteric tissues from around the gut, and arranging them to represent handkerchiefs and trees and – more morbidly here – an opened tomb or sepulchre created from a preserved uterus, containing a foetus with a ‘crown of natural flowers’.

Title page, and Tableau I, Thesaurus VIII explanations
© BIUM Paris: by courtesy of the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médecine (Paris)

The Scot William Hunter (1716-1783) was, like Ruysch, an anatomist, embalmer and man-midwife, and was also President of the Royal College of Surgeons in England. Remnants of his large anatomical museum – including the plaster casts of gravid uteri, and the bottles of human eyes mentioned in Ruth’s blog-post Making Eyes – are now held at Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum.

His anatomy dissections and lectures, and his embalming methods that allowed long-term dissections of cadavers, were famous and led to many ground-breaking discoveries. It’s worth noting that his lectures and demonstrations to the Royal Academy of Arts on the importance of scientific observation and accurate interpretation are still very relevant to the work of writers and artists today!

zoffany hunter
Zoffany’s painting of William Hunter lecturing

The use of écorchés (flayed preserved corpses) to demonstrate the body’s musculature is well-recorded and discussed elsewhere, but Hunter – again like Ruysch – sometimes arranged his specimens in ‘artistic’ poses. The body of a hanged smuggler was fixed in the position of a dying Roman soldier before rigor mortis set in: the écorché of ‘Smugglerius’ was used as a teaching aid and subsequently immortalised as a plaster cast by William Pink, still held in the collection of the Royal Academy.

William Hunter’s younger brother John Hunter (1729-1793) was also a surgeon and anatomist and a naturalist, who accumulated his own large collection of animals and humans, both dead and alive, in his own museum. A large part of the collection remains in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.


Portrait of John Hunter, miniature copy by Henry Bone RA after Joshua Reynolds, 1798. (Thanks to The Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons of England for permission to reproduce this image)

In the background are the bones of the feet and lower legs of Charles Byrne, ‘the Giant O’Brien’ (died 1783), as recounted in the blog-post Copper Kettles by taxidermist Ruth Kowslowski in the novel: “Perhaps finally he has been able to smile at the thought that his story as well as his bones (and a portrait of his feet!) are still preserved and admired nearly 250 years later.”  There is a fascinating video about Charles Byrne’s skeleton and genetic studies on acromegaly (a form of giantism) in the online version of the article “Should the skeleton of the Irish Giant O’Brien be buried at sea?” by Len Doyal and Thomas Muinzer.


As for Ruysch’s children, Rachel Ruysch was not only adept at making lacy sleeves for embalmed babies, but became a highly-respected artist, preserving the images of flowers and insects and reptiles in the rich colours and deep textures of her still-life paintings.


rachel ruysch glasgow
An arrangement of flowers by a tree trunk, Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750)

My thanks to ‘Culture & Sport Glasgow (Museums)’ for permission to use this image


What was the significance of the post-cards on the Café Waag table?

(Lisa) hastily pushed the postcards into a pile. They were all aerial views of tulip-fields; some were striped like the rough canvas of a deck-chair, narrow bands of red, orange, green and yellow; in others, the patterns were more intricate arrangements of rectangles and trapezoids, bounded by the dark curving ribbons of canals.” There is a longer extract from this chapter under Chromosome 4 of Ken MacLeod’s Human Genre Project.

tulip fields
Tulip fields: Frans Lemmens

Frans wrote to me that this postcard (which I bought in 2001) is “the best selling tulip image card in Holland. The publisher and I were astonished about this. We thought before that it would do well, but definitely not that it would become the best selling of all tulip fields”.

And what was so special about the brick patterns inside De Waag?

waag bricklayers1
The bricklayers’ ‘masterpieces’: photo Wil van der Knaap

The answer to the questions is that Lisa, Stefan, Kees and their colleagues – mathematicians, theoretical physicists, astronomers – were in Amsterdam for a conference on patterning and quasicrystal structure – and like crystallographers and the artist Maurits Escher before them, were working on the practice and theory of how shapes and images could be fit together to fill two- and three- and multi-dimensional space


As for the modern science of quasicrystals, my thanks to Professor Ian Stewart, who suggested Lisa might work on quasicrystals and sent me many relevant reprints, and to Professor Uwe Grimm.  Uwe, with the help of cardboard models laid out on our kitchen floor, helped me try to get to grips with the concept of the quasi-periodicity of repeating patterns in crystals: see, for example, What is Aperiodic Order? 

‘Making eyes’

cover 5crop
1st edn. cover. Photograph of artificial eye from the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, by Rosamond Wolff Purcell (with my thanks)

As taxidermist Ruth explains about her work, “It’s so important to get the eyes and the eyelids right … the face is everything, and it’s far too easy to get the expression wrong.

Glass-makers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka are probably best-known for their series of exquisite and scientifically-detailed flowers in the Ware Collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Boston, USA, and the glass models of invertebrate animals (including sea-anemones modelled on PH Gosse’s engravings).

They also made glass eyes, for humans.

White spheres lie on cotton-wool in the compartments of a flat wooden box: blue, brown or green circles, dark centres – pot-boilers, money-spinners: artificial human eyes. On a workbench there are small bottles, pinboxes and wooden trays containing different body-parts: glass tentacles of different shapes and colours, sponge spicules, tiny shells. ‘Mix ’n match’ invertebrates amongst the powdered glass and pigments.” (from Ruth Kowslowski’s blog-post ‘Making Eyes’)

Philip Henry Gosse exclaimed about the beauty of the multi-faceted eye of the dragon-fly. Insects have ‘compound eyes’, made up of many individual units each with a lens and light-sensitive cells that form an image. The surface of some compound eyes – like those of the fruit-fly, Drosophila – looks a bit like the surface of a raspberry, each separate unit bulging slightly outwards.

The structure and image-forming method of insect eyes could not be more different from that of vertebrate eyes, or even eyes of the squid and octopus. Yet in the mid-1990s, Walter Gehring and his colleagues performed a series of what turned out to be ground-breaking experiments in the field of developmental genetics – they showed that the gene pax6 which initiates the early stages of eye-formation in the mouse could also initiate eye-formation in Drosophila. Not a mouse eye – but a fly eye. If the mouse gene was inserted into fly cells that would normally form a leg or antenna – a fly eye grew instead!


See Figures 3 and 5 of Induction of Ectopic Eyes by Targeted Expression of the eyeless Gene in Drosophila

As Ruth writes: “We know now that Evolution is a conservationist and throws very little away: ‘You want an image-forming retina? There’s a bit of photosensitive pigment kicking around somewhere. A bit of this and a little bit of that, let’s try them in this order instead …’ The ingredients are mixed in a different sequence, to a different recipe.”


This photo of William Hart’s fighting squirrels held in the collection at Castle Ward was in a National Trust magazine in 2002 – and was a major stimulus in making me want to write about a taxidermist.

ntpl boxing squirrels

© NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel.
My thanks to the National Trust and their Photo Library for permission to use this image

The Victorians were very fond of these anthropomorphised specimens, and artist Polly Morgan has taken this trend to new, exciting levels. In the novel, Ruth mentions Walter Potter’s ‘Kittens’ Tea-Party’ and although all of Potter’s works are now held in private collections, there are photos of several of his kitten tableaux at the Booth Museum, Brighton – where Booth’s own taxidermal preparations are on display.

Walter Potter: Kittens’ tea-party

To learn more about how taxidermists work, I visited and watched George Jamieson at Cramond and Colin Scott in Hawick.

This very good BBC video , A Taxidermist’s Tale, shows George (who also taught Polly Morgan) at work.

The 2001 Foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in Cumbria

Madeleine Tregwithen, one of the main characters in The Embalmer’s Book, had her sheep flock ‘culled out’ in 2001; her neighbour Daniel’s pedigree herd of cattle was subsequently infected and killed.

So much has been written and photographed about this terrible time, so many stories have been recorded in print and audio and on film. Mathematical analyses and future predictions of the spread of disease continue, based on the very large data set that was gathered at the time.

Nick May’s exhibition of photographs, Till the cows come home, continues to haunt me.


nick may's Dodds-Parlour-1

‘Dodds’ parlour’.
© Nick May. I am indebted to Nick for giving me permission to use this photograph

Note:  Herdwick semen and embryos were collected during FMD and stored in the Sheep Trust’s gene bank, and were later were used successfully to breed new lambs: see my article, ‘Moving On‘ on page 22 of Firecrane#2


The character Lisa Wallace, mathematician at the University of Liverpool, is an achondroplasic.

Tom Shakespeare, a friend and former colleague, with whom I worked for two years on out two-year Wellcome Trust-funded Talking Science in Cumbria project, is himself achondroplasic – and he introduced me to Jo Hookway and Margaret Milne, both of whom were delightfully generous (and humorous) in helping me to try to understand what it is like to be a female ‘person of restricted growth’. Sandy Marshall, formerly of the Restricted Growth Association also gave me lots of helpful background information.

There is more about achondroplasia – about a 19th-century skeleton in the Surgeons’ Hall Museum, Edinburgh, and about James Jack who was a technician there, in the stories I wrote during my Visiting Fellowship at the Genomics Forum. ‘Stories about dwarves’, copied elsewhere in this blog, in addition to containing one of Joyce Gunn Cairns’ delicate drawings, also has an extract from the novel about ‘Lisa’.

Tom Shakespeare and Professor John Burn of Newcastle University made these ‘talking heads’ videos about achondroplasia.

(videos coming soon – sorry for delay)

The videos are reproduced with kind permission from Newcastle University – ©1998 Copyright Newcastle University; All Rights Reserved.
My thanks to Tom and John, and the University audio-visual service.

You should have been terminated!’ John Burn tells Tom ….



Stories of dwarves



Sometimes subjects cycled in and out of one’s life, entering without warning and remaining for a day or more, and then exiting again as though erased. This weekend dwarves and babies had pushed their way in, small but not the same, one group stalled by a malfunctioning gene, the other with genes that had yet to function.

Yesterday, coming off the motorway at a large roundabout, Lisa had seen banners draped along a fence on the far side of the road: ‘Car boot sale, Saturday and Sunday! Smokers welcome. Dogs welcome. Cross-dressers welcome.’ Delighted, she had circled the next roundabout and returned to drive slowly past. ‘Residents of Appleby welcome. Lap-dancers welcome.’ Chuckling, she had debated going in to see what was on offer for such an eclectic mix of customers, but the distant hills had a stronger pull, and she circled again and resumed her journey. As it contoured around the feet of Blencathra the road headed inexorably downwards into the bowl where the small town of Keswick nestled as though poured.

‘Chamonix of the North-West’. Who had said that, perhaps mockingly? She could not remember, but narrow streets were further narrowed by climbing-gear that festooned doorways and spilled out of shops, and there was an air of concentrated enthusiasm for the Great Outdoors amongst the ambling pedestrians. Serious walkers would surely be out on the hills at this time, late morning, Lisa thought: those remaining at ground level were the dreamers and the unfit, and people who lived here, going about their normal lives in this town that was not, after all, a theme-park; people who paused only occasionally to remind themselves that their horizons were unusually high, an undulating rim of rock and heather.  It would be good to dream, to drift like a somnambulist … But the main street was crammed with market stalls and she quickly became distracted by local fudge and mint-cake, which she bought for her research group, and a display of woven rough-wool rugs.

‘It’s Herdwick, love,’ the woman said. ‘That’s its natural colour.’

Lisa remembered the grey sheep that Madeleine had shown her, the sheep with the kindly faces, and she imagined how this rug, with the variegated colours of lichen-mottled stone, would look in her own house. She pushed her fingers into the weave, feeling the strong wiry fibres; the woman pulled out a wider selection and spread them over the scarves and hats at the front of the stall, and Lisa dithered over the different shades.

The owner of the adjacent stall, which glittered with cheap brass and baubles, occasionally interrupted his patter to slurp from a mug of tea. His long bony nose dipped into the steam and after each gulp, he wiped it with his sleeve. He caught Lisa’s eye and winked.

‘I’ve been telling Beattie here to knit me a nose-bag,’ he said. ‘It gets that cold. But she won’t do it, dunno why.’

‘I keep telling you, Derek, I haven’t got that much wool to spare. You’d need a flock of alpacas to cover that one!’

Lisa laughed with her while Derek continued, ‘I thought I’d get one of those balaclava things with just my eyes showing but what with the war on terror and and all that I was scared I’d be waterboarded.’ He passed a hand-mirror to a girl who was looking at some ear-rings. ‘Here y’are, lass, use this mirror. “Mirror, mirror on the wall”. This mirror never lies, we’re all beautiful people here.’

‘He likes it ‘cos it makes his nose look small,’ Beattie whispered loudly. ‘Now, love, have you any preference?’

‘As long as it’s only me nose. Look at these necklaces now, did you ever see such workwomanship? All the way from the mountains of Tibet, these – Blimey!  Any minute Snow White’ll be coming round the corner, too!’

Lisa looked round sharply at the change in his tone, half-knowing what she would see.

Two achondroplasics were browsing along the stalls. They could not have failed to hear Derek’s loud joke and the woman had stopped to examine a display of smoked trout with great concentration. The man, perhaps her husband, had glanced up and had caught sight of Lisa.

There was that awkward moment, the half-smile, the indecision that Lisa experienced on the very rare occasions when she met another achon. The mirror-image that she had forgotten about, that she felt had nothing to do with her daily life; the transient exasperation and the silent question, ‘Why should I greet you like a brother, sister?’.

‘Here come your friends.’ Derek was inexorable, but not unkind.

The small man’s crumpled, ridged face collapsed even more into a toothy smile. ‘No, hadn’t you heard? Snow White’s banged up in jail. We always suspected she was a paedophile, and she was lousy at housework, too. Hi there.’ He nodded at Lisa. ‘How’re you doing?’

‘Fine.’ Lisa smiled. Passing shoppers were looking at them covertly or even with the classic double-take.

‘Nice rugs. Come and look at these, Sheila, one of these would do very nicely for Johnnie’s flat. Johnnie’s our son. This is my wife, Sheila. I’m Terry, by the way.’ He held out his hand to Lisa. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

‘Hallo. I’m Lisa. They are attractive rugs, aren’t they? They’re made from the local Fell sheep.’

Beattie was looking at them in surprise. ‘Don’t you all know each other, then? I just assumed, well, that you were all together.’

‘Bit of a coincidence, isn’t it,’ Derek agreed. ‘Something of a rare breed, not often we see—’

‘We’re just like buses. You don’t see any for ages then three come along at once, eh?’

Derek roared with laughter. ‘That’s good. You wouldn’t like to come and help out here, would you – Terry, did you say? We’d make a good team, I reckon.’

‘We’re not that rare, you know. But I don’t know where we all hide ourselves, do you, Lisa?’

Lisa realised, unhappily, that Terry had evangelical tendencies: he would always be ready to ‘fight our corner’.

His wife had clearly heard it all before. ‘Terry, they’re busy and we need to go.’

‘If you reckon that one of us is born in every 20,000 live births, that should be about thirty new children a year with our sort of restricted growth. Our son is like us, of course. We knew he would be, and we were happy about that, weren’t we, Sheila?’

‘Thirty. That’s a lot,’ Beattie agreed, uncertainly.

‘But you don’t see them, do you? And it’s not just because we’re so small and escape your notice. It’s a mystery. But it just goes to show that you shouldn’t be surprised to see a few of us at one time in normal circumstances.’

‘I think I’ll take this one, I like the mixture of greys.’ Lisa raised her eyebrows at Beattie, who grimaced sympathetically.

Derek had been briefly distracted, helping two women choose a pair of candlesticks, but now he leant across the wooden bar that separated the stalls.

‘Colour. What about colour then? You three are white, but where are the black and brown ones? Don’t they have persons who are vertically challenged or whatever we’re supposed to say, too, or is it a culture thing? The wrong ’uns get left out on a hillside to die. Or get shut away.’

‘Derek! You can’t say things like that!’ Beattie was shocked, but Terry laughed.

‘In Brixton and Bradford? No, it’s a valid point.’

Lisa suddenly wanted to be far away, preferably soaring in tandem with one of the paragliders who were circling beneath Skiddaw’s peak. Counting out the correct money, she grabbed her parcel from front of the stall. ‘Sorry, I have to go.’

‘Join us for a coffee, Lisa. Sheila and I would be glad of your company, wouldn’t we, dear?’

For a moment the two women made eye contact. Eye to eye: the realisation was like a physical blow. Almost simultaneously Lisa understood that for Sheila and Terry this was unremarkable, routine. At home, in their kitchen, bathroom, sitting-room, at whatever time of day, they could see each other face to face and for them this was normality. Normal proportionate family life. And they had had a normal proportionate baby, who had now grown-up to be their size. Only outside their front door was the world a difficult and disproportionate place.

Lisa hesitated.

‘He means well,’ Sheila said softly. She could have been in her fifties; she wore a badly-fitting tweed coat and a knitted woollen hat from which grey curls escaped, but she stood within a shell of calm.

‘Yes.’ Struggling to hold the rolled-up rug, Lisa held out her hand. ‘But a friend is expecting me. Thank you.’ When Sheila took her hand to shake it, Lisa suddenly leant forward and not quite knowing why, managed to kiss her on the cheek. ‘Thanks. ’Bye, Terry. Enjoy your day.’


Lisa takes the slip-road that will lead her back to Liverpool. She is tired now and has been listening to music to stay alert.  The density of the traffic is increasing now, and she needs to concentrate fully on reaching home, but for the first time the ‘home’ image seems empty and resonant with echoes. She imagines Sheila and Terry, playing with a tiny, short-limbed baby who is sitting on a Herdwick rug.

(C) Ann Lingard
(This is an edited extract from The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes (2nd edition, Littoralis Press, 2014). More details about the novel can be found on my website where there are also three short, amusing and thought-provoking videos made by Dr Tom Shakespeare and Professor John Burn, about achondroplasia.)
Museum exhibit GC 13687achon1
Skeleton of Dwarf (female)
Skeleton of an achondroplastic
dwarf showing the typical
deformity of the skull.
Diminution in length of the long
bones. Deformation of the
bone ends with a tuberculous
lesion associated with marked
kyphosis at the level of T12
Presented to Professor Struthers (1823-1899) by a former  pupil. It is seen that there is an acute curvature of the spine at the junction of the dorsal and lumbar regions.


Achondroplasia2 joyce g cairns






james jack, shm edinburgh
James Jack

“In 1922, Charles Cathcart, Conservator of the College Museum, recruited James Jack to help William Wardie, Technician, with the maintenance and remounting of specimens. He also acted as projectionist, displaying the glass photographic slides at lectures and talks.”1

“On the outbreak of war it was decided that the specimens in the Museum would best be saved from the risk of damage by storing them in the basement of the College. They remained there until 1943 when it was apparent that the risks of air raids were diminishing and it was desirable that the College activities should, at least in part, be resumed. During these years the only work conducted in the Museum was the repairing of damaged specimens by the one and only member of staff, James Jack. In addition Smith, the College Officer, and Jack undertook firewatching duties in the College buildings.” 2

“James Jack was a well-known, popular figure, who lived at No.7 Hill Square. In addition to working in the Museum, he helped the local newsagent on Saturdays by selling newspapers at the College gate.

It was said that ‘he brought to his task skill, hard work and always a delightful sense of humour’.” 1

hill square2
Hill Square


“James Jack was an unusually small person, described popularly as a ‘circus’ dwarf. In scientific terms he suffered from chondrodystrophia fetalis (achondroplasia), a disorder of the growth of bone that is inherited. The abnormality affects stature but neither physical activity nor mental function.” 1

James Jack’s arrival is also attributed to Professor David Middleton Greig (1834-1936).

“In 1922 Greig ‘procured’ for William Waldie [sic] an assistant from Dundee – an achondroplasic dwarf, James Jack.” 2

“During his years of surgical practice in Dundee David Greig had been an ardent collector of pathological specimens, especially those relating to diseases of bone and abnormalities of the skull. …

Many stories are told about Greig and his collection, some of which have been related by his nephew Dr B S Simpson who recalls visiting the attic of his uncle’s residence in Dundee and finding the place full of this material. Some of the stories suggest that the collection was acquired with an unusual enthusiasm.

The actual number of items thus added to the Museum [collection] is difficult to ascertain but it ran to several hundreds and included 300 skulls.”

The Greig skull collection, boxed in the basement, and on display


“Initially Mr Jack was employed in a temporary capacity on a wage of 30/-  per week, but he stayed with the Museum for over 40 years, eventually retiring in September 1964.” 1

“There was no question of Greig’s fascination for achondroplasics and there are in the College a large number of clinical photographs of the new assistant.”2

But,  “James Jack long outlived David Greig and at a much later date, still working in the College, he pronounced: He didn’t get me, and he’s deid.” 2



1. From the text accompanying James Jack’s photograph in the Surgeons’ Hall Museum

2. From The Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh by Violet Tansey & D.E.C.Mekie, 1978