Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Pupilage at the Sussex County Hospital.

BY a singular coincidence, in the next im-pression of the "Sussex Express" there appeared an advertisement for a pupil, which post my father at once secured for me; and in less than a week, on June 21st, 1852, I commenced my professional education, as resident pupil on probation for a month; and was after-wards regularly apprenticed to the House Surgeon for the time being, for five years, with implied permission to spend the last two tears at a London School of Medicine.

Drugs and medicine were thought much more of in those days than now, and twelve months was not considered too long for a student to devote to them; indeed, though the apprentice's fee was £300, his services as dispenser were looked upon as a valuable asset. I therefore spent my time in the morning in the Dispensary, and in the afternoon in working for a new voluntary Classical and Mathematical Examination, then just introduced by the Society of Apothecaries to take the place of the old Celsus and Gregory, of which, to show they had had a liberal education, students were compelled to translate a few lines.

The hospital was opened in the year 1828. It then consisted of the present central portion only. A Fever Ward, standing where the Chapel now is, close to and behind the Hospital, was added soon after, as also a mortuary and a room for autopsies. Mr. Benjamin Vallance was the first House Surgeon; he was succeeded in 1831 by Mr. E. J. Furner, and it was in a great measure owing to the latter's exertions that the Library and Museum were founded in 1833, and the Hospital recognised as a Medical School in 1834.

The following incident, showing the position of electricity nearly a hundred years ago, may be of interest. It was then a scientific toy, and Mr. Philip Vallance, brother of the first House Surgeon, who related this to me, took a great interest in it, and constructed a machine with some little power. From this he carried a wire to the handle of the door of the pupils' room close by, in order to give Mr. Gwyn, one of the pupils, a shock. He soon heard a noise and ran out, only to find, instead of Mr. Gwyn, the Rev. J. S. M. Anderson, Chairman of Committee and Chaplain to the Hospital, and to St. George's Chapel, and, I believe, also to the King, in his surplice, flat on his back. Mr. Vallance apologised and said it was intended for Mr. Gwyn. "It need not have been quite so strong, even for Mr. Gwyn," was the only reply.

The Resident Staff at the Hospital consisted of the House Surgeon, Matron, three of four pupils, and the Dispenser. The House Surgeon, besides having the care of the patients and the supervision of the Wards, was answerable for a good deal of the executive work, and, being by statute resident master of the establishment, all cases of difficulty were referred to him. The Dispenser was responsible for the making up of medicines, which, however, was done chiefly by the resident pupils. Besides these resident pupils, there were a number of non-resident pupils, who in those days were apprenticed to various medical men in the town, and were allowed to see the practice at the Hospital on pay-ment of £10 per annum. Mrs. Comport was the Matron, to which post she was appointed in 1828, when the Hospital was first opened. She was a charming old lady, and was looked on as part of the Institution, in which she still took the greatest interest. She always spoke of the pupils as "her boys," and though we used to tease her and play small practical jokes on her, we did not much fear her anger, which usually ended in an oyster supper.

In 1839 the "Victoria" Wing was built, and in 1841, the "Adelaide." September 21st, 1852, was a memorable day; Lady Jane Peel laid the foundation-stone of the East and West Wings. All the "élite" of Brighton, then in its palmiest days, was there, and the Vicar, the Rev. H. M. Wagner, gave a long address. After this ceremony the rest of the day was devoted to festivities, and in the evening there was a dance for the nurses and servants. As the examination at the Apothe-caries Hall was coming on, I spent that evening in working at Euclid in the room next "Vallance" Ward, which is now the Assistant House Surgeon's room, but which was then used for casualties in the morning, for out-patients between 12 noon and 1 p.m., and for casualties (if any) and a pupils' sitting-room for the rest of the day. On one side of the fireplace was a washing-basin, and above this, in the corner, a cupboard containing a skeleton. On the other side of the fireplace was a cupboard with two drawers below, which were used for splints and bandages. In the cupboard above were kept a few cases of casualty instru-ments, some loose bones and books belonging to the pupils. On that evening, as usual, the pupil's supper, consisting of bread and cheese and beer on a tray, was placed on the table about 9 p.m. Soon afterwards a woman, whom I knew something of, she having lived at Pyecombe, was brought in from the railway, an engine having passed over both legs. The surgeons were at once sent for, and arrived accompanied by Mr. William Verrall. In the meantime my Euclid and our supper were put into the cupboard, the table was placed in the middle of the room and a mattress put on it, the instruments were arranged on the window sill, three bulls-eye lamps were lighted, and after both legs had been amputated, one above and one below the knee, by Mr. Vallance, who did the operation very well, the patient was removed, the instruments were washed and put away, the table was washed down and put in its place, and our supper again brought out and placed on it. This was my first operation, and my first initiation into surgery. I don't think I did any more Euclid that night! I passed the Preliminary Examination at the Hall in October, and then commenced to learn the bones. There were no illustrative plates in those days and none of the modern helps, and we had to learn the bones by staring at them and puzzling out the foramina, processes and depressions by means of the text and small diagrams, and by carrying the lesser bones in the pocket, and feeling them at odd times, so as to get their shape and appearance impressed on the memory. It was very difficult work, but when once learned in this way they were not forgotten.

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