Ten weird and terrifying medical instruments from the past

by Mark Lorch, The Conversation

The UK's largest medical charity, the Wellcome Trust, has made its vast database of images freely available to all. The collection holds photos of hundreds of years worth of medicine, instruments and scientific culture.

For me, the progress of science best described by advances in medicine and the instruments used to practice it. Here is a list of a few of my favourites.

Nothing quite says medicine like a syringe. And this collection has plenty, from the 17th century brass or ivory enema syringes, to the 20th century's glass and stainless steel ones, all clearly made to last much longer than our modern disposable versions.

17th century French brass syringe

Credit: Science Museum, London

18th century Sri Lankan Ivory enema syringe

Credit: Science Museum, London

19th century Japanese self-administering enema syringe with a piston and reservoir

Credit: Science Museum, London

Then there are the , like the 16th century tools below. Those on the right include a double-bladed knife, a forceps for extracting arrow head and a bullet extractor.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Others like the Belgian Iron "scolds bridle" mask from the 1550s that was used to publicly humiliate and punish, mainly women, speaking out against authority, nagging, brawling with neighbours, blaspheming or lying, are just horrible inventions.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London

More preferable are the "Jedi" helmets from the 1980s, used in conjunction with MRI scanners to investigate the brain without having to crack open the cranium. The word "Jedi" was used to ensure that children put it on without too much fuss.

Credit: Science Museum, London

There is also this steampunk steel hand and forearm with brass wrist mountings from 1890.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London

And finally how about the slightly disturbing model eye

Credit: Wellcome Library, London

…to go alongside the original eye pad

Credit: Wellcome Library, London


add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Swedish museum to recover lost scientific artifact

Aug 20, 2013

A rare 16th-century scientific instrument used by early astronomers that has been missing from a Swedish museum for around a decade has been recovered and will be returned this week, the London-based Art ...

Lonely this Christmas? Hire an 18th century hermit

Dec 20, 2013

For those who are wondering what to buy the person who has everything this Christmas, a University of Leicester academic has suggested one of history's most bizarre garden accessories: an 'ornamental' hermit.

Recommended for you

Were clinical trial practices in East Germany questionable?

Oct 23, 2014

Clinical trials carried out in the former East Germany in the second half of the 20th century were not always with the full knowledge or understanding of participants with some questionable practices taking place, according ...

Schumacher's doctor sees progress after injury

Oct 23, 2014

A French physician who treated Michael Schumacher for nearly six months after the Formula One champion struck his head in a ski accident says he is no longer in a coma and predicted a possible recovery within three years.

User comments