Surgical instrument set

This is a surgical instrument set and case by Whitford London, dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. Surgeons were carried on many slave ships. They were mostly involved in disease control and examining captives to assess their health. They rarely used medical instruments like the ones featured above. Alexander Falconbridge was one surgeon who witnessed the horrors of slavery and gave evidence in support of the abolition campaign.

“The excruciating pain which the poor sufferers feel from being obliged to continue in such a dreadful situation, frequently for several weeks, in case they happen to live so long, is not to be conceived or described. Few, indeed, are able to withstand the fatal effects of it. The utmost skill of the surgeon is here ineffectual. If plasters are applied they are very soon displaced by the friction of the ship, and when bandages are used the Negroes soon take them off and appropriate them to other purposes…. ”

Black Voyage-Eyewitness Accounts of the Atlantic Slave Trade, by Alexander Falconbridge, edited By Thomas Howard
Little Brown & Company, Boston

© Science Museum/SSPL

Accession reference: Science Museum/SSPL A600582