Feb 10 2012: Twenty-Eight Diagrams, Radiographs and Illustrations from Surgery for Nurses by James Kemble (1949)

These are a very different set of illustrations to those made by Robert Ayton for Ladybird’s childrens’ introduction to the essentials of anatomy and the body’s workings, Your Body (1967), as featured here a week or two ago. These images are a few selections from a rather earlier and far grittier publication, Surgery for Nurses: A Text Book for the Surgical Nurse by James Kemble, published by John Wright & Sons, Bristol, in 1949. The book gathers professional lectures by Kemble himself, a Harley Street practitioner whose details suggest he was active in training nursing staff at several London hospitals during the 1940s: Battersea General, London Lock and West London Hospital.

In his own words: “The text of this book is an amplification of lectures which I have given over a period of years to nurses at various hospitals. For lectures, one has patients and instruments and materials actually assembled for demonstration. For a book, however, these things must be presented in the form of illustrations…I would like especially to thank Messrs Johnson & Johnson Ltd for their permission to reproduce several drawings illustrating surgical technique. I would also express my appreciation of the trouble taken by Miss Vera R. Apt in doing those of the illustrations which are identified by her initials. The remaining drawings and photographs are my own and I thank all the subjects for their kind co-operation.”

While the images in the gallery below are more by way of a selection from the whole volume than a comprehensive index, those chosen hopefully offer a sort of cross section through the book’s concerns and approaches. They cover colour anatomical illustrations, line drawings (mainly showing varieties of surgical stitches, suggesting a cross-over between traditional womens’ skills and the male world of surgery, as both were constituted in this period) and many radiographs: each of these, it seems to me, looks a touch cosmic in form, as though the x-ray machine was something like the Hubble Telescope of human inner space after its invention as an exploratory medical tool during the 19th century.

Taken together, they also, perhaps, offer a snapshot of the moment in which they were made – coincident with the early years of the NHS – and this is a point I’ll discuss further tomorrow, when a selection of the book’s photographic plates will appear. 

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