A Medical (School) Mystery
By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 September 2014
For most of the last two weeks of September I was working on a collections project aimed at auditing, repacking and photographing the UCL Physiology Collection. Although the collection itself consists of only 82 objects (for now), it shares its store room with a large number of additional objects, papers, books and other ‘misc’ material. It was quite a job, and took 5 of us the best part of two weeks to complete.
Among the objects and papers we saw during the work were two 20th century dog respirators, half a door, papers relating to experiments on Everest and lots of framed portraits and photos.
Included in this last lot was a particularly perplexing object, which caused us all to scratch our heads for a while.
We came across a slightly severe looking photo titled ‘Medical Faculty UCL 1957’. At first glance the photo appeared similar to a number of others in the store. Then one of the sharp-eyed students helping us noticed something quite unusual …
It’s hard to make out at first, but there is what appears to be a troll at the back, holding an umbrella in one hand and a tin helmet in the other. Looking closer there seems to be a third hand draped over a man’s shoulder in front of the troll. I know that UCL had a number of firsts – first university in England to admit non Church of England Students, first to teach women, the first to admit students from Japan; is this the first example of a mythical animal getting a medical degree?
The answer showed itself soon after, in a photo titled ‘Medical Faculty UCL July 1959’. Here the identity of the ‘troll’ becomes clear. Instead of a troll, it’s now is clear that it is an orang-utan. Which is slightly unusual, but less hard to believe than the medical faculty having a troll for a mascot.
The orang-utan appears to have a scar running down its belly, which could suggest its origin – possibly it is an animal that had been tested on. A quick check with the Grant Museum shows it is not their orang-utan. So what’s happened to it now?!
Are you in one of these photos? Do you know someone who is? Do you know what happened to the orang-utan?! Please get in touch…
Nick Booth is one of the Teaching and Research Curators at UCL.