Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd

25 August 1841 - 22 January 1879

Peter Shepherd was born in 1841 in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie, 25 miles west of Aberdeen. He was educated locally and at Aberdeen Grammar School before entering Marischal College in 1859. After gaining an arts degree he studied medicine, graduating in 1864. He joined the army and after a year’s training was commissioned Assistant Surgeon in the Lanarkshire Regiment.  He served in South Africa, Ireland and India.  During a spell of home leave in 1872 he became aware of the large number of injuries and deaths resulting from industrial accidents.  He began training in the Potteries, where accidents were common, on means of helping injured workers until medical aid was available.

In 1876 Shepherd was promoted to Surgeon Major and assigned to the newly opened Royal Herbert Military Hospital at Woolwich, London.  In 1877 the St. John Ambulance Association asked the War Department for help in developing a programme to teach civilians about the early management of injuries.  The War Department saw advantage in this proposal as it had potential to produce trained volunteers to support the army.  Knowing of Shepherd’s interest in the early management of injuries, he was easily persuaded to assist.
In developing a programme of lectures Shepherd was the first person to use in English the term First Aid with regard to civilians, although a German military surgeon had previously used the term erste hilfe in the context of battlefield medicine.  

Shepherd began the first public lectures on first aid in March 1878.  He also introduced a test of competence and certification at the end of the course, and a requirement for regular refresher training.  Within months of his first course benefit was shown by the contribution trained volunteers were able to give at major industrial accident in Woolwich and the sinking of a passenger ship in the Thames with major loss of life.

Having delivered his course of lectures he began work of the first first aid manual, published after his death as Handbook describing Aids for Cases of Injuries or Sudden Illness.  This went through many editions over subsequent years and was republished worldwide.

In late 1878 he was ordered by the army to South Africa were a colonial war had broken out in Zulu Territories.  He was killed by being stabbed in the neck by an assegai at the battle of Isandlhlwana.  His fellow medical officers raised money for a memorial at the military hospital, Netley, a memorial in the parish church of Leochel Cushnie and to establish the Shepherd Memorial Gold Medal as a prize in surgery at Aberdeen University.

Biography prepared from the nomination made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.