1830 was the year of great change in the policing of Aberdeen. Mr John Fyfe was appointed the Superintendent of Watchmen and brought in more humane practices such as obtaining a hand cart to bring prisoners to the watch house rather than have them dragged through the streets. In that year too Dr Francis Ogston, father of Sir Alexander was the first doctor appointed to help the police. He became the Professor of Medical Logic and Medical Jurisprudence (Forensic Medicine). One of his earliest call outs was to Dr Andrew Moir’s new Anatomical Theatre in St Andrew Street. Three years before, the case of Burke and Hare who had sold the bodies of people they had murdered to anatomists had been heard in Edinburgh. When human remains were found in the vicinity of the anatomical theatre in Aberdeen a huge mob gathered. The Watchmen, realising there was little they could do saw the building destroyed while Dr Moir and the students escaped.
Drunkenness on the streets, a problem in 1832, as it is now, was helped by Superintendent Fyfe and Dr Ogston. They obtained a new stomach pump, cell blankets and tin hot water bottles ‘to counter the ill-effects of alcoholism and to aid in the restoration of circulation and body heat to persons in a state of insensibility.’
By 1847 Dr Francis Ogston provided free medical care for sick as well as injured members of the Force and examined all new recruits before their appointment. His salary was increased to thirty guineas. He and the police were closely involved in recording ‘nuisances’ or health hazards and cleaning up the areas highlighted in an epidemic of cholera in 1866. In 1880, after 50 years Francis Ogston resigned his post as Police Surgeon. It was in this decade, the 1880s that medical officers of health took over the duties of the sanitary department from the superintendent of police.
Indeed, at the age of 27, Matthew Hay became Professor of Medical Logic and Jurisprudence, a post he held from 1883-1926 and his additional appointment as Medical Officer of Health (1888-1923) meant he lectured on public health and practical hygiene. This was in addition to his work as a forensic expert where his medical opinion in criminal cases was well respected.
In 1931 a Casualty Surgeon was appointed as well as a Police Surgeon. Dr Robert Richards, Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at the University of Aberdeen was appointed to the former post and required to attend day or night cases such as assault victims and sudden or suspicious deaths. Dr John Leiper was the Police Surgeon at this time. Bill Hendry and our President (2010-2011) James Grieve are the most recent Forensic Pathologists. James has appeared in the Press and Journal newspaper several times in the last few months because of high profile cases he has been involved with.
In the mid 19th Century the Simpson Building at the Royal Infirmary, Woolmanhill had a small post-mortem theatre with an adjacent ‘dead house’ (predecessor of today’s mortuary) at NE corner. Next to this was the kitchen and meat house as these were the days before germ theory was known.