Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society 1853–1862

The Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society was founded in 1853 at a time when medical science was starting to expand. The Belfast Medical Society already existed but mainly functioned as a medical lending library. One of its members, Andrew George Malcolm, was the main mover in the setting up of the new society and he sought advice from the Pathological Societies in Dublin and London. In the summer of 1853, he and others (the Promoters), issued a prospectus requesting those who would be interested in starting a local pathological society to attend a meeting in Malcolm's house at 49 York Street at 8 pm on Friday 12 August. The response must have been good because the Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society was constituted on 2 September 1853, forty-nine original members had joined by the end of that month and another forty-seven members were added by the end of the first year.

The objects of the Society were threefold:

  1. the Cultivation of Practical Pathology, Diagnosis and Therapeutics, . . ;
  2. the establishment of a Pathological Museum; and
  3. the keeping of Records, to indicate the progress of discovery in Medical Science.

The Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society met weekly from the end of October to the beginning of May on Saturdays at 3 pm. All contributions were to be original, or were to be original translations from authentic foreign records. They were expected to fall into the following categories:

The Society set up microscopical and analytical committees in which can be seen the beginnings of an organised pathological and laboratory service. Dr JC Ferguson remarked during his address at the conversazione of 1855:

"I would next direct attention to a source of information in our art, becoming daily more interesting and important. I mean the microscopic investigation, and the chemical analysis of morbid tissues and secretions. For such investigations our society presents many facilities. Nor during the past Winter have instances been wanting illustrative of the great value of such inquiries.—For example—the practitioner in a remote district wishes for assistance to determine whether or not an excised tumour be malignant; or he may desire a chemical analysis to ascertain the morbid condition of any of the secretions. He corresponds with our committees and his doubts are at once dispelled. I know that already many have availed themselves of this privilege, and that it has proved a very great boon."

In accordance with the third object of the Society, abstracts of each meeting were to be sent weekly to every member and to one of the Dublin journals, and the Transactions of the Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society were to be published annually. No complete collection of the weekly abstracts as sent to members is known to exist although there twenty-three sheets from the 1856/57 session in the archives of the Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society. The Dublin Hospital Gazette (New Series) was published in seven volumes from 1854 to 1860, starting too late to print the abstracts for the first session, and ending too early to print those from the eighth and ninth sessions. It did, however, print all those in between. The Dublin Journal of Medical Science (previously known as the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science) printed the abstracts for the ninth session only.

Copies of the annual Transactions for five of the nine sessions exist in various libraries. It is likely that the Transactions for 1856/57 and 1857/58 were printed but are missing, and unlikely that those for the last two sessions were printed at all. By good fortune, the reports for all nine sessions have been retrieved (in varying detail) and these have now been transcribed. The second edition entitled The Transactions of the Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society is available from the downloads page. Any information as to the whereabouts of other copies of the Transactions, or of any other material, would be gratefully received by the Honorary Archivist.

The Society came to an end in 1862 with the amalgamation with the Belfast Medical Society and the Ulster Medical Protective Association to form the Ulster Medical Society.