James Murphy – 1st Professor of Anatomy at Glasgow Veterinary College

The Cover Page of James Murphy's Notebook

The Cover Page of James Murphy’s Notebook

James Murphy, born in 1854, was the first professor of Anatomy at the Glasgow Veterinary College 1893-1919. He began as a student at the Veterinary College in 1877 but after passing his first exam the following year he dropped out and sought broader knowledge of science in general.

ACCN-3763 (7)

Illustrations of the instruments used

Instead he became an assistant to Dr H. S. Clark, anatomist at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and Dr William James Fleming, lecturer on physiology at the Royal Infirmary. As well as assisting these doctors he attended their lectures, developing his knowledge of human anatomy. Throughout the 1880s Murphy worked with scientists in a variety of disciplines from Dr Thomas B Henderson, a chemist, to Prof Frederick Orpen Bower, a botanist. In 1891 and 1892 he was a laboratory assistant at the marine exploration of the West of Scotland and started teaching a biology class in Gove street public school. It was only after gaining this broad knowledge of the scientific world that he returned to the Glasgow Veterinary College as a professor of Anatomy, presumably applying what he had learned from the human body at the Western Infirmary and the scientific community in Scotland more broadly, to the veterinary profession.

He held this position until his death in 1919 simultaneously with professorships in Parasitology and Zoology also at the Veterinary College. It seems he was held in high regard with The Bailie noting in 1910 that ‘Among professional men, particularly in his own branch, his name is more widely known and his ability more generally accepted than his modesty will allow for him to admit’.

Illustration showing a horse during a procedure described in the book

Illustration showing a horse during a procedure described in the book


Last year we acquired James Murphy’s Anatomy note book. The notebook contains three essays relating to the preservation of animal parts for anatomical purposes as well as shorter notes, press cuttings and excerpts from journals relating to both human and animal anatomy focusing on embalming, casting and dissection.

The most striking feature of the book however is the incredibly detailed illustrations to accompany the essay text. Drawings detail the instruments required for procedures as well as the laboratories themselves right down to the staining on wooden tables, diagrams on walls and details of a poison bottle.

James Murphy’s note book offers a detailed insight into the early veterinary techniques at the university, with unique illustrations allowing us to picture the practices in detail otherwise impossible to imagine.


A detailed drawing of a bottle

A detailed drawing of a bottle

See the catalogue online here



The Bailie, 28th September 1910; University of Glasgow Archives Services, ref: DC144/7/3/1

Obituary in ‘The Veterinary Record’, 6 December, 1919; Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Knowledge

Categories: Archive Services

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