Peter Shepherd and James Cantlie: Pioneers of First Aid

Peter Shepherd and James Cantlie: Pioneers of First Aid

A talk by John Scott as part of the Special Collections exhibition, "Medicine in Wartime".

Although military first aid has been practised since at least Roman times, the concept of trained members of the public providing assistance to sick and injured people until medical help becomes available only dates from the late nineteenth century. It was pioneered by two Aberdeen medical graduates, Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd and James Cantlie  (later Sir James), and was originally opposed by the medical profession. It is surprising that the two probably met, briefly, on only one occasion. Shepherd is now remembered mainly for his courageous death in the Zulu War, and Cantlie for his role in the foundation of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and for his part in the rescue of Sun Yat Sen (who went on to become the first President of China), when he was kidnapped in London. Their joint influence on the rapid development of first aid is arguably their most significant contribution to health care.



Image: Detail from 'First Aid to the Injured' by Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd (1841 – 1879), St John Ambulance Association, 1879, Special Collections Centre, University of Aberdeen

About the Speaker

Dr John Scott is a retired hospital consultant with an interest in the history of medicine and the lessons that can be learned from it that are relevant today.

This talk is part of a series accompanying the exhibition "Medicine in Wartime" at the Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, which includes a copy of the pocket aide-mémoire devised for use by British troops, by Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd. It was commissioned by the newly formed St John Ambulance Association. Tragically, Shepherd was killed helping the wounded at the Battle of Isandhlwana, during the Anglo-Zulu War, and his guide was published posthumously.


Talk attendees will have the opportunity to visit the exhibition afterwards.


Image: Cigarette cards produced by Sir James Cantlie, dating to the First World War. Part of the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society collection.

John Scott
Hosted by
Special Collections Centre, University of Aberdeen
The Sir Duncan Rice Library

Jennifer Shaw, Exhibitions Officer (Special Collections)

Online booking available