Focus on Special Collections

Welcome back to our Focus on Special Collections blog. This month we will be looking at the collection of the Colchester Medical Society.


Colchester Medical Society (CMS) was founded in 1774 by the surgeon and apothecary (dispensing pharmacist) Robert Richardson Newell (1750-1814) . The society had six other founder members; Henry Topping (1747-1819), Colin Hossack (d 1782), Jordan Harris Lisle (d 1788), Cater Day (d 1799), Robert Sterling (1724-1787) and Joseph Stapleton (1740-1797). The society quickly attracted members from Colchester and the surrounding area and, in 1776, Newell raised funds towards an application for the CMS to join the Humane Society for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned. Newell was also instrumental in the founding of the Essex and Hertfordshire Benevolent Fund, which was created to support medical practitioners and their families in times of hardship.

The Colchester Medical Society is recorded to have met four times a year, with occasional additional meetings to discuss professional behaviour. From the mid nineteenth century, the meetings became social, as well as professional occasions, with the members dining together once the official business had been dealt with.

engraved pictures of historical hearing aids
Illustration of hearing aids from A Treatise on the Physiology and Diseases of the Ear, by John Harrison Curtis (1817)

The Library

The library of Colchester Medical Society was founded early on in the life of the Society. Having begun as a circulating book club, stored above a book shop on Colchester High Street, a permanent collection was established and expanded with donations and acquisitions, including a subscription to the publications of the Sydenham Society. Having initially been kept in the Doctors’ room at Essex County Hospital, the library was later displayed in the Post Graduate Centre. In 1986 the hospital and post graduate facilities moved to Turner Road. The library was placed on permanent loan at the library of the University of Essex in 2008.

A more detailed history of Colchester Medical Society can be found on the Society’s website.

Title page of historical book
Title page of The History and Present State of Electricity, by Joseph Priestley (1796)

The Collection

The collection contains

  • Historical books on medicine
  • Early treatises on anatomy, surgery and disease
  • Minute books
  • Manuscript volumes
  • Documents relating to Colchester General Hospital

The collection has been catalogued, and individual works can be found using Library Search.  Minute books and manuscripts are listed in documents available on the Special Collections webpage on the tab for collections in Science, Nature and Medicine.

Research Applications

This collection may be of interest to researchers in the history and sociology of medicine.

For more information about our Special Collections, visit our webpage. For information about a specific collection, and for enquiries about booking research visits, please email the team at


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