The Case of the Mystery Trocar


Guest post by volunteer Ted Aylmer. Visit his interesting Bristol history blog here.

It Begins With a Letter F

Cataloguing a Trocar

Cataloguing a Trocar

I know, I know, that sounds obscure, and cryptic and you would be correct about the latter. Often things don’t make sense at first until pieced together. That’s just the way it is in Glenside Hospital Museum’s Cataloguing Team.

The “F” relates to a partially worn away inscription, as you will find out as you read on.

Things That Excite Us.

Glenside Cataloguing Team are constantly learning about exhibits that we have, about the people who used them, and where they were made. Naturally, when those exhibits turn out to have local connections, we become even more enthusiastic about them. This was so in the case of the mystery trocar.

Examining the trocar

Examining the trocar

When we examined this item in order to catalogue its details we discovered an inscription: A six letter company name, which began with “F” but was otherwise mostly worn away, and the place of manufacture “Bristol.”

So What Is A Trocar? (Not for the squeamish.)

Trocar in pieces

Trocar in pieces

A trocar is a medical instrument which is made up of a sharp tip (obturator) and a hollow tube (cannula). They are used to puncture body cavities (often the abdomen) in order to drain fluids. This one is beautifully made, has a cap which unscrews to reveal the cannula and a protective sheath for the tip, making it a handy pocket-sized tool, which was probably a personal item carried by a doctor.The First Rule of Research: Don’t Talk About Research.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. The real first rule is that libraries are great places, even in this day and age of digital media and Internet search engines.

We knew that our surgical tool supplier was from Bristol. We made an educated guess that our trocar was made sometime around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and we hit the books.

Bristol Central Library houses the local business directory dating back hundreds of years. So two members of the cataloguing team spent an afternoon going through the directories looking for medical equipment suppliers beginning with the letter “F” We started at 1900 – one person went forwards in time, while the other went backwards.

Aha! Moment.

We found a company called Ferris  & Co. who were a manufacturing chemist and retailer of surgical tools, located at 27 St Stephen’s Street, Bristol; first listed in the 1874 directory and last listed in the 1929 one. So, even though they may not have stopped trading then (they may have relocated, been bought out or merged with another company) we knew that our trocar had to have been made within those 55 years to have both the company name and “Bristol” inscribed on it.

When we re-examined the trocar it became obvious that the inscription originally read “Ferris & Co. Bristol.” We had found the company it came from.

A Liquorice Connection?

I know, this sounds totally unconnected but Ferris and Co. were also responsible for manufacturing the small black liquorice lozenges known as Nigroids (now known by the name Vigroids) using the slogan:

For Hoarseness, “Tickling of the Throat,” etc. They afford protection to the Voice, Throat, and Chest, against ill-effects of fog, cold and damp. Invaluable to singers and speakers.

Further Research

Since then we have gone on to discover more items with a Ferris & Co. inscription and over time we hope to learn more about them, more about the company and perhaps be able to more accurately date the trocar.