Owen’s College

Manchester’s Materia Medica Museum

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At the far end of the herbarium is a door to a spiral staircase which leads to the rooms in the main tower of the University of Manchester.  One of these rooms is known as the Materia Medica Room as it houses our collection of medicinal plants.

The materia medica collection is stored in a room in the main tower of The University of Manchester

The majority of these plants have come from the University’s Pharmacy department and were transferred to the museum at the beginning of the last century.

When we were looking for specimens of frankincense and myrrh for our Christmas posts, the Materia Medica collection was the obvious place to look.  Whilst photographing the jars I noticed that the original old labels stated that they were from the Materia Medica Museum, Victoria University.  I knew that the University had a Medical School Museum but hadn’t realised that the Materia Medica collection was previously a ‘museum’ in its own right.

I started delving a bit further into the history of the collection and discovered that it was put together by Daniel John Leech, M.D., D.Sc., F.R.C.P., Professor Of Materia Medica And Therapeutics In The Owens College; Consulting Physician To The Manchester Royal Infirmary; Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University.

Here’s an excerpt from Daniel John Leech’s obituary in The British Medical Journal, (Vol. 2, No. 2062 (Jul. 7, 1900), pp. 63-65)

Daniel John Leech

…In 1876 he was offered and accepted the co-Lectureship of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in the Owens College. On the death of Mr. Somers he became sole lecturer, and in 1881 he was appointed Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics. At the time of his appointment the Owens College possessed no materia medica museum; Dr. Leech threw himself into the work of his department with the greatest energy, and at no small cost to himself. He has formed one of the finest museums of materia medica in this country, has organised a department for experimental pharmacology, a pharmaceutical department in which instruction is given to medical students in dispensing and practical pharmacy, and also a pharmaceutical school for the education of pharmacists. He made himself master of his own subject, and kept him self constantly up to date. His lectures on pharmacology and therapeutics, while being thoroughly scientific, nevertheless bore the stamp of his eminently practical mind and wide experience of the needs of actual practice…

… The lecturership of Materia Medica to the the Owens College to which he was elected in I874 opened out a new avenue for him and gave him opportunities to create a new department at the College and to distinguish himself as a scientific pharmacologist. He was not satisfied to give merely a course of lectures on materia medica – the driest of all medical subjects. He had heard and read a good deal of the pharmacological laboratories of Germany, and he started one at first of modest dimensions scantily equipped with scientific apparatus, but by his zealous endeavours, his perseverance and his industry and at great expense, which he mostly himself defrayed, it gradually developed into the present magnificent laboratory, in which such good work has been done and from which several of our young and prominent pharmacologists have gone forth.