The Archive of Iain MacLaren, FRCSEd

Iain MacLaren (1927-2019) was an important surgeon and a towering figure in the history of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd).

Born and raised in Edinburgh, MacLaren’s distinguished career was synonymous with his hometown. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, became a Fellow of RCSEd and held senior surgical positions in several Edinburgh hospitals, most notably the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. At RCSEd, he was integral to many RCSEd activities and served stints as Vice President, Honorary Secretary and Convener of Examinations.

The College Library and Archive has the honour of housing the MacLaren Research Centre, which opened in 2017. The main purpose of the Centre is to host surgeons and researchers studying and consulting materials from the collections. The Centre also has a changing exhibition display and has been used to showcase rare books and manuscripts to visitors.

The papers of Iain MacLaren were acquired by the College Archives in 2020 and have now been catalogued and repackaged in line with international archival standards. These materials are reflective of a long and illustrious career and span the many decades in which MacLaren practised his profession. The papers illuminate the world of Edinburgh surgery as it evolved from the 1950s and generally have as their backdrop the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and RCSEd. Furthermore, the papers showcase how enmeshed MacLaren was in the business of RCSEd, acting as evidence of his immense contribution to it.

The materials contained in the archive are diverse. There are over twenty books of medical notes (MACLAREN 2), possibly compiled during MacLaren’s time at the University of Edinburgh and focused on a range of subjects including anatomy, pathology and surgery. There are operations books (MACLAREN 3) and extensive case notes from the 1960s and 1970s (MACLAREN 4), primarily from operations performed at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and containing a multitude of information about patients and procedures (there is restricted access to these materials due to Data Protection rules).

MacLaren’s relationship with RCSEd can be seen throughout the archive. His various positions often took him on international business and he travelled far. In 1977, he attended the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ 50th General Scientific Meeting (MACLAREN 5/4 and MACLAREN 5/5). In 1993, he visited Myanmar with then RCSEd President, Patrick Boulter (MACLAREN 7/7 and MACLAREN 7/8).

MacLaren’s relationship with RCSEd is also demonstrated by the plethora of awards he received. In 1994, he was decorated with the Farquharson Award, marking his significant contribution to surgical teaching and surgical anatomy (MACLAREN 7/9). In 1996, he received the College Medal, an honour awarded to individuals celebrated for their outstanding service to RCSEd (MACLAREN 7/10).

This long-lasting connection to RCSEd can be visually ascertained via the photographs in the archive (MACLAREN 6). Here we see MacLaren wearing RCSEd robes, attending RCSEd events and fraternising in professional and social settings with well-known RCSEd figures such as former presidents James Ross, Andrew Wilkinson and Arnold Maran. One photograph shows MacLaren with Catherine Hamlin, the distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist who passed away in 2020.

MacLaren was known for his wide-ranging interests. Beyond the field of surgery, when he wasn’t playing the bagpipes or learning about Celtic and Highland heritage, he was researching the history of surgery. The zenith of this pursuit was the publication in 2005 of Surgeons’ Lives: An Anthology of College Fellows Over 500 Years, which he edited with Iain Macintyre. The archive exhibits an abiding interest in history, seen for instance in the photograph of the University of Edinburgh Anatomical staff from 1905-1906 (MACLAREN 6/1), the photograph of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary staff from 1929-1930 (MACLAREN 6/2) or the pamphlet on John Fraser and his contributions to surgery (MACLAREN 5/2).

It is anticipated that the papers of Iain MacLaren will offer future researchers a rich depiction of 20th century surgery in Edinburgh.

You can access the archive through our online Adlib catalogue here. The archive comprises:

  • MacLaren 1 – Correspondence
  • MacLaren 2 – Lecture notes
  • MacLaren 3 – Operation books
  • MacLaren 4 – Patient notes
  • MacLaren 5 – Pamphlets and programmes
  • MacLaren 6 – Photographs
  • MacLaren 7 – Miscellaneous


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