UCT Department of Surgery's Collection of 20th Century Clinical Photographs

Identity area



Authorized form of name

UCT Department of Surgery's Collection of 20th Century Clinical Photographs

Parallel form(s) of name

  • University of Cape Town Medical School Department of Surgery Clinical Photographs

Other form(s) of name

  • Groote Schuur Hospital Clinical Photographs; Saint Surgical Pathology Collection (SSC) Photographs


  • Educational

Contact area


Dr Jane Yeats Primary contact


Curator, Pathology Learning Centre


Street address

JS Marais Building
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Cape Town
Anzio Road
Cape Town


Cape Town


Western Cape

Country name

South Africa

Postal code



021 406 6910



Available Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays

Description area


The UCT Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) holds an extraordinary collection of now disused clinical photographs that were assembled by the UCT Department of Surgery over a period of 50 years. The material was produced at teaching hospitals in Cape Town affiliated with the city's medical school (particularly Groote Schuur Hospital, GSH) and date between the 1920s and 1970s. The collection was historically used by the Department of Surgery, established on UCT's Orange Street Campus (Gardens) in 1920 with Professor Charles Saint as its first chair. This department was one of the earliest to move to the developing Groote Schuur estate in 1926, where the new teaching hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital, would be opened in 1938. Following Professor Saint's retirement in 1946, Professor Marcus Cole-Rous took the role of departmental chair, shortly followed by acting Professor Francois du Toit van Zijl in 1949 and Professor Jan Erasmus in 1950, who was succeeded Professor Johannes Louw in 1955 who held this post until 1981. The photographic collection was assembled as a clinical record and teaching aid, in parallel with the assembly of the Saint Pathology Museum, which accumulated examples of pathology removed from surgical patients. The photographer(s) are unidentified, although it is suspected that a Mr G McManus and a Mr BTA may have had a hand in taking and developing GSH's photographic and radiographic images after 1945. The image-collection has been digitised to provide a resource for researchers in the medical humanities everywhere, but it is especially relevant for those studying the institutional, social, and representational history of medicine in Africa.

Geographical and cultural context

Cape Town is a coastal city in South Africa that was harnessed by the Dutch East India Company as a rest-point and filling station of from the 16th century on. This "Tavern of the Seas" soon provided access to the country's interior and later a wartime 'port of call'. With South Africa's economic and industrial growth following the discovery of major mineral resources (during the mid-19th century) and later with the advent of World War I, Cape Town experienced an influx of local, unskilled job-seekers from across the country as well as foreign entrepreneurs wishing to capitalise on mercantile and military developments. Yet the flood of indigenous Africans and white settlers (the latter predominantly of Dutch descent) as well as growing numbers of European immigrants placed the city under increasing infrastructural strain during the first half of the 20th century. With the fluctuating economy and ever-growing population, the city's inhabitants experienced high levels of unemployment – a situation that saw many living in cramped, unsanitary urban areas. Diseases most commonly encountered by doctors working at public hospitals in Cape Town were thus contagious and so-called 'social' diseases often linked to poverty and unhealthy living conditions. Over the course of the 19th century, the city witnessed various epidemics including the bubonic plague of 1901 and the influenza epidemic of 1918, as well as other infectious diseases like tuberculosis and syphilis. It is in this city where South Africa's first medical school was established in 1912 under the auspices of the South African College (SAC) founded in 1829. The precursor to the University of Cape Town (UCT), the SAC had introduced medical training at the Old Somerset Hospital as early as 1888. But it was not until the establishment of Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) and the migration of all medical divisions to Groote Schuur estate (Mowbray) that the medical school took the shape it retains today.

Mandates/Sources of authority

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
University of Cape Town 2017. All rights reserved.

Administrative structure

The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) is a unit of the University of Cape Town's Department of Pathology, within the university's Health Sciences Faculty. The centre is a teaching and learning resource that exists both in physical and digital form. It has been largely funded through a clinical training grant from the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Records management and collecting policies

The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) acts as the custodian of to the Department of Surgery's historical collection of clinical photographs, received in 2014. The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) is not seeking additional material to add to this photographic collection.


The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) came about to restore, re-catalogue, display and digitise the University of Cape Town's (UCT) huge anatomical pathology teaching collection, and thereafter also the Saint surgical pathology and Red Cross Children’s Hospital paediatric pathology collections. The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) is situated in the JS Marais building on the Health Sciences campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT). This building was erected in 1927 when the young Department of Pathology and other preclinical disciplines moved from the Orange street campus in Gardens to the new medical school in Observatory. The (then) brand new mortuary block was put into service and the pathology museum took up occupation here. While the museum was to move from this to various locales throughout the following decades, in 2009 the building again became the home to the above-mentioned collections of specimens as well as this repository of clinical photographs.


The Pathology Learning Centre (PLC) houses:
• University of Cape Town anatomical pathology teaching collection (Pathology Museum)
• Saint surgical pathology collection (Saint Pathology museum)
• Red Cross Children's Hospital paediatric pathology teaching collection
• University of Cape Town post-mortem records 1919-1947

Finding aids, guides and publications

Access area

Opening times

Monday to Friday, 08:00-16:30

Access conditions and requirements

Visits must have an educational purpose so visitors are generally restricted to registered students (schools, colleges and universities) or members of special interest groups. Researchers may have access by arrangement. Any research study involving the collection must be approved by the UCT Human Research Ethics Committee.


Services area

Research services

Teaching area
Exhibition and Display area

Reproduction services

Digital materials provided on this platform are for research purposes only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use these images must be obtained from the Pathology Learning Centre.

Public areas

Control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON ARCHIVES. ISDIAH: International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings, 1st edition, 2008.


Level of detail


Dates of creation, revision and deletion

2017 (creation)


  • English



JH Louw. In the Shadow of Table Mountain: A History of the University of Cape Town Medical School and its Associated Teaching Hospitals up to 1950, with Glimpses into the Future (1969)
Pathology Learning Centre website(s):
The South African Medical Journal (1963-1979)

Maintenance notes

Record created by Dr Jane Yeats and Ms Michaela Clark in November 2017

Access points

Access Points

  • Gross Pathology (Thematic area)
  • History of Medicine (Thematic area)
  • Clinical Photography (Thematic area)
  • Medical Representation (Thematic area)
  • Cape Town Hospitals (Thematic area)
  • Surgery (Thematic area)
  • Africa (Geographic subregion)
  • South Africa (Geographic subregion)
  • Western Cape (Geographic subregion)
  • Cape Town (Geographic subregion)
  • Clipboard

Primary contact

JS Marais Building Faculty of Health Sciences University of Cape Town Anzio Road Observatory Cape Town
Cape Town, Western Cape
ZA 8001