HE dealt with opium overdoses, horse and carriage accidents and Glasgow's murkiest murder cases.

Victims of domestic abuse whose injuries were disguised as accidents at a time when few questions were asked.

In the days when the accident and emergency department was still decades away, William Macewen (1848-1924) was responsible for mopping up the blood spilled through crime or less sinister causes as Glasgow's police surgeon.

Called to give evidence in court, his evidence could put an accused in the hangman's noose.

Macewen was a young doctor in his twenties when he took on the prestigious role in the late 19th century, based at Glasgow's Central Police Office on Albion Street.

His private journals, housed at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow (RCPSG) read like a Victoria crime novel, with vivid descriptions of the cases he dealt with.

His first case notes, recount a a house call to a man who is close to death after an Opium overdose.

'At 5 A.M. on the 8th June I was asked to see a man ‘who was either dead or dying." he writes.

'I found an old man lying on his left side in bed with a ghastly death like appearance pervading his features.

'Pulse not felt, heart sounds inaudible, respirations imperceptible, features pinched, face pale, lips blanched, cold perspiration beading his forehead, eyelids closed, pupils pin prict (markedly so), extremities & surface of body cold, trunk and limbs rigid..'

Ross McGregor, Heritage Manager at the RCPSG says some of Scotland's best known writers have been spotted nose-deep in his log books, gathering background material for future novels.

"One of the most interesting things about the log book is the style in which it is written." he says.

"The very first one grabs your attention because he is dealing with an opium overdose.

"The first line sounds like the beginning of a novel.

"Mcewen goes into almost quite flowery detail about the context, the surroundings. the man's palor. He even quotes French poetry.

"He goes on to describe how he was experimenting with a new technique.

"He treated (the opium overdose) through a technique that was unheard of at the time and now, probably because it didn't quite work out.

"He used ammonia intravenously to bring the patient round.

"It brought the patient round but he did later die in hospital. He was very daring in his approach."

Macewen was born in Bute, Rothesay but came to Glasgow as a teenager to study medicine at the University of Glasgow and remained in the city for his entire career, although he was to become renowned world-wide for his medical innovations.

The police surgeon was one of his first jobs after he qualified.

Ross says: "He would have been based in the police office, at the corner of Albion Street and Bell Street which would have had an office and a consulting room.

"Cases would have come into the police office directly. People who had been injured, perhaps knocked over by a carriage or would also be called out into the street.

"The vast amount of cases he dealt with were injuries through assaults or street accidents.

"He would have had a very basic space for minor surgical procedures.

"We can see from his notebook and his scrapbook of the cases there were lots of accidents, stabbings and weekend work. Murder cases and suicides.Very similar to what we see today.

"Doctors would have been brought in to give evidence in murder cases, particularly if there was any question over the sanity of the accused.

"He wrote up lots of his cases and turned them into research papers. He did a lot of work on identifying different kinds of head injuries and the types of weapons that caused them. Before really, forensic medicine had started."

"He would have been writing it up in the early hours in lamplight after working through the night. You do wonder if he got any sleep."

In another case Macewen describes how a woman, called Mary, aged 20, turned up who had tried to take her own life after an argument with a friend. A 'druggist' has refused to sell her arsenic because she is unable to pronounce the word.

She leaves and later returns and he agrees to sell her rat poison. When she is brought in to Macewen's office he describes how the odour, 'induces vomit in one of the attendants.'

Ross said: "The rat poison has contained a lot of phosphorus and when she is brought into the police office corridor, she is glowing. He describes a yellow glow coming off her from the phosphorus.

"There are lot of tragedy in his cases. Poverty, alcohol and drug abuse.

"There are definite cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. Women falling into fires in the home."

Newspapers reports from the time detail the criminal cases, the level of detail indicating that reporters had a very good relationship with Macewen and he kept a scrapbook of the cuttings.

One from the Glasgow Herald, dated November 4, 1872, is headlined, "Mysterious Occurence.'

A man of around 25 years of age has been found, "lying in a pool of blood at 70 Old Wynd.' He is taken to Macewen's rooms but expires minutes after arrival. He is found to have a fractured skull and, 'a portion of the scalp had been torn off.'

Later, police find a reefing jacket, a cap and a handkerchief stained with blood behind a cart in the court. However, no witnesses can be found.'It was denied by neighbours that any disturbance had taken place.'

After he left the post, Macewen went on to lead a number of major medical innovations, for which he was knighted. He was a pioneer in modern brain surgery and contributed to the development of bone graft surgery and pneumonectomy (removal of the lungs).

An amputation set belonging to the surgeon is held in the college's collection as is a wooden table where he performed procedures to help children affected by rickets. He developed the first instruments to treat the condition.

Macewen was taught by the better known, Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, however he took this further with the sterilisation of all equipment used in surgery and even designed his own instruments, made with one continuous part and no joins to minimise germs.

A portrait of Macewen towards the end of his career, hangs in the Royal College, where he would have regaled his peers with his medical successes and failures. He died in 1924, by which time he had gained world-wide acclaim.

He was one of the first surgeons to pinpoint and remove a brain tumour in a young girl of 14 without the help of X-Rays or CT scans.Ross says.

"Bone surgery, surgery of the lung, Macewen was an innovator in all of those fields," Ross says.

"He was a really major figure in late Victorian surgery. He used his experiences as a police surgeon when he was performing surgery. Stabbings that had affected the lung.

"At that time a lot of surgeons steered clear of the lung. It was seen as an out of bounds area. He was keen to explore and found that you could safely operate on it.

"There was one case where he safely removed a fragment of a knife from a lung.

"It was quite a big deal and he was widely praised for that. There was anaesthetic at that time, but only just. One of the thing he also innovated.

"Antiseptic surgery had started in the decade before through Joseph Lister. He picked up on this and took it a a stage further to a-septic surgery which is much closer to what we have now where every item that is used is cleaned and instruments are made of one piece of metal. There are no joins. He brought in boiled white gowns, which was unusual at the time.

"The list of innovations he was involved in are incredible."

Visitors can view the collection by appointment by contacting ross.mcgregor@rcpsg.ac.uk