The Cat’s Post Mortem

Alongside the work to catalogue the Medical Manuscripts Collection the papers of renowned 20th century haematologist John Frederick Wilkinson (1897-1998) are also being catalogued. Wilkinson worked in Manchester all his life and from 1928-1947 served as Director of the Department for Clinical Investigations and Research at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) before becoming Director of the newly formed Department of Haematology, a role he held until 1962. Amongst the collection are numerous files related to the varied and valuable research he undertook, including important investigations into pernicious anaemia, leukaemia, and the health of workers in toxic gas factories during WWII.

Amongst the files of Wilkinson’s undoubtedly valued contributions to medical research can be found the occasional curiosity.  Two volumes recording the histology samples analysed in the lab between 1937 and 1962 survive in the collection. These record the patient’s name, with the nature of the tissue sample, any clear findings, and where possible a diagnosis, all of which seem to relate to some aspect of Wilkinson’s or his colleagues’ research black cat 'batman'during this period. However, on the 18th May 1954 the patient’s name reads simply as ‘Dr Wilkinson’s Cat’ whose name was apparently Darkie. Quite understandably Wilkinson was clearly not happy at the news of his cat’s death and wanted answers as to the reason why, and so a post mortem analysis of a sample of lung tissue was carried out with the resultant queried diagnosis of bronchial pneumonia.

Wilkinson’s cat was not the only animal specimen to pass through Wilkinson’s lab at the MRI as it seems similar post mortem tests were being carried out on a number of animals from Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in south-east Manchester. These included zebras, coypus, penguins, and pythons as well as Pasha the lion and Gertrude the chimpanzee all mixed in amongst the equivalent human tests.  Wilkinson undertook zoological consultancy work during his career, and there is evidence that in addition to this work for Belle Vue, he did some work for the Zoological Society of London as well as serving as director and vice-chairman of Chester Zoo. In the early 1960s on a medical and lecture tour of Japan and South East Asia, visits to the local zoos again seemed to be a key feature of his tour.

An entry in the histology record book from 1943 records him bringing a 1 day old chick into the lab, seemingly irrelevant to his research. Wilkinson it seems, aside from being one of the country’s most renowned haematologists, was quite the animal lover.

2 comments on “The Cat’s Post Mortem

  1. Penelope Blackburn

    I have very much enjoyed tea ring this article. It’s interesting to see, just because a person is an expert in one particular field, it doesn’t mean they cannot apply their knowledge and skills in another.

    We can learn a great deal from observing the animal kingdom and apply it to our own. When I was training as a Nurse, we use to practise suturing on pigs heads and also the removal of tooth extraction (my specialism was Oral Maxillo Facial Surgery)

    My first job was working at Hospital where the surgeon, a respected and knowledgable gentleman with a medical and dental degree, use to go to Belle Vue Zoo and attend to the dental needs of the inhabitants there. I remember him telling me stories about extracting teeth from lions, crocodiles and bears. He particularly enjoyed being lead in to the cages with his instruments (the same used on humans) to remove teeth and attend to dental emergencies, after of course, when the animals had been sedated! Still brave though..

    • Karen Rushton

      Thanks Penelope, glad you enjoyed reading it.
      It’s great to hear about some of your experiences and somewhat alternative encounters with the animal kingdom too!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: