By the 3rd decade of the 19th century the British coalmining industry had reached 200,000 miners, growing to provide a cheap and plentiful supply of fuel for the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution. Whilst it now seems obvious that inhalation of dust-laden air by colliers might result in harmful accumulation of the dust in their lungs, the link was not initially apparent to physicians and surgeons. In 1831 the Edinburgh physician James Crawford Gregory autopsied a collier that had died in his care from severe cardio-pulmonary impairment. On section the lungs were loaded with coal-dust and showed concurrent lung disease. Gregory made the leap of inductive reasoning that the coal-dust was causing the lung disease. In so doing he was the first to describe what became known as ‘Coalworker’s Pneumoconiosis’ and sparked off a remarkable research effort by physicians in the coalfields of lowland Scotland that culminated in the first modern understanding of the disease.
Ken Donaldson researches in the Pathology Collection of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and is Emeritus Professor of Respiratory Toxicology in the University of Edinburgh.
Part of our #TwoPoundTalk series.
Talk starts at 7pm, doors open 6.30pm.
Museum Access until 9pm.