Items of historical interest on display include microscopes and other scientific instruments; early bleeding and cupping equipment with an exquisitely crafted incision knife; ceramic pharmacy jars dating back to the 17th century; and a fine collection of bone china and ceramic feeding cups, some dating from the 18th and 19th centuries; an early 19th century wooden handled amputation set in a wooden case; diagnostic and surgical instruments; treatment apparatus such as one advertised as ‘Patent magnetic electrical machine for nervous diseases’ used by Queen Victoria to ease her rheumatism (19th century), the first electrocardiograph machine used in the Johannesburg General Hospital (1917) and the first artificial kidney machine used in South Africa (c 1963); a chloroform bottle and mask in a leather case used as an anaesthetic in early operations; ear trumpets and brass ear syringes (early 20th century); hospital and nursing equipment and medical ephemera.
There are reconstructions of an early 20th century Johannesburg pharmacy, a dental surgery, a doctor’s consulting room, an optometry display and a hospital operating theatre of the same period. The optometry display contains an early 19th century refraction testing set and a collection of old spectacles.
A history of scientific medicine is augmented with displays of several alternative modalities practiced in South Africa: traditional Chinese medicine, Unani/Tibb, Ayurveda, Western herbal medicine and homoeopathy. An important stream of medicine in Africa, traditional healing, is showcased in the Museum with displays of an African herb shop and a patient consulting a sangoma (traditional healer).
The Museum has a library of rare books as well as a history of medicine reference library. Bibliographical information relating to hundreds of prominent medical and allied health professionals and academics is available for research purposes. Included in this archive are photographs, notebooks, academic certificates, records, personal papers and memorabilia. The focus is on Wits Faculty of Health Sciences/South African graduates.
An extensive subject archive and an archive of official publications of South Africa is available for research purposes, the contents of which are to be found on the Museum’s website.
There are also sculptures, pictures, photographs, videos and philatelic and medallion collections relating to medical history.