5 July 2021

Mystery doctor's case discovered hidden inside Goulburn medical centre

| Hannah Sparks
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The mystery case

Some of the pills inside the old case were so dangerous they had to be destroyed. Photo: Supplied by Kate Goulding.

Can you help identify who owned this mysterious medical case discovered by the Goulburn Hospital Historical Cataloguing Volunteer Group?

Three and half years ago, the volunteers found the old doctor’s case tucked away in a cupboard at Bourke Street Health Service with a handwritten note attached.

The case, estimated to be about 50 years old, wore the marks of being well used – rusted edges and tiny tears in the black leather coating – and carried a moment of medical history when pills were brightly coloured.

Some were so dangerous they had to be destroyed.

But its most intriguing feature was the handwritten tag attached to the chapped handle.

Written in cursive in black pen, its words were as though the writer wanted someone to find the bag one day and solve who he or she was.

Mystery case label

The label attached to the mystery case. Photo: Supplied by Kate Goulding.

The label read: “This ‘black bag’ was used by my brother-in-law Dr Varnum Southworth M.D. in Cambridge, Maryland, USA. He was a U.S.N reservist, and was in the Guadalcanal campaign, where he became ill and subsequently died. I got the bag after WW2 and used it in my GP days.”

So who is ‘I’? Who is the GP who owned the bag – that is the mystery the Goulburn Hospital Historical Cataloguing Volunteer Group has been trying to figure out.

One of the volunteers, Jenny Sullivan, said she had searched online for a link between the mysterious GP’s brother-in-law, Dr Varnum Southworth, and Goulburn, but could not find one.

“We’ve been hoping to find a connection between Dr Varnum and the GP who may have used the case in Goulburn,” said Jenny.

“But it’s still a mystery to us. We’re hoping someone in the community might recognise the bag and know who it belonged to.”

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Jenny said that when the volunteers first opened the case it was lined on both sides with glass vials of bright coloured pills.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” she said.

The pills, which included phenergan and adrenaline hydrochloride among many more, were taken to a pharmacy and destroyed, but the glass vials have been kept in the bag.

The volunteers plan to fill them with replica pills.

Mystery case

The case, estimated to be about 50 years old, wore the marks of being well used. Photo: Supplied by Kate Goulding.

It is one of almost 5000 historical items the volunteers have found at the Bourke Street Health Service and Goulburn Base Hospital.

In 2018, seven volunteers from various Goulburn museums and three former nurses were invited to locate, catalogue and store items of historical significance that were scattered throughout the hospitals.

Most of the items in the collection are circa 1940s to 1970s and include artefacts such as nurses’ uniforms, medical equipment, hospital domestic equipment, photographs, charts, medical books, and banners.

If anyone can help the volunteers solve who the GP was who owned the doctor’s case, email Goulburn Health Service Volunteer coordinator Katherine Lee, [email protected].

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Wouldn’t the bag be more than 50 years old? If it was used in WW2. I think I remember, as a very small child, Dr. Woods having a bag like that – or was it Dr Peter Lyttle? Dr. Peter brought me into the world at Goulburn Base in 1950, but Dr.Woods had been my parent’s and extended family’s doctor.

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