"On Friday forenoon, William Bethune, a miner, residing at Lundin Mill, was found lying dead in a coal-pit to the north-ward of that village; part of the roof of the pit having fallen down upon him while occupied in excavating the coal. He was a sober and industrious man, in the vigour of life, and was an elder of the United Presbyterian Congregation, here. He was about to leave off the occupation of a miner, and commence shop-keeping, but this melancholy and fatal accident has ended all his plans and earthly prospects. His death is universally deplored, while he has left a widow and two children to lament his untimely fate."
While anyone reading those words would quite rightly feel great sympathy for William's widow, few would have imagined the strength of character that would motivate Margaret Bethune to do what she did next. By the end of the same year, at the age of 34, Margaret was enrolled in the midwifery course at the Chalmers Lying-In Hospital in Edinburgh. This was during the era of the legendary Edinburgh-based obstetrician, James Young Simpson, who had discovered chloroform in 1847 and who pioneered several other advances in obstetrics.
Early in 1853, Margaret returned to Largo, ready to begin putting her training into practice. From the first birth she attended, on 27 February 1853, a careful record was kept of each new arrival. Her casebook would go on to record 1,296 births and it is preserved to this day in Register House in Edinburgh. It is the oldest surviving record of its kind and pre-dates the 1855 law which required the statutory recording of all births. Below is an example of a page from her records. The columns show: case number; mother's name; place of residence; hour in the day; number of the pregnancy; sex of the child; the date; and the outcome.
With thanks to John Band for providing the images.