William Rae – The Bloodless Surgeon


Since this was written, I have now explored and re-written extensive detail on William Rae. Follow his story here. From “Blantyre People” (c) 2020

Pictured here in 1905 is Nr 7 Station Road, Blantyre “Raploch Cottage”. At the turn of the century, this was a very special residence in Blantyre (as i’m sure it is today for the current owners!). This photo is commonly available as a postcard which was widely available throughout Scotland at the time. The postcard was known as “The Pilgrimage to Blantyre”. Why then?

The owner of Raploch Cottage from 1903 was a Mr William Rae and history remembers him as a “Bone Specialist”. William was an ex-miner who was reputed to have a particular talent for healing bones, aches and joints. He was known by the local press as “The Bloodless Surgeon”.

In the above photo, people from all over the country travelled to meet William and to have their aches and pains eased. He had an immense following and shunned money when it was practically thrown at him. His work was endless and by 1905 williamraeWilliam himself fell quite ill (perhaps from exhaustion). The Manchester Courier reported on 24th June 1904 “Mr William Rae, the miraculous bloodless surgeon of Blantyre, is still drawing crowds to his little cottage. Next week, he comes to Bolton for a fortnight, and then he hopes to have a month’s holiday at the seaside. He is already receiving alluring offers from speculative managers to go “on show” at a big salary. But these things, he treats with all the scorn they deserve.”

Mr Rae was widely scorned by the medics of Edinburgh and Glasgow as being a “quack” but the continued delluge of support to local newspapers from “cured” residents and pilgrims, raised more than an eyebrow and curiosity.

In 1904, according to The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald “Mr Rae was weak with overwork and could not cope with the masses of cripples that were camped outside his little cottage“. The same newspaper on 2nd July 1904 reported that Mr Rae had been approached by a wealthy statesmen to fix his twisted bones in his leg. The sum offered was famously reported as being £10,000 upon successful healing, which Mr Rae had point blankly turned down the monies”. It is not said if the statesman was seen to or cured.

On Sunday 28th July 1907, after being confined to bed for 3 weeks by Bronchitis , William died in his own bed at the age of 67. He left a widow Marion Smellie (died 10th March 1928, aged 88) and grown up family. His daughter Isabella died 26th February 1919 aged 46 years). His son also William Rae died aged 87 on 19th April 1958. William and his family are buried at High Blantyre Cemetery, the headstone looks as though it has been replaced since the time of his death.

The Grantham journal, in Southern England retold his story in the newspaper of the same week reporting that his cured customers were not only from Scotland and England, but also people who had travelled overseas from America. Whilst his healing marvels were being undertaken and even for several years after his death, Raploch Cottage became known as “The Lanarkshire Lourdes”. It is nice to be able to report also that he retained public adulation and confidence to his dying breathe.

Robert Cormack contacted me in May 2015 adding, “I’m rather proud of my Blantyre birth and connections. My great-grandfather was William Rae (the boneless surgeon). You can find my career in Wikipedia if you type in Prof. Robert Cormack”


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  1. My grandparents moved into the house around 1920. My aunt told me that the attic was full of walking sticks, presumably left in the house when Mr Rae’s patients found they no longer needed them.

  2. Update: The Hull Daily Mail on 4th January 1908 reported that Mr Rae’s will, aside from his house, left £1,638 in monies, the equivalent today of £170k.A tidy sum to have in any bank!

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