Wellcome Film of the Month: Magic hands? Sir Herbert Barker’s manipulative technique, 1936
This black and white silent film in two reels was made as a result of a demonstration Sir Herbert Barker (1869-1950) gave of his osteopathy, or bonesetting, methods to the British Orthopaedic Association in 1936.
The whereabouts of the film were obscure until an academic in Canada, Dr Gary Bovine, Welland, Ontario, contacted the Wellcome Library on the off-chance that the film was in the collection. The film was uncatalogued and had been received with an acquisition of other film material from the 1930s produced by the orthopaedic department from St. Batholomew’s Hospital, London.
After long intertitles explaining the rationale behind the film, Barker is at pains to emphasise that “there are no hidden or mystic rites in the art of bonesetting”. In fact, Barker’s methods (and success in private practice with notable patients and sportsmen) had led to him being marginalised by fellow professionals. Bonesetting is non-surgical and flew in the face of practice of the time. Also indifference to his methods may have arisen around his lack of a traditional medical education (he had been awarded an honorary degree); he was later honoured with a knighthood. His frustration is described in a newspaper article in the Daily Telegraph in 1939 as a “tragedy”. The film is a testament to his rehabilitation.
Some of the manipulations are somewhat energetic, at the end of reel two the treatment for the shoulder involves hanging from a beam. Even across the passage of time, Barker comes across as a lively individual. In 1939, aged 70, Barker was described as being able to sprint 100 yards in “respectable” time and able to walk 15-20 miles a day.
You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.