Lietuvos mokslo istorikų ir filosofų bendrija

The 29th Baltic Conference on the History of Science

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2021

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2020

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2019

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2018

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2017

Konferencija Scientia et historia – 2016

The 29th Baltic Conference on the History of Science, Vilnius


University of Tartu, University of Tartu Museum (Estonia)


University of Poitiers (France)


Treatment of the 1897 Puka Train Accident Victims at the University of Tartu Hospital




The 19th century was an era of great changes. The 2000 year old theory of humors made way for modern medicine which started to improve diagnostics by using newly invented technologies. Although considered dangerous, trains allowed people to move faster from place to place than ever before. The rail accident near Puka (Bockenhof), Estonia, in 1897 and treatment of the victims can illustrate both. Even though the accident is known in Estonian historiography, it has received rather superficial attention from scholars. This paper aims to provide further insight into the topic by focusing on the treatment of the victims.


On the evening of 1 May 1897, a train consisting of 33 coaches with 745 soldiers and 24 officers drove off the rails due to heavy rain. As a result, 56 soldiers lost their lives, making it the rail accident with the highest death toll in Estonian history, and one of the highest in the history of Imperial Russia. Another 43 soldiers were severely injured, 37 soldiers and 3 officers received minor injuries.


Due to the proximity of the accident to Tartu, physicians and medical students from the University of Tartu were quickly sent to Puka. All victims were treated in Tartu, mainly at the University Hospital. The most severely injured were taken to the university’s surgery clinic, where they were diagnosed with the help of X-rays which had only been discovered 1.5 years earlier. This makes Tartu one of the first places in the world where X-rays were used for a purely medical purpose.


The University of Tartu Museum holds patients’ medical records from the Internal Medicine Clinic which dates from 1846 until the mid-20th century. Among them are the records of around 40 Puka patients with less severe injuries. The study of these medical records gives some insight into trauma treatment at the University of Tartu Hospital during the last years of the 19th century.


This paper will explore the accident through the use of patients’ case records, archival materials and extensive study of contemporary periodicals, which provide further insight into the medical treatment of the period. Ultimately this paper aims to contribute to the historiography of medical history of late 19th-century Estonia.