Extracts from Munro Smith’s A History of the Bristol Royal Infirmary
Henry Daniel sent in his resignation on July 6th, 1836, and was cordially thanked for his twenty-six years' services; he was succeeded by John Harrison, who was elected Surgeon on July 21st of that year.
John Harrison was apprenticed to Richard Smith at the Infirmary for five years, and afterwards attended the London hospitals. At the time of his election he was in partnership with Mr. Estlin. He gave a dinner to his Election Committee at the Montague Hotel, at which thirty-six of his friends were present, who celebrated his success, according to the custom of the time, in numerous speeches.
It must have been a great ordeal for a young man, before anaesthetics were introduced, to suddenly become an operating surgeon to a large hospital, without the previous training as a resident officer, and then as assistant surgeon, which is usual nowadays.
Mr. Harrison's first operation was on a man " with a tumour under the tongue," on August 9th, 1836. He was naturally clever with his hands, and became a first-rate surgeon, advocating good food and tonics after operations, instead of low diet and depletion. He had himself to undergo two serious operations. " He once," says Mr. Board, " walked down to the Infirmary, and smoked a cigar on the operating table, while one of his confreres removed a malignant tumour from his arm." Some time after this, when the disease recurred, his former pupil, Augustin Prichard, amputated the arm below the elbow.
He was distinguished, not only for his surgical skill, but for his personal charm and artistic qualities. "Painter, musician, and even poet of no mean order, his kindly and cheerful disposition, combined with a keen sense of humour, great observation, and an excellent memory, made him a delightful companion, with an unflagging interest in everything and everybody." (For portrait see Fig. 61.)
He became senior Surgeon in 1850, resigned in December, 1859, and died on June 6th, 1892, in his ninety-first year.
He forms one of the group of Infirmary Surgeons shown in Fig. 62.
The first mention I can find of the use of chloroform at the Bristol Royal Infirmary is this :—
"Cons. Room, Aug. 31, 1850 - A consultation was held upon Samuel Edgar, a patient of Mr. Harrison, with Calculus, as to the propriety of administering Chloroform previous to the operation of lithotomy, and it was agreed upon that Chloroform should be administered."
This entry in the "Surgical Consultation Book" is signed by Nathaniel Smith, John Harrison, W. F. Morgan, Henry Clark, Thomas Green, and Augustin Prichard, that is, by the whole of the Honorary Surgical Staff.
Samuel Edgar, who was fifty years old, and a native of Bristol, did very well, and the anaesthetic seems to have been successful in every way ; but there is no further reference to chloroform until May zoth, 1851, when another patient of Mr. Harrison took it. Nearly all the major operations were still performed without an anaesthetic, for so powerful a drug was looked upon with fear.
For instance, on July 15th, 1851, a woman with a diseased breast (also Mr. Harrison's patient) was to have taken it, but " a preliminary trial of Chloroform having been made it was deemed inexpedient to administer it at the time of operation."
Miscellaneous Book " in 1852 that " Mr. Harrison presented a basket which he had received from Mr. Syme for the purpose of carrying patients from the Wards to the Operating Theatre." It was not until 1866 that a canvas " stretcher " was introduced, something like that used in the army.
Amongst the more noted of the Bristol medical resurrectionists of the early part of the nineteenth century, besides Drs. Wallis and Riley, may be mentioned Edward Richmond Estlin, John Harrison, afterwards Surgeon to the Infirmary, and Edward Waldo.