HISTORY OF ANAESTHESIA - lecture handout, ODP course Bristol 18/01/02

You can click on any of the pictures to get an enlarged view

Ancient and Mediaeval times

Drugs available for relief of pain


Opium (Poppy)

Hyoscine (Mandrake + others)

Cannabis (Hemp)

Cocaine – in New World only


Hop & Hemp


Non drug methods



Carotid compression

Nerve compression


Blood letting


Clamp for compression anaesthesia


Leading up to 1846

1516 action of curare observed

1540 ether synthesised

1562 Paré used nerve compression

1628 Harvey described circulation of blood

1665 first IV injection – opiate through a quill

1772 Mesmer – ‘animal magnetism’

1777 Priestley prepares N2O

Humphry Davy

Henry Hill Hickman

1800 Davy described analgesic action of N2O

1800+ laughing gas and, later, ether used as social intoxicants

1807 Larrey - snow for amputations

1821 Brodie gives ether to guinea-pigs;

1842 Hickman uses CO2 on animals

1831 Guthrie et al - Chloroform synthesised

1842 Clarke and Long used ether for operations; unreported

Crawford Long

Horace Wells

1843 First FRCS – before both anaesthesia and antisepsis!

1844 Wells used N2O; public demonstration at MGH ‘failed’; cries of “Humbug”

1845 Esdaile – 73 operations under hypnosis

1826–45 at the Mass. Gen.Hosp. there were only 333 operations over 20 years.

William Morton

Charles Jackson

Mesmer practising Animal Magnetism

Pneumatic Institute, Bristol

Social Note

In the 17/18th centuries: public executions = entertainment.

Before 1846 there had been 25 years of peace, rapid industrialisation and rapid growth of towns.

By 1830 there was overcrowding, not enough clean water, poor sewerage; not enough graveyards.

In 1833 the Factory Act was passed; 1841-48 the Mines Act, Ten Hours Act, Public Health Act.


 October 16th 1846 

First successful public demonstration of anaesthesia

Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

 Anaesthetist: William Thomas Green Morton

Agent: Diethyl Ether

Patient: Gilbert Abbott

Operation: Excision of tumour under jaw

Surgeon: John Collins Warren

Comment: “Gentlemen, this is no humbug”


painting by Robert Hinckley

a replica of Morton's inhaler

Ether dome c. 1930




Anaesthesia Memorial, Boston


photo by Whelan Moore

Inscription on Morton’s tombstone:



Inventor and Revealer of Inhalation Anesthesia: Before Whom, in All Time, Surgery was Agony; ByWhom, Pain in Surgery was Averted and Annulled; Since Whom, Science has Control of Pain.



Some events after 1846


1847 Simpson

1847 Snow

1847 Snow

1848 Heyfelder

1854 Snow

1865 Lister

1878 Macewen

1884 Koller


1892 Schleich




On the Inhalation of Ether

chloroform regulating inhaler

Ethyl chloride used in Germany

Broad St pump-handle removed

carbolic spray

first oral ETT; flexible brass, 3/8" diam


first partial pneumonectomy; no ETT

infiltration LA

anaesthetic charts

first death from a motor car

James Simpson

1895 Corning

1898 Bier



1920 Rowbotham



1937 Macintosh


spinal anaesthesia for relief of pain

spinal anaesthesia for surgery

procaine – a huge advance

intra-tracheal insufflation (chloroform)

blind nasal intubation with wide bore tube

lumbar epidurals

cyclopropane, thiopentone

1st European chair of anaesthesia


John Snow





1952 Ibsen

1956 Johnstone

1980 onwards


curare first used in anaesthesia



IPPR for bulbar poliomyelitis

introduces halothane

use of halothane declines, as new ethers introduced

Acknowledgement of source of pictures: Wells and Morton are from the Clendenning library; Morton's inhaler and Jackson from http://neurosurgery.mgh.harvard.edu/History; compression clamp, Hickmann, Simpson, Snow, Koller, Corning and the Ether Dome from Victory Over Pain by Victor Robinson. Sigma, London 1947; Davy from Bristol City Museum; Hinckley painting from Countway Library of Medicine.

Part 2 of this lecture handout is a comparison of anaesthetic agents available in 1847

Part 3 of this lecture handout is on the stages of anaesthesia

Home  (to visit other articles/book on the history of anaesthesia)

e-mail: john@johnpowell.net