Fact File on James Simpson

A fact file on James Simpson, designed for students studying History GCSE, who are doing Medicine Through Time, especially if their nominated topic is surgery.

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  • Created by: Verity
  • Created on: 12-04-10 11:51
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James Simpson
James Simpson was born in 1811 and died in 1870, aged
58. He was a Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh
He was famous for his discovery of chloroform and his use
of it in childbirth.
He discovered chloroform by chance in 1847. He had heard
about the problems with ether (it irritated the lungs, caused
vomiting and had a strong, pungent smell) and decided to
work to find a better anaesthetic. He worked with some of his friends and bought all the
solvents available at the time before testing each one of them on himself to see if they were
strong enough to knock him out. He discovered that chloroform was an effective
anaesthetic and then proceeded to test it on Scotland's finest gentlemen and gentlewomen
at one of his dinner parties. He hid the chloroform in the champagne and was pleasantly
surprised when his guests fell about madly, bruising themselves silly and then passed out.
When they awoke they all claimed not to have felt any pain, thus proving that chloroform
worked as an anaesthetic.
Chloroform remained unpopular until two famous mothers used it in their labour firstly
Catherine Dickens used it when giving birth to one of her and Charles Dickens' children.
He then proceeded to write reviews about chloroform's wonders for the newspapers.
Queen Victoria also used chloroform during childbirth, when she gave birth to Prince
Leopold in 1853. This ended the stigma attached to chloroform (some Christians felt that
anaesthetics used in childbirth were ungodly as they relieved the pain that God gave
women as a punishment for Eve's sins.)
However, in 1901, surgeons returned to ether as they had discovered that chloroform
caused liver damage.


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