Timeline

1525: Paracelsus tests ether by using it on animals.

1743: Charles-Marie de la Condamine discovers curare in South America and describes it as ‘flying death’.

1805: Friedrich Serturner discovers the active ingredient in laudanum. He names it morphine after Morpheus the Greek god of dreams.

1831: First preparation of chloroform. However, its use as an anaesthetic was not discovered for several years.

The discovery of chloroform as an anaesthetic by James Young Simpson.
The discovery of chloroform as an anaesthetic by James Young Simpson in 1847.

1844: Horace Wells watches Gardner Quincy Colton’s demonstration of nitrous oxide as pain relief. He persuades Colton to administer it the next day as Wells has a tooth removed.

1845: Wells sets up the first public demonstration of nitrous oxide. The patient is not thoroughly anaesthetised, the demonstration is a disaster and Wells is ridiculed.

The first public demonstration of ether by William Morton in 1846
The first public demonstration of ether by William Morton in 1846.

1846: On the 16th October, William Morton gives the first public demonstration of ether. The surgeon is said to have declared “Gentlemen, this is no humbug”.

1846: December 19th, James Robinson, a London dentist, gives ether for the first time in the UK. On 21st December, the first surgical anaesthetic is given by medical student William Squire. The operation, a leg amputation, was performed by Robert Liston in under three minutes.

1847: Less than one month after Liston’s demonstration, ether is first used for pain relief during labour by Scottish obstetrician James Young Simpson.

1848: The first death directly attributed to anaesthesia. Hannah Greener, a teenage girl from Newcastle, was given chloroform whilst having an operation on her toe.

1853: John Snow gives ether to Queen Victoria during the birth of her 8th child. This helps anaesthesia to become socially acceptable.

A letter written by Queen Victoria detailing her experiences under chloroform. She described it as 'delightful beyond measure'.
A letter written by Queen Victoria detailing her experiences under chloroform. She described it as ‘delightful beyond measure’.

1874: Cocaine first used as a local anaesthetic.

1897: First spinal anaesthetic. It was administered by Augustus Bier.

1917: Henry Boyle’s first anaesthetic machine.

Ivan Magill at work.
Sir Ivan Magill at work.

1919: Ivan Magill develops endotracheal tubing. This allows the administration of anaesthesia without a facepiece and is essential for operations on the face and neck.

1923: The first brain tumour operation to be performed under local anaesthetic.1932: Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland is founded by Henry Featherstone.

1942: Curare used as an anaesthetic by Harold Griffiths, two hundred years after its discovery.

1980: Laryngeal mask airway developed by Archie Brain.

2000: The first National Anaesthesia Day is celebrated in the UK on the 25th May.

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