Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Chloroform Pioneer - Sir James Y Simpson (1811-1870)

Simpson was born in Bathgate, the seventh son of a baker and went to Edinburgh University at the age of 14. He completed his studies four years later but because of his youth, had to wait another two years before gaining a licence to practise medicine. He specialised in obstetrics and became Professor of Midwifery at the University at the age of 28.

After experimenting with chloroform on himself and his friends in 1847, he started to use it to as an anaesthetic to ease the pain of childbirth. Simpson was not the first to use chloroform - Sir Humphrey Davy used Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) in 1799, but it was Simpson's persistent advocacy which led to its acceptance - despite opposition on both medical and religious grounds - it was viewed at the time as "an act against nature or the will of God."

But chloroform was used by Queen Victoria used it during the birth of Prince Leopold in 1853 and it then gained wide acceptance.

Simpson became the first person to be knighted for services to medicine in 1866. "Victo Dolore" (pain conquered) is the inscription of his coat of arms. When he died in 1870 at the age of 58, an offer of burial in Westminster Abbey in London was declined and instead he was buried at Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh. 100,000 people turned up for the funeral. The photograph above is of a statue to James Y Simpson in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh.

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