SIMPSON, Sir JAMES YOUNG (1811-1870, discoverer of chloroform's utility as an anaesthetic)
THE DISCOVERER OF THE USE OF CHLOROFORM ON ITS USE. This important letter was written less than a year after Simpson and two assistants discovered the efficacy of chloroform as an anaesthetic by inhaling it and collapsing unconscious (November 1847) and published their preliminary report in The Lancet on 20 November 1847. Chloroform was first used on an obstetric case on 8 November that year. Simpson met with considerable opposition and prejudice; his extension of the use of chloroform to alleviate normal labour pain attracted particular criticism. Undeterred, Simpson established that the relief of pain was central to obstetricians' professional concerns.
When in 1853 it was announced that Queen Victoria had inhaled chloroform during the birth of her eighth child The Lancet recorded 'intense astonishment...throughout the profession' at this use of chloroform, 'an agent which has unquestionably caused instantaneous death in a considerable number of cases.' The Queen herself wrote in her private journal of 'that blessed chloroform', adding that 'the effect was soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure' (D.R. Laurence, Clinical Pharmacology). Simpson had been appointed one of the Queen's Physicians for Scotland in 1847.
The recipient was almost certainly Dr Fleetwood Churchill, a Dublin obstetrician, whose early involvement by letter with Simpson is discussed in 'All Here Are Agog with Chloroform', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, June 2008.