Thursday 27 April 2023

Young? Which Young are we talking about?

Welcome to this next post in my alphabet series for researching Victorian Scotland.

I confess, hands held high I the air, that I’m about to blatantly cheat for the ‘Y’ letter.

James Young Simpson

There was a man called James YOUNG Simpson who became quite famous for his dinner parties! Really, you say? How come?

Well, that story might be a tad embellished but James Young Simpson did indeed become quite famous in medical circles in Victorian Scotland. In fact, he is actually the first doctor ever to be knighted for services to medicine.

So, who was he?

James Simpson was born in Bathgate in 1811, the son of a baker.  He attended a local school, and at the age of 14 he enrolled at Edinburgh University, initially to do an arts degree. However, by 1830, he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was awarded a medical degree in 1832. By 1839, he was Professor of Medicine and Midwifery, obstetrics and the mechanics childbirth being of great interest to him.

He improved the designs of some obstetrics equipment (Simpson’s Forceps and Air Tractor) but what made him most famous was the use of anaesthesia during childbirth. Chloroform had been invented in 1831, had been used to anaesthetise animals, but its uses for humans were not at first clear. James Young Simpson had already rejected the use of ether for helping during childbirth, but became convinced that chloroform could be used on people. The story goes that he used some colleagues (friends) as ‘guinea pigs’ in experiments at his home. Along with James Young Simpson, Dr George Skene Keith, and James Matthews Duncan tried out different chemicals to see if any of them had sleep-inducing powers.

Courtesy Wellcome CC
About 1847 Artist unknown

Chloroform did the trick! At first, it’s said, after inhaling the chloroform, they all experienced a general feeling of euphoria, were laughing and very cheerful. They woke up the next morning realising they had all lost consciousness and none remembered the exact moment it happened. It was just as well that the dosage had not killed them, the amount administered being crucial to waking up safely.

Within a short time (a week is mentioned in some sources), James Young Simpson had experimented with the use of chloroform: to put a woman to sleep; he had mastered the doses needed; and had then used chloroform in its very first use as an anaesthetic for childbirth. Queen Victoria herself was said to have commented that the use of chloroform was ‘a blessed relief’ during the birth of her eighth child.

James Young Simpson may not have found all the answers to administering the sleep-inducing, pain-relief during surgical procedures, but after his ‘discovery’ better methods (and better equipment than a basic hankie) were found by other surgeons, who adopted the use of chloroform for obstetrics, and for other operations.

James Young Simpson
 Statue in Edinburgh

James Young Simpson and his wife Janet Grindlay (landed gentry, Glasgow and Liverpool shipping family) had nine children. I’ve not, yet, found out if chloroform was used during any of her labours!

I gave birth to two daughters but never needed an anaesthetic at all, so I can’t say how effectively chloroform, or its current equivalent substance, works.

Something which I plan to do further research on, but not today, is that James Young Simpson became a member of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, and made contributions in both the fields of medicine and archaeology. He became interested in medicine in Roman Britain. I must endeavour to find out his conclusions on that. 

The middle name of YOUNG does not appear on James Simpson’s register of birth, and not on his marriage certificate (as far as I can tell), either. Where the YOUNG came from is a bit of a mystery (to date), but I've decided that I’m not too bothered since I was able to use James YOUNG Simpson for my letter ‘Y’.

One more post to go in this April series so, please,  stop by again soon. 

 SlĂ inte!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)