Simpson's Chloroform Decanter

Contributed by Surgeons Hall Museum

Chloroform decanter used by James Young Simpson © Surgeons Hall Museums

Queen Victoria permitted the use of chloroform during the delivery of her son, Prince Leopold, in 1853.This brandy decanter was used by Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870) whilst pioneering his breakthrough discovery of the anaesthetic qualities of chloroform. One story surrounding Simpson's discovery tells that, following a dinner party at his home in Edinburgh, Simpson presented to his guests this chloroform-filled decanter for experimentation purposes. The following morning Simpson and his other guests, all accustomed to his experimentation, were found unconscious on the floor. On this occasion, Miss Agnes Petrie was said to have fallen down crying 'oh, I am an angel!' Simpson's own letters tell of a very slightly more contained experiment with his colleagues in which he reports they all ended up 'under the mahogany in a trice.' Stories aside, these experiments were very dangerous; Simpson worked constantly to refine the purity of chloroform and did make himself ill in order to advance anaesthesia. Within weeks of Simpson's discovery, chloroform was being used in surgery and childbirth all over Europe.

Comments are closed for this object

Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site’s House Rules please Flag This Object.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.