A Real Knockout in History of Medicine

Article excerpt

Byline: FRANK RYAN

IT was a pioneering event in the history of surgery when the first operation in Europe using a general anaesthetic was performed.

Yet it did not take place in one of the great teaching hospitals, but at a small infirmary in a Scottish market town.

The 150th anniversary of this important landmark which revolutionised medicine will be celebrated next week in Dumfries.

Key figure in the story was Dumfries-born Dr William Fraser, a ship's surgeon with the Cunard Steamship Company.

While in Boston, USA, he became friendly with Dr W.T. G. Morton and learned from him how sulphuric ether could be used as an anaesthetic. Dr Morton, who had been experimenting on himself, two of his students and his spaniel, gave the first public demonstration of the procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16, 1846.

Two months later Dr Fraser returned to Britain aboard the Royal Mail paddle steamer Arcadia, arriving at Liverpool on December 16.

He headed straight for Dumfries to visit his recently widowed mother, and three days later was present at the pioneering surgery in the town's hospital.

The first operation using the anaesthetic was performed by Dr William Scott, and witnessed by fellow surgeons William Fraser and James McLaughlan. …