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James Young Simpson

James Young Simpson

James Young Simpson
BornJune 7, 1811
Bathgate, West Lothian
DiedMay 6 1870 (aged 58)

Sir James Young Simpson, (June 7, 1811 born in Bathgate, West Lothian, died at his home in Edinburgh, May 6, 1870), was a Scottish doctor and important figure in the history of medicine.

He received an education at the local school and entered the University of Edinburgh when he was 14 years old. He became a Licentiate in 1830 before graduating in 1832. He was appointed Professor of Midwifery (which we would now call Obstetrics) at the University of Edinburgh and physician to Queen Victoria.

Simpson's name at birth was "James Simpson", as recorded at his baptism. It is unknown why he formally adopted the middle name "Young". One theory is that, as a very young professor, he was flaunting his youth in front of his older peers. Another theory is that he was known by the affectionate nickname of "Young Simpson" and decided to incorporate it into his name.

Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform and— against medical and religious opposition— successfully introduced it for general medical use.

Additional recommended knowledge



  Simpson completed his final medical examination at the age of 18 but, as he was so young, had to wait two years before he got his licence to practise medicine. It was during this period that he became a Freemason, being initiated in a Lodge in his home town of Bathgate.

He developed an interest in obstetrics, and at the age of 28 was appointed Chair of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. He improved the design of obstetric forceps and, like Semmelweis, he fought against the contagion of puerperal sepsis.

His most noted contribution was the introduction of anesthesia to childbirth.

A free thinker by most accounts, his intellectual interests ranged from archeology to an almost taboo subject at the time: hermaphroditism. He was a very early advocate of the use of midwives in the hospital environment. Many prominent women also consulted him for their gynaecological problems.

It was his achievements and wide ranging interests that led to his town house in Queen Street, Edinburgh being a gathering point for many members of society; especially intellectual free thinkers. His impish sense of humour got the better of him on at least one of these occasions when he sat a Southern U.S. slave owner next to a freed slave at the dinner table. Since this town house was fairly busy at times he preferred to keep his wife and children at their country house near Bathgate.

Obstetric Anaesthesia

  On January 19, 1847 he was the first to apply a modern anaesthetic, ether, to numb the pain of labour. Many opposed this practice, as it was viewed as an act against nature or the will of God. Despite such hostilities, Simpson searched further to find a better anaesthetic and discovered the effects of chloroform. Vindication of his efforts came when Queen Victoria used chloroform during the delivery of Prince Leopold in 1853. The anaesthetist was John Snow.

Victo Dolore

Full recognition was quick to follow. He was the first man to be knighted for services to medicine. He died at the age of fifty-eight. "Victo Dolore" (pain conquered) is the inscription of his coat of arms.

A spot for his burial in Westminster Abbey was offered to his family, but they declined and instead buried him closer to home in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh. Instead a memorial bust can be found in a niche at Westminster.

On the day of his funeral a Scottish holiday was declared, including the banks and stock markets, with over 100,000 citizens lining the funeral cortege on its way to the cemetery, while over 1,700 colleagues and business leaders took part in the procession itself.


  • Speert H: Obstetric and Gynecologic Milestones The MacMillan Company, New York, 1958.
  • Simpson, Myrtle: "Simpson the Obstetrician" Victor Gollancz, London?, 1972.
  • Gordon, B. Laing: "Sir James Young Simpson & Chloroform 1811-1870" T. Fischer Unwin, London, 1897.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "James_Young_Simpson". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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