Introduction of Anaesthesia


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Today it is difficult to imagine undergoing surgery without anaesthetic, but up to the mid-19th century this was the only choice for people who required surgical treatment. It was not until 16th October 1846 that Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton successfully and publicly demonstrated the use of ether for surgery. This case received a great deal of publicity and news soon spread across the Atlantic and physicians, surgeons, and dentists in London and beyond began experimenting with anaesthesia. There are reports of anaesthesia being used as early as 1842, but these cases were not publicly reported and didn’t receive the same level of interest and so it is Morton’s demonstration that is generally often accepted as being its first successful use.

M0001848 The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil painting Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil circa 1920 (?) By: Ernest BoardPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

M0001848 The first use of ether, 1846.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyright, available under CC BY 4.0

James Young Simpson, the famous Professor of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh, quickly embraced the idea of anaesthesia and is acknowledged as being the first person to use ether for childbirth on 19th January 1847, in the case of a woman with a deformed pelvis.  Anaesthesia was not without its controversies, particularly where childbirth was concerned, but by 1853 when Queen Victoria was anaesthetised for the birth of Prince Leopold the practice became much more accepted.

Shortly after the completion of his medical studies in 1847/8, the Manchester based surgeon Edward Lund took a tour of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London visiting the Universities, a number of hospitals, the various Royal Colleges, and a number of medical associations to witness the work of some notable practitioners, and the manuscript recording his experiences survives within the Manchester Medical Manuscripts Collection (MMM/11/2).  He first visited Edinburgh where he met with Simpson and notes:

“In August 1847, I was at Edinburgh and was introduced to Professor Simpson by Dr Lever. He showed me several cases in which he employed ether during operations, he generally gave it by sprinkling it upon a large sponge cut into the shape of a large mask which he placed all over the patient’s face. He has invented a very simple tin apparatus for administering it during labour, which he takes with him to almost every confinement case.” 

V0006739 The effects of liquid chloroform on Simpson and his friends. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The effects of liquid chloroform on Sir J. Y. Simpson and his friends. The shattered drinking-glass used by one of the experimenters lies on the floor. Pen and Ink 1840's Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

V0006739 Effects of chloroform on Simpson and friends.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyright, available under  CC BY 4.0

In the short time since first demonstrating its use in childbirth, it’s clear that Simpson had adopted anaesthesia as part of his general practice. At this point Simpson was using ether, and whilst he favoured its use he encountered some technical difficulties which he wished to overcome. Simpson and his two assistants experimented at home inhaling various vapours, when in November 1847 they came across chloroform, which soon became his anaesthetic of choice.

By following Lund’s medical tour into 1848, at which point he was visiting the London hospitals, we see from his various accounts of the surgeries he witnessed that chloroform was being more widely used than ether. On 6th February 1848 he describes one case as such:

“I witnessed the reduction of a dislocation of the femur into the obturator foramen of the right side, in a girl aged 20 years; it had been done 16 hours. She was put under the influence of chloroform and the reduction was most easy.”

This differs greatly to the experiences of Dr John Shepherd Fletcher just four years earlier in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, when he describes the case of a 44 year old man who also had a dislocation of the femur. Three failed attempts at reducing the dislocation were made during the day, and the fourth and final attempt was described as follows:

“He was placed upon the table & extension again commenced in the same manner as before & continued for about 20 minutes when the bone slipped back into its place, but without any audible snap.  About 5 minutes before it was reduced he began to complain most bitterly of the extension, wanting it relaxed & when this was declined he was very violent, struggled & called out most violently, in fact he seemed quite delirious, a circumstance which I think facilitated the reduction by directing his attention away from the injured part.” (MMM/9/1)

Also within the collection are a series of tables compiled by Thomas Radford bringing together the details of all published caesarean cases he could find in addition to those reported to him privately (MMM/13/1/1). These span 1738-1864, and from late 1847 onwards the use of chloroform becomes a regular occurrence. Caesareans had up to this point been highly controversial; with a high mortality rate and little or no pain relief it was seen by some to be pure butchery. The introduction of anaesthesia did not change attitudes or practices overnight but was quite evidently a major turning point in surgical practice.


Caton, D. What a Blessing She Had Chloroform: The Medical and Social Response to the Pain of Childbirth from 1800 to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)

Rushman, G.B, Davies, N.J.H., & Atkinson, R.S. A Short History of Anaesthesia (Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1996)

Thatcher, V.S. History of Anaesthesia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1984)

Undiscovered collections: Sedbergh School Library

Teams from the Collection Management department have recently cleaned and catalogued the Sedburgh School Library Collection, which was deposited at the University of Manchester Library on permanent loan in 1972–73.

Sedburgh school was founded in 1525 by Dr Roger Lupton, Provost of Eton and a native of Sedbergh, and endowed by him with lands associated with a chantry. By 1528, the foundation deed had been signed, binding the School to St John’s College, Cambridge and giving the College power over the appointment of Headmasters. This link to St. John’s College probably saved Sedbergh in 1546-48 as it was a time when most chantries were being dissolved and their assets being seized by Henry VIII’s Commission.[1] Sedbergh was re-established and re-endowed as a Grammar School in 1551 and fortunes fluctuated on the character and abilities of the Headmasters. The constitution of the school was revised by the Endowed Schools Commissioners in 1874, when the buildings were greatly enlarged, and girls were admitted to the school for the first time in 2001. Sedburgh has an international reputation for its sporting achievements, and alumni include England rugby football players such as Will Carling, and the world cup winner Will Greenwood. There are also many other notable alumni from the fields of religion, science and exploration, the arts, business, politics, and the military, such as the businessman and politician, Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken, PC (15 February 1901 – 8 August 1958).


The historic library of Sedbergh School in Cumbria (formerly the North Riding of Yorkshire) is a good representative example of an English public-school library. The collection includes over 250 European and English early printed books from the mid sixteenth up to the eighteenth centuries, mostly on subjects that would be expected in a school library – Greek and Latin classic texts, European history and religion are all very well represented. Prominent among these are an edition of Horace (Paris, 1519), historical works such as Matthew Parker’s De Antiquitate Ecclesiae et Privilegiis Ecclesiae Cantuariensis, revised by Samuel Drake (London, 1729), and religious texts, for example, the works of Peter the Martyr (Zurich, 1567), and Benedictus Aretius’s Commentarii in Quatuor Evangelistas (Morges, Switzerland, 1580).

As befits a school collection, the worn condition of many bindings indicates that these books have been well used over time, but the lack of graffiti, doodles and annotations suggests some unusually well-disciplined pupils. The same cannot be said for the remainder of the collection, which dates from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the majority of these books contain signatures, comments and pen trials. This part of the collection covers a broader subject range, including popular series, such as The Story of the Nations, a French ten-volume Histoire Générale, and Stanfords Compendium of Geography; works in Spanish, German and French, and books written by eminent former pupils, such as the journalist, poet and writer, Barry Eric Odell Pain (28 September 1864 – 5 May 1928).

The provenance of the Sedburgh School collection is particularly interesting. A proportion was acquired from other prominent public schools, but others came from lending libraries as well as overseas bookshops.

There are also numerous presentation volumes from eminent alumni, such as the aforementioned Lord Bracken and Barry Pain, but also from former students and teachers, some of whom were tragically killed in the First World War.

The collection is now fully catalogued and available via the The University of Manchester Library online catalogue.

[1] Sedburgh School (2015). Available at: (Accessed: 12 November 2015).

The John Rylands Seminar on Print and Materiality in the Early Modern World – February 2016

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The next session of the John Rylands Seminar on Print and Materiality in the Early Modern World takes place on Thursday 4th Feb, from 5-7pm in the Christie Room, John Rylands Library. The theme of this session is ‘Sound and Embodied Emotions’. We have a fantastic line-up of speakers and papers:

Dr Penelope Gouk, Manchester, ‘On hearing and harmony: Francis Bacon’s proposal for a new method of interrogating sound and its perception’

Dr Matthew Laube, Cambridge/Brussels, ‘Objects of Harmony: Music and Material Culture in the Confessional Age’

Professor Thomas Schmidt, Manchester, ‘On the making of polyphonic music manuscripts and prints in the early 16th century: the evolution of standard layouts and formats’

It promises to be a great session and we look forward to seeing many of you there. As always, you can find the full programme for the year here:

‘The Other Within’ – The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of The John Rylands Library


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Updated Call for Papers: ‘The Other Within’: The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of The John Rylands Library

Conference, Monday 27-Wednesday 29 June 2016 at The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

The John Rylands Research Institute invites paper proposals for its upcoming 2016 conference on the Hebrew and Jewish collections of The John Rylands Library.

The John Rylands Library preserves one of the world’s valuable collections of Hebrew and Jewish manuscripts, archives and printed books. The holdings span Septuagint fragments to the papers of Moses Gaster and Samuel Alexander. The Rylands Genizah and rich collections of medieval manuscript codices and early printed books are among the strengths of the collection, making The John Rylands Library an important centre for the study of Judaism from the ancient world to the twentieth century.

The aim of this conference is to convene scholars, curators and students researching areas represented in the Library’s Hebrew and Jewish collections, including (but not limited to): the Cairo Genizah; medieval Hebrew manuscript codices; early printed Hebrew books; Samaritan manuscripts; and, the collections of Moses Gaster. It will take place as part of a programme of activities at the John Rylands Research Institute that aim to facilitate the study of the Library’s Hebrew and Jewish holdings. This includes the 2015-2018 externally-funded project to catalogue the Hebrew manuscripts and two ongoing projects on the Gaster collections.

Studies of the Rylands collections, of related Hebraica and Judaica libraries, and of resources and methods that facilitate such research will be particularly welcome. The expectation is that the conference will result in an edited collection of essays.

Due to significant interest, the submission deadline for paper proposals has been extended to 17:00 GMT on 26 February 2016. The conference organizing team will be able to facilitate access to further information on our holdings and support the development of your paper proposal. Full details of how to submit a proposal can be found online at:

This event is supported by the European Association of Jewish Studies’ Conference Grant Programme in European Jewish Studies.


The legacy of W.P. Crozier


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We were recently joined for a fortnight by Stephanie Bredbenner, a student undertaking the Masters degree in Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool. As well as producing an excellent catalogue of W.P. Crozier’s Foreign Affairs Correspondence in the Guardian Archive, Stephanie found time to write a blog post for us before she left:

During the first two weeks of January, I worked on cataloguing the ‘confidential correspondence’ series of W.P. Crozier (1879-1944), editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1932 to 1944.  The series is incredibly rich in materials from the Second World War on topics as diverse as confidential military and diplomatic strategy, the Blitz, and censorship of the British press. The most abundant materials concern the Middle East, particularly Palestine. Like his mentor C.P. Scott, Crozier was a fervent Zionist, and much of the correspondence concerns the Zionist movement and efforts to establish a Jewish national home and a Jewish fighting force during the war. The series provides valuable insights into the crucial role the Manchester Guardian played in the Zionist movement.

W.P. Crozier in the office.

W.P. Crozier in the office.

C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1872 to 1929, became a crucial ally to Jewish academics who settled in Manchester and made the city the centre of British Zionism. Scott was the founding member of the British-Palestine Committee and along with Manchester Guardian staff members Harry Sacher and W.P. Crozier, became a committed Zionist. He befriended Chaim Weizmann, Reader in Chemistry at the University of Manchester and leader of British Zionism who later became the first President of Israel. Scott used his influence at the Manchester Guardian to elevate the profile of the Zionist cause. He was also instrumental in introducing Weizmann to powerful figures such as David Lloyd George, Herbert Samuel, and Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, who later cemented British support for a Jewish national home with the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Crozier continued Scott’s legacy by advocating for a Jewish state both inside and outside the pages of the Manchester Guardian. His primary correspondent on Zionist issues was Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier, a renowned Jewish historian who was a professor at the University of Manchester.  Namier, once the secretary of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and a life-long Zionist, frequently sent bundles of documents for Crozier’s information and use. Crozier then used his influence in the British press to provide incisive commentary on the Zionist struggle. Crozier himself continued to write articles on the subject in addition to his editorial duties, demonstrating his passion and knowledge about Zionist issues. The importance of Crozier’s coverage of the Zionist cause was praised in a letter from Namier, dated 7 May 1938. Namier wrote:

‘May I thank you for your leader in to-day’s “Manchester Guardian”?  If I may say so, although we are accustomed to your writing about our affairs with more knowledge and understanding than anyone else in this country, to-day’s leader seems to me of quite exceptional importance. You have put it all in a nutshell at a time when putting these facts before the public is of the very greatest importance.’

Letter from Lewis Namier to W.P. Crozier

Letter from Lewis Namier to W.P. Crozier

Zionists like Namier and Weizmann, both academics at the University of Manchester for decades, used Manchester as a centre for their activities. The Crozier confidential correspondence series contains significant materials which were circulated throughout the British Zionist network in Manchester. Crozier was influential in tapping into Zionist information networks and disseminating their impassioned pleas to the public. Crozier’s confidential correspondence provides insight into the behind the scenes machinations and carefully constructed rhetoric of the Zionist movement. Namier often sent Crozier initial drafts of crucial speeches, reports, and correspondence in addition to the final draft, showing a long and careful process of revision and negotiation within the movement. Crozier often saved multiple drafts of the same document, along with notes from Namier and himself. Such delicate diplomatic negotiations are displayed in one 1941 letter from Chaim Weizmann to Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, of which Crozier saved multiple drafts. Weizmann wrote:

‘Tortured by Hitler as no nation has ever been in modern times, and advertised by him as his foremost enemy, we are refused by those who fight him for the chance of seeing our name and our flag appear among those arrayed against him. I know that this exclusion is not in your own intentions or spirit…But are the Jews so utterly unimportant as the treatment meted out to them suggests? … You are dealing with human beings, with flesh and blood, and the most elementary feeling of self-respect sets limits to service, however willing, if the response is nothing but rebuffs and humiliations. Let me feel, Mr. Prime Minister, that our friendship is not spurned on the British side, nor our name obliterated at a time when Hitler is endeavouring to obliterate our very existence.’

The Manchester Guardian was one of the most prominent newspapers on the global stage espousing Zionist ideals. The impact of Crozier’s efforts to raise the international profile of the Zionist cause by leveraging the reputation of the Manchester Guardian is perhaps best expressed in this statement made by Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, upon a visit to Manchester in 1941:

Memo quoting the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.

Memo quoting the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.

In addition to his involvement in British Zionism, Crozier collected correspondence relating to Zionism and the fate of Jewish refugees all over the world, including in Palestine, Iraq, Mauritius, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. Until his death on 16 April 1944, Crozier continued collecting information and writing about liberated concentration camps and the Zionist cause.

All images in this post are reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

John Rylands Research Institute Lecture: Dame Marina Warner


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Marina Warner

Professor Dame Marina Warner

John Rylands Research Institute Lecture
Thursday 11 February 2016
Historic Reading Room, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH
Drinks Reception: 5.30 pm
Lecture: 6.15 pm

We are pleased to announce that this year’s Institute Lecture will be delivered by Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London.  The Institute is delighted that Professor Warner will be sharing her knowledge and expertise with our audience, presenting a lecture entitled Oracular Narrative: Timing and Truth Telling, in which she will explore mythic forms of prefigurement and prophecy in contemporary fiction inspired by Greek tragedy and the Arabian Nights.

Booking is essential. If you would like to attend the Lecture please contact Joshua Mitcham to register.

Linking Letters Across Archives


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M0003436 Use of the Lister carbolic spray, Antiseptic surgery, 1882. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Use of the Lister carbolic spray. Antiseptic surgery William Watson Cheyne Published: 1882 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

M0003436 Use of the Lister carbolic spray, Antiseptic surgery, 1882.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
William Watson Cheyne,Published: 1882, Copyrighted work available under CC BY 4.0

Following a recent visit to the Wellcome Library, they are kindly featuring a guest post on some of the medical collections currently being catalogued here at the John Rylands Library that have strong links with some of their collections.

Featuring letters from John Hunter and Joseph Lister, read the original post here:

Medicines of the 18th Century


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A range of different record types across the Manchester Medical Manuscripts Collection used in conjunction with one another demonstrate the development of pharmaceutical preparations and how they were used in practice to treat of various diseases and ailments. A number of volumes of materia medica, and lectures on the subject, give explanation as to the therapeutic properties of specific substances used in medicine. Pharmacopoeia (copies and extracts of which we hold in relation to the Manchester Eye Hospital, the Royal College of Physicians of London, St Thomas and Guy’s Hospitals, and one physician’s version for private practice) on the other hand go on to give detailed recipes and advice on the preparation and dosage of medicines. Finally, in the numerous case books we see how these treatments were applied in practice. Many working copies of these records contain recipes for a range of other items too, which were relevant to a physician’s daily life, with recipes for common ink, sympathetic ink, and blacking amongst them.


A number of quite commonplace plants appear in the preparations, such as dandelion, barley, and oak bark, but the presence of what seem like more exotic plants, such as tamarind and kino gum from west Africa, show the influence of international trade on pharmacology and explain its rapid development in this period. Also notable is the common use of substances considered to be highly toxic, e.g. henbane, prussic acid, mercury, arsenic, belladonna, and hemlock, employed for their sedative, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties amongst others. Aside from the use of botanical and chemical substances in medical treatment, many of the case books from this period show food and alterations in diet to have formed significant part and formed the basis of many approaches.

L0002714 Use of the Seton. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Use of the Seton. Armamentarium Chirurgicum Johannes Scultetus Published: 1655 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0002714 Use of the Seton. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0

The choice of remedy for each condition in turn reflects the logic in the medical thinking of the time. For example, a volume of John Rutherford’s (1695-1779) clinical lectures records the admission of 23 year old Robert Moubray to the Edinburgh Infirmary on 7th February 1751 suffering from epilepsy. Some of the treatments offered include Glauber’s Salts, decoction of tamarind, calomel (mercury chloride), rhubarb powder, and tartar emetic, all of which act as laxatives, the latter being described in a contemporary materia medica as “sometimes prescribed … where a brisk rousing shock is required upon the solids as in vertigoes, apoplexies, epilepsies, lethargies etc.”.  The reason this method of treatment was pursued is explained in a third manuscript written in 1792 by an unknown physician who describes epilepsy as being a result of a plethora of blood and goes on to say “we may avoid congestions in the head with laxatives or a an issue or seton on the neck”. A seton was a surgical cut kept open for a time to encourage suppuration and the evacuation of pus and was also employed by Rutherford on his epileptic patient. Both methods of treatment aimed to rid the body of the excess believed to be causing the fits.

However, Rutherford cites another possible cause of fits saying, “how the change in the moon comes to work upon the body … I cannot say but … we should endeavour before the full moon by evacuations and every other possible method to empty the already too full vessels.” In this vain Rutherford pursues his chosen course of treatment in earnest in an attempt to prevent the onset of further fits with the coming of the full moon. His attempts, however, fail and with the arrival of the full moon the patient is still experiencing fits.

Through the combined use of these manuscripts we gain an insight not only into the actual treatment of the patient but the scientific knowledge and developments underpinning the rationale behind such recipes and therapeutic treatments. In turn, it is not uncommon to see the authors of some of these works stating how they disagree with certain treatments in opposition to some of their contemporaries, showing how the profession was a long way from established and accepted forms of treatment. Whilst by simply looking back on these medicines from a modern perspective and imagining the experience of the patient, some of the proposed treatments often present themselves as more daunting than the illness itself.


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