Thomas Guthrie


Born in Bathgate, the youngest of seven sons to the local baker, James Young Simpson showed academic promise from an early age.

This prompted his father to send him to Edinburgh university where he studied medicine. Despite the distress he felt at patients suffering (which almost caused him to give up in favour of a career in law), he graduated in 1832, and his subsequent progress, meant that at just 28 years old, he was appointed tot he chair of midwifery in Edinburgh.

The main preoccupation during his life's work was the relief of pain and suffering, particularly in the areas of childbirth and surgery.

He was excited by new trials with ether in America, but abandoned the drug in favour of chloroform which was seen to be more efficient and less hazardous.

After experimenting on himself and two colleagues, he was satisfied of its safety and started using it at his practice two weeks later.

Resistance to this sleep-inducing chemical, was strong; the religious authorities thought it dangerous to religion, morals and health.

The use of anasethesia gained acceptance only gradually, finally gaining full respectability when Queen Victoria took it during the birth of Prince Leopold in 1853.

He was showered with honours from all over Europe and America, and was made a baronet in 1866 - the first practising Scottish doctor to achieve such recognition.

As well as leading the field of anaesthesia, Simpson made other important advances, particularly in the fields of investigation, diagnosis and treatment in obstetrics and gynaecology.

The Simpson's Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh is named after him.