John Snow 1813-1858

John Snow was born in 1811, the son of a farmer. He was born in York on the 15th June 1813. He was by all accounts an introvert but very studious.

John Snow is recognized as the first true anaesthetist. John Snow was said to have first observed the administration of Ether by James Robinson. Chloroform use spread rapidly and Anaesthesia got royal approval when in 1853 Queen Victoria was administered chloroform by John Snow, at the birth of one of her children Prince Leopold in April 7th 1853.

John Snow was prior to the discovery of anaesthesia was a public health doctor and was specialising in cholera, he took a great interest in this awful disease in his early days having treated the workers and relatives of Killingworth colliery. John Snows reputation was such that he has even had a public house named after him. This was for his public health work. (Public health at this time was a big issue; disease in London was rife at the time, even Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Albert died of typhoid.) 

John Snow was a great experimenter and at one time performed a tracheotomy on a rabbit and passed a tube into the rabbits trachea and anaesthetised the animal with chloroform. This was probably the first endotracheal anaesthetic performed.

John Snow accelerated the acceptance of anaesthesia by publishing two books on the subject; on the inhalation of the vapour of Ether and Chloroform and other anaesthetics Chloroform however was not as safe as ether and required more expertise to deliver; several unnecessary deaths were reported from chloroform in the early years as medical students, nurses and the occasional member of the public were pressed into administering the agent. It was as a result of these deaths that Britain required physicians to administer the drug whereas in the United States of America and Europe a nurse could administer Ether under supervision.

John Snow can be accused of making the art of anaesthesia a science. This intelligent physician was taken from this world prematurely and was laid to rest in Brompton cemetery.



Ken True History of Surgery and Anaesthesia