Henry Hill Hickman 1800-1830

Henry Hill Hickman was born in 1800; he trained in Medicine in London and Edinburgh. In 1823 looking at ways to achieve anaesthesia he began using ghastly experiments with carbon dioxide, on mice, rabbits and puppies to name some. He made the animal insensible through asphyxia and then cut off parts of the animal. He described his technique as Suspended Animation.

Hickman's idea of removing pain by inhaling a gas was absolutely correct, although he was using the wrong gas. This is why he will always remain an important figure in the history of Anaesthesia.

He published his work and posted it to Sir Humphrey Davy, who was President of the Royal Society at that time, (1824). Davy never read his work it seems. He was disappointed at being ignored, and wounded further by an article in the Lancet in 1826 effectively calling him a “Surgical Humbug” the article criticised his work.

He turned to King Charles X of France in April 1828 and had the support of Napoleon’s field surgeon Barron Larry but the French did not pursue it either. His early death in 1830 probably cost him a greater position in the history of anaesthesia. Henry Hill was for some time the forgotten pioneer of anaesthesia.

Below is an extract from his notes.

"I took an adult dog and exposed him to carbonic acid Gas quickly prepared and in large quantity; life appeared to be extinct in about 12 seconds. Animation was suspended for 17 minutes, allowing respiration occasionally to intervene by the application of inflating instruments. I amputated a leg without the slightest appearance of pain to the animal. There was no haemorrhage from the smaller vessels. The ligature that secured the main Artery came away on the fourth day and the dog recovered without expressing any material uneasiness." 255

His early death in 1830 (some suggest it was TB and others suicide) probably cost him a greater position in the history of anaesthesia.

In 1930 a memorial was erected to Henry Hill Hickman in the church at Bromfield, on the 100 year anniversary of his death, it reads

"This tablet is placed here at the initiative of the section of anaesthetics of the Royal Society of Medicine as a centenary tribute to the memory of the earliest known pioneer of Anaesthesia by inhalation"




Ken True History of Surgery and Anaesthesia