The Age of Discovery

Henry Hill Hickman


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 his ghastly experiments using 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. The possibility of inhalation anaesthesia was born.

He published his work and posted it to the leading authority at the time on inhalation of gases, Sir Humphrey Davy, who was also President of the Royal Society at that time, (1824).
Davy never read his work it seems and the Royal Society completely ignored him. 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 seemed to attract the support of Napoleon’s field surgeon Baron Dominic Jean Larrey, Larrey thought it deserved further research but was outvoted by the short sighted Academicians
142 so the French did not pursue it either.
The link may have never been noticed if it had not been an article by Thomas Dudley in the Lancet that highlighted his contribution.
An extract is below:

"Permit me to make a few observations respecting the system of inhaling the sulphuretted ether for the purpose of causing insensibility during surgical operations. I am in a position to prove that a similar system was brought before the public nearly twenty years ago, by a Dr Hickman. Residing at Shiffnal and previously at Ludlow, where he Successfully performed various experiments with it upon Animals Dr Hickman commenced his experiments at Ludlow previous to the year 1824; after which he resided at Shiffnal for three years, and went to Paris in 1828, in Which year he presented a memorial to the King of France, Charles X but the prosecution of his inquiries Was cut short soon after by his decease, previous to which he published an account of his invention, either in a pamphlet, or in the form of an essay in the medical publications of the day. I well remember that the system was treated with very great severity in the medical reviews "143


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"


"The rapid release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, happening today, appears to have happened in the past, too."144




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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