Dominic Jean Larrey 1755-1842

In France during the Napoleonic wars, a surgeon by the name of Dominic Larrey was making a name for himself.
Born in 1766 he was respected by French, English Russian and Prussian alike he was rated alongside his Icon Ambroise Pare. Larrey was orphaned at the age of 13. He was then raised by his uncle Alexis, who was chief surgeon in Toulouse. After serving a 6-year apprenticeship, he went to Paris to study under the great Desault, who was chief surgeon at the Hotel-Dieu de Paris. His studies were cut short by war.

Larrey was surgeon-in-chief of the  Napoleons armies from Italy in 1797 to Waterloo Belgium in 1815


Larrey noticed at the battle of Preuss Elayss, in Poland how the cold controlled haemorrhage although this has been mentioned before in 1050 (Lagunda) and also in the 16th and 17th centuries. He also was aware how pain was absent during amputation of those limbs that were cold.

The modern ambulance at least the horse-driven version was created by Larrey in 1792.

Larrey, Napoleon's private surgeon, wanted to improve battlefield treatment of wounded soldiers. He designed a horse-drawn
 "flying ambulance" to carry surgeons and medical supplies onto the field of battle during the Rhine campaign of 1792.149

Larrey set up the first field hospitals by placing medical tents close to battle instead of miles away in centralized areas. In 1792 he started a horse-drawn carriage ambulance service to and from fighting areas. By 1794 Larrey had added stretchers to his ambulance design.


In the Egyptian campaign of 1799, he used camels to power his ambulances.

With fellow surgeon Pierre Percy (1754-1825), Larrey formed a unit of
 "ambulance soldiers,"including stretcher-bearers and trained doctors. Larrey's ambulances and medical units both impressed Napoleon's troops and boosted their morale.

His adoration from his troops echoed that of his icon Ambroise Pare.                           

It can be argued that his tactics in dealing with the wounded would be the forerunner of the medical evacuation chain for all future armies.
Larrey did not lose one patient due to blood loss post operatively. Larrey described how wounded soldiers with maggot-infested wounds would arrive on the carts already recovering. What the world needed was open-minded physicians, who would listen and consider different sorts of treatment or ways to avert pain and lessen the suffering of the individual, especially on the battlefield.

Barron Larrey had seen a fair share of suffering during the Napoleonic campaigns, and not all the campaigns could provide harsh conditions that made amputations bearable on the Russian front. Larrey was the first to discover the cavitation’s caused by gunshot wounds.

He has also been accredited the invention of the modern Field Ambulance. Larry went on to become Napoleons personal surgeon, and then eventually made a Baron.
It was Napoleon Bonapart who said of him "He is the worthiest man I have ever met"





About This Site

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.

Get in Touch