Glass chloroform bottle, European, c 1900.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Chloroform bottle with metal cap and vulcanite jacket with viewing windows allowing the contents to be seen. The first successful operation on a patient rendered unconscious by anaesthetic was carried out using ether in 1846. Ether was regarded as being safe to use, but it was slow to take its anaesthetic effect as well as being unpredictable with unpleasant side effects. Chloroform was first used by James Simpson (1811-1870) of Edinburgh, to ease the pain of childbirth. His success led to chloroform becoming preferred to ether as an anaesthetic. Although quicker acting than ether, chloroform's poisonous nature meant it was a more dangerous substance to use. Today both have been superseded by safer, more effective anaesthetics.