'My beloved chloroform'. Attitudes to childbearing
in colonial Queensland: a case study

Woolcock HR, Thearle MJ, Saunders K.
Soc Hist Med. 1997 Dec;10(3):437-57


In 1847 the anaesthetic and analgesic properties of chloroform were discovered. This technology generated a new era for midwifery: mothers could be relieved of pain in childbirth. The introduction of chloroform for childbirth saw increasing medical dominance in obstetrics, traditionally in the hands of the midwife. At the same time the use of chloroform sparked a medical and moral controversy which lasted for several decades. On the one hand women were destined by the 'curse of Eve' to experience pain during childbirth; on the other, medical humanitarians and practitioners believed that there were technical and moral reasons for alleviating pain in childbirth. In concentrating on the debate historians have largely ignored the reactions of mothers to the introduction of the technology. This paper explores changing attitudes to childbearing within the context of colonial Queensland society, 1860-90, by examining the correspondence of an upper-class mother. Her education and liberal outlook, and a certain ambivalence towards motherhood, all influenced her attitude to the use of chloroform and the process of childbirth.
General anaesthetics
Chloroform anaesthesia
Chloroform at Christmas
'Agog with the chloroform'
Contemporary anaesthesia
TRPC5 calcium ion channels
Chloroform experimentation
'Stonewall' Jackson on chloroform
Anaesthesia: rivalries and discoveries
From taboo to evidence-based medicine
The mysterious death of the fifth regiment
Early religious/military opposition to anaesthetics

and further reading

Future Opioids
BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World