ON 21 December 1846, the first British operation under anaesthesia was undertaken by Robert Liston at University College Hospital. Liston used ether to amputate the leg of a butler, Frederick Churchill. The amputation took 28 seconds. Liston's admirers claimed that "the gleam of his knife was followed so instantaneously by the sounds of sawing as to make the two actions appear almost simultaneous". In future, anaesthesics would allow surgeons - and their patients - the luxury of less haste.
The People's Journal of London conveyed something of the exhilaration the discovery of pain-free surgery inspired:
“Oh, what delight for every feeling heart to find the new year ushered in with the announcement of this noble discovery of the power to still the sense of pain, and veil the eye and memory from all the horrors of an operation. ... WE HAVE CONQUERED PAIN.”
Refs and Further Reading
Robert Liston (Wikipedia)
Anaesthesia and Anaesthetics