The Operation on Gilbert Abbott


John Collins Warren (1778-1856)
Remarkable Vascular Tumour of the Neck : manuscript, circa 1846
Gift of Dr. J. Collins Warren to the Boston Medical Library, 1918

After another consultation with Jackson, W. T. G. Morton sought the endorsement of a noted surgeon who would employ the ether in a surgical operation before witnesses.  He approached John Collins Warren in this matter.  Morton was subsequently invited by Charles F. Heywood, the House Surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, to be present at an operation on October 16, at 10a.m. 

J. Collins Warren assembled the extant manuscripts of his grandfather’s clinical surgery cases with a view to editing them for publication, and this particular volume is devoted to John Collins Warren's surgical experience with tumors.  The page displayed records his notes on the case of Gilbert Abbott who had been admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital in September 1846 and was the patient in the first public demonstration of anesthesia with ether on October 16.


Photograph of a Morton-type ether inhaler with sponge,
circa 1860
From the Collections of the Boston Medical Library

Morton had contracted Nathan B. Chamberlain to fashion a glass globe for administration of the ether, and he anesthetized Gilbert Abbott before an operation for removal of a tumor on the neck.  It is notable that this first public etherization was not entirely successful, with the patient experiencing no pain but having awareness of the procedure, “comparing the stroke of the knife to that of a blunt instrument passed roughly across his neck,” in John Collins Warren’s account of the operation.  According to the testimony of Augustus Addison Gould, one of those present at the event, “Dr. Warren seemed pleased, but said it would require further trials to settle its value.”

The Operation on Gilbert Abbott