In a footnote to a published pamphlet, chloroform pioneer Sir James Simpson made meagre admission of the part played by David Waldie, but there is no doubt he denied to him the public renown which he ought to have shared. He is not forgotten in Linlithgow, however, the town of his birth.
By James McKean
The discovery of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform is widely credited to Bathgate-born physician, Sir James Young Simpson, however, a century-old debate has long suggested otherwise. Naysayers have often cited Linlithgow-born David Waldie to be the true pioneer, who’s importance, it is claimed, is often cast to the wayside, having been reduced to a vague footnote in Simpson’s first account of the discovery.
Waldie’s historical significance has not been totally wiped out: plaques commemorating his contributions to medical science are displayed both in Linlithgow and in Calcutta- where he spent his later years. However, in the opinion of many, these commemorations do not reflect the truth, and in fact only contribute to belittling his importance.
What is Chloroform?
Chloroform is a clear, organic compound, first named by French chemist, Jean-Baptiste Dumas, in 1834. It is contemporarily used as a solvent for floor polishes, resins, and alkaloids; while also found in other domestic products such as mouthwash, toothpaste, and cold medicine.
Historically, it was used as an anaesthetic; poured onto a cloth or sponge, it was held over the face while the recipient inhaled the vapours. It was noted for its narcotic effects on the nervous system, and how immediately it acted in alleviating pain. It received widespread popularity following its formal introduction in 1847 and witnessed heavy usage throughout the American Civil War. It was also the anaesthetic of choice of Queen Victoria during her childbirth in 1858 to Prince Leopold.
David Waldie started his medical career in Edinburgh, where he first met James Simpson, studying medicine together at the Royal College of Surgeons. Following Waldie’s graduation in 1831, he initially practiced surgery and apothecary in his hometown of Linlithgow. Deciding in 1839 to instead pursue his passion for chemistry, he left Scotland and took on a career as a chemist at Liverpool’s Apothecaries’ Hall.
Waldie first experimented with chloroform when a prescription featuring choloric ether was brought to his place of work. Having found the sample to be initially quite crude, Waldie was able to extract a more uniform, purer chloroform. This was a medicinal feat in its own right, and a discovery that would turn out to be pivotal in using the compound as an anaesthetic.
Unfortunately, before he got the chance to publish his findings, two fires ravished Apothecaries’ Hall, one in 1845 and another in 1846, the latter of which destroyed the laboratory Waldie had been working in.
It is noted that Waldie continued his research at the residency of his associate, John Abrahams. It was at this address, 87 Bold Street, where it is thought that both he and Abrahams initially tested the substance for its anaesthetic properties. In a letter written by Abrahams’ son, it is stated that he found “…Mr. Waldie and my father experimenting on one another with chloroform; one of them, I think, was insensible on the sofa.” Unfortunately, no date can be assigned to this anecdote.
Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Simpson was also trialling chloroform as an anaesthetic, to a lesser success than that of Waldie. Having heard of Simpson’s failed endeavours, Waldie paid him a visit during a holiday to Scotland. It was here that Waldie recommended the purer chloroform he had been using and even proposed to send Simpson samples upon his return to Liverpool. Simpson didn’t hesitate and proceeded with Waldie’s recommendation, but instead of waiting on samples to arrive from Liverpool, he ordered pure chloroform to be prepared by Edinburgh-based chemists, Duncan, Flockhart and Co. The narcotic properties were immediately noted, and the chemists “were all under the table in a minute or two” after sampling.
Now with a successful anaesthetic, Simpson wasted no time to announce -and take full credit for- the discovery. He wrote to Waldie soon after, in November of 1847, letting him know of “the good results of our hasty conversation”, and released a pamphlet informing the rest of the medical world of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform, featuring the meagre footnote: “Mr. Waldie first named to me the Perchloride of Formyle as worthy, amongst others, of a trial.”
It is here that Waldie’s importance seems to be intentionally marginalised. In both the letter and the pamphlet, Simpson suggests Waldie merely ‘named’ chloroform to him, as opposed to strongly recommending it; he failed to mention that Waldie himself had successfully experimented with the substance prior to their discussion, hence his firm recommendation. This suggests that Simpson perhaps intended to belittle Waldie’s contribution.
Chloroform anaesthetic grew in popularity, as did Simpson’s recognition; he received knighthood, and was appointed as physician to the Queen of Scotland.
Waldie left Britain in 1853 for India and worked there as a chemist for Malcolm & Co. of Calcutta. He later opened his own chemical works, D. Waldie & Co., originally in Calcutta, but later relocated to Kasipur, West Bengal.
Following Simpson’s death in 1870, Waldie wrote letters to his brother, George Waldie, in which he contemplated whether it would be now possible to receive recognition, without detracting from Simpson’s legacy. George Waldie reprinted and dispersed these letters amongst the medical circles of Britain; however, the campaign was unsuccessful and Waldie remained unrecognised. Waldie died on the 23rd of June 1889 in Calcutta.
Calls were later made in 1934 for a plaque to be erected at 87 Bold Street commemorating the location as the place Waldie ‘carried out his research work in the discovery of chloroform anaesthesia.’ However, this too never saw the light of day.
It is very difficult to draw conclusions or argue fully for Waldie’s case; he was never able to publish anything on account of the fire in his laboratory, and letters written by Abrahams’ son are not dated.
At least he’s not rendered totally obscure to the history of chemistry, as the respective plaques in Linlithgow and Calcutta prove.
Linlithgow Academy Students are finalists in this year’s Young Enterprise Scotland’s Peroosh People’s Choice Award for their company Tartan Texts.
Young Enterprise Scotland has been inspiring & equipping young people to learn, develop and reach their full potential through enterprise since 1992. Every year they support around 15,000 young people, from all backgrounds, develop their business knowledge, entrepreneurial skills & ultimately become more employable.
The Linlithgow Academy students founded Tartan Texts which wrote, illustrated, marketed and sold an original children’s storybook; ‘Harris the Haggis: Adventures in Edinburgh’.
Tartan Texts comprises seven S6 Linlithgow Academy students : Aidan Murphy (managing director); Rhianwen Hopwood (author and HR director); Holly Mayland (illustrator and company secretary); Ciara Benson (operations director); Tom Lawrence (finance director); and Calum Ireland and Oscar Milne (marketing directors).
Their aim is to encourage children to read and improve their literacy. They have sought to achieve this by writing a simple, engaging and light-hearted story which follows the adventures of an iconic Scottish character.
In order to engage with potential customers they visited multiple primary schools and playgroups, engaged in community support and even partnered with VisitScotland to get Harris into the hands and hearts of as many kids as possible.
The book, priced at £6.50 can be purchased by getting in touch via email [email protected]gmail.com or on Instagram @tartantexts.
Linlithgow Academy are competing against 14 other regional winners from across Scotland.
Voting is now open for finalists in this competition. You have until Monday, 1st June 2020, 5:00pm to cast your vote (here).
There is just one house on the market this month with a price tag of more than £1m, and it is in Linlithgow.
The sale comprises three lots, but if bought as a whole this country house with eight bedrooms and nearly 100 acres could be yours for £1.1m
Marketed through Davidson and Robertson, Belsyde House & Farm is a visually stunning country property comprising an 8 bedroom B-Listed house, constructed in 1788, with an additional 1 bedroom annex known as the West Wing, traditional stone outbuildings and modern steading, agricultural land extending to approximately 73.37 acres (29.69 ha) and amenity woodland extending to 19.63 acres (7.94 ha) in all.
It comprises :
• 8 bedroom b-Listed House with 1 bedroom annex
• Traditional steading with the potential for further development
• Modern steading buildings
• 73.37 acres (29.69 ha) of grazing land
• 19.63 acres (7.94 ha) amenity woodland
Lot 1: 8 bedroom b-Listed House with 1 bedroom annex, traditional stone buildings, modern buildings and permanent pasture extending to approximately 17.79 acres (7.17 ha). – Offers Over £975,000
Lot 2: Permanent pasture and rough grazing extending to 66.53 acres (26.92 ha) with commercial forestry potential. – Offers Over £100,000
Lot 3: Permanent pasture extending to 13.80 acres (5.58 ha) with forestry potential. – Offers Over £25,000
Prices taken from Zoopla 9th May 2020. Photo : Davidson and Robertson
Police in West Lothian are appealing for information following an assault on a 64-year old man.
The incident happened at around 8.30pm on Monday, May 4, at Linlithgow Loch. A 64-year-old man was approached by two men, before being assaulted by one of them and pushed to the ground. The man did not sustain any injuries.
The first suspect is described as white, 5ft 7ins tall, medium build, early 20’s with light brown short hair. He had an earring and was wearing dark clothing.
The second suspect is described as white, 5ft 7ins tall, slim build, late teens with short curly hair and was wearing dark clothing and black Adidas baggy bottoms.
Detective Constable Barry Carlin, of Livingston CID, said: “We are looking for the public’s assistance to help trace those involved.
“I would ask anyone who was in the area at the time of the incident and has any information about what happened to get in contact with police.”
Anyone with information should contact police on 101 quoting incident number 3554 of Monday, 4 May.
Linlithgow’s popular Canal Fun Day and cardboard boat race which was due to take place on August 16th has been cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns.
Mike Smith,vice-chairman at the Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS) stated: “It is unfortunate that the fun day and cardboard boat race has been cancelled. I cannot remember this happening previously. But so much preparation is required leading up to the event, not only by LUCS volunteers and members, but the many other charities and community organisations who participate in the event, not forgetting the cardboard boat race entrants who are already designing and building their craft, it is only fair that we give everyone as much notice as possible.”
LUCS is not accepting bookings for the current season. Refunds or vouchers for next year are being offered to anyone who has made reservations for this year.
Mike Smith added: “While this is all very unfortunate, and we would like to be out on the water enjoying our wonderful canal, the most important thing is to ensure the health and safety of our members and customers. We hope everyone follows government guidelines and stays safe.”