Resuscitation in the Eighteenth Century

The Royal Humane Society was founded in London in 1774 by two eminent medical men, Dr William Hawes (shown in the header picture at the bedside) and Dr Thomas Cogan, who were keen to promote techniques of resuscitation.

We think of resuscitation as something relatively modern, however, in 1775, The Royal Humane Society produced a booklet entitled ‘Address for extending the benefits of a practice for recovery from accidental death’.

It would appear that after several fatal drownings they felt it beneficial to write a booklet to advise people how to assist someone who appeared to be dead and a variety of techniques that could be used to revive them. We thought we would share some with you.

Firstly, the body should, if found outdoors, be taken by hand cart or other means available indoors where it would be warmer. It should be stripped with all speed, warmed in blankets in front of a fire, gently moved and shaken. Rubbing the body, especially the backbone, the belly, the breast, neck and head is one of the most efficacious operations. Some recoveries it is said were owed to that alone. It should be performed with cloths, often of flannel, warmed and sprinkled over with brandy, rum or gin and a volatile spirit.

A bed warmed naturally or artificially is of great use or stone bottles filled with hot water, also heated bricks, wrapped in a flannel should be efficaciously laid at the feet, sides and hands.

Resuscitation set, Europe, 1801-1850 Wellcome Library
Resuscitation set, Europe, 1801-1850 Wellcome Library

The next stage was to blow smoke of common tobacco into the intestines via the bowels. It was said to be easier to administer with the use of a fumigator. Bellows could be used to force up either vapour or common air. The use of tobacco should only be used on strong bodies i.e. men. For weak and delicate persons i.e. women and children, the use of dried rosemary, marjoram and mint should be used instead. At the same time, the belly must be gently moved and pressed upward with the hand. This must be continued until signs of life are obtained.

Plate illustrating the resuscitation of a drowned woman Wellcome Library
Plate illustrating the resuscitation of a drowned woman. Wellcome Library

The idea was to get the blood circulating again. This should be continued for an hour or two.

Do not become discouraged if it takes longer

Towards the latter end, volatile spirits and salts may have a beneficial effect. Wine and cordials had the greatest effect once the body had recovered a little from its insensible state but must be given at not more than a spoonful at a time and must be allowed to go down slowly.

A surgeon preparing to let blood by cupping, his apprentice warming the cupping glass. Oil painting attributed to Jan Baptist Lambrechts. Wellcome Library
A surgeon preparing to let blood by cupping, his apprentice warming the cupping glass. Oil painting attributed to Jan Baptist Lambrechts. Wellcome Library

Bleeding should not be omitted once the blood has warmed up enough to get a drop out of the veins.  However, before the blood was liquified this would have no effect and once circulation had started. The use of ligatures necessary to stop blood loss would counteract the attempt to revive circulation.

Dr John Fothergill by Gilbert Stuart. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Dr John Fothergill by Gilbert Stuart. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Next, we have the eighteenth-century version of what today we refer to as Cardio Pulmonary Massage, better known as (CPR) or mouth-to-mouth. It was a Dr John Fothergill, of Yorkshire, who gave a lecture to the Royal Society in London in 1745 about mouth-to-mouth.

To put blood in motion force air in at the mouth, holding the nose and stroking the breast, to distend the lungs and raise the chest with the hand to them act on each other and produce motion, are happily attempted: also, such irritation which causes retching and sneezing, are properly excited in the throat and nose with a crow feather, or some stimulating drug.

The booklet reports that many recoveries despaired of were obtained by an uninterrupted treatment of five or six hours duration.

The air of the room in which the treatment is performed being better than that immediately breathed by the operator, a small clean bellows may be used by a second person, while the first holds it in the mouth and keeps the nostrils closes. Some dextrous persons attempt to convey the air through a metal pipe, called a ‘cannula’, having a crooked end, which with the finger, they cautiously guide into the wind-pipe, to produce a more immediate effect.

Smirke, Robert; Young Man Lifted from a River, Apparently Drowned; Government Art Collection.

The public was advised that if anyone appeared to have died suddenly either by choking, drowning, strangulation or suffocation they should immediately be taken to the nearest hospital or parish workhouse where treatment could be administered.  Watermen were advised that if they found a body which appeared not to have been in the water for long that they should carefully roll it or hold it upside down to remove the water from inside the body.

One of the main concerns that people naturally had, was about people being buried alive. This guide attempted to prevent such events from happening.

Featured Image

A man recuperating in bed at a receiving-house of the Royal Humane Society, after resuscitation by Dr William Hawes and JC Lettsom from near drowning. Watercolour by R. Smirke. Wellcome Library

6 thoughts on “Resuscitation in the Eighteenth Century

      1. Sarah Murden

        Yet another question best not asked! Presumably they thought that it was the best way to cure internal ills.

        Like

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