Dr James Barlow and the caesarean section

Giving birth by caesarean section was carried out during the Georgian era, however, it was rarely successful and certainly far less glamorous than the header image would imply.

Having a read through the newspapers, many confirm just how life threatening this procedure was, especially given the lack of skill of the surgeon and the distinct lack of any form of effective anaesthetic. As this was such a dangerous procedure it was often one which was carried immediately following the  death of the woman, in a last-ditch attempt to save the unborn child.

I was searching for something completely different when I stumbled across a reference to one such successful caesarean in the Lancashire Gazette which tells us that this baby was born on 24 July 1817:

On the 24th ult. The caesarean operation was performed on the wife of Edmund Hacking, of Blackburn, in this county, by Mr Barlow, surgeon of this town. The woman is at present apparently doing well. The child is a fine healthy boy, and was baptised the following day, by the Rev J Price, and named Julius Caesar. This gentleman performed a similar operation at Blackrod, in this county, more than twenty years since, and the woman is now living.

We learn from an account written by Mr James Barlow, in 1822, that Ann was aged 42 and this was to be her third child. Her two older children were born with little difficulty; however, she did suffer from a prolapse as a result of the birth of the first child which limited Ann’s ability to walk and she spent much time bedbound. Over the years she became lame and walked with a crutch to assist her. A natural birth was not possible for baby Julius, given Ann’s physical health, so Mr Barlow opted for a method he had used before, a caesarean section. The procedure went well, but sadly however, on checking the burial register Julius Caesar survived for just 13 months.

The Lancaster Gazette 21 April 1821 reported another instance of this man’s work:

The caesarean operation was performed on the wife of George Ridgedale, of Blackburn, by J Barlow, Esq. in the presence of J Chew M.D and Mr Dugdale, surgeon. The child is a fine boy, and likely for life, but the mother had long laboured under great disease, and only survived the operation 52 hours.

Like Ann Hacking, this lady was also 42 years old and had had several child previously, but again like Ann, she was struggling with walk difficulties and constant pain. Due to her physical difficulties Barlow decided that the only way to safely deliver this child was by the caesarean procedure, saving the child, but not the mother, on this occasion.

I began to wonder who this Mr Barlow was and whether anything else was known about him and sure enough there was, so let me introduce you to Dr James Barlow (1767-1839) and here we have his portrait. I had assumed he was a local surgeon in Lancashire, but there was more to him than that.

unknown artist; Dr James Barlow (1767-1815); Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council

James Barlow first began practising as a surgeon in Chorley, Lancashire where he ran a large and highly successful practise in Blackburn, which eventually grew so large that he built his own premises, known as Spring Mount.

He was the first surgeon know to successfully perform a caesarean operation in the United Kingdom. Back in 1793 he first performed the procedure on a Jane Foster, aged 40, of Blackrod, Lancashire. Jane had had a fall from her cart, which had caused damage to her pelvis and on this occasion when she became pregnant it meant that she was unable to give birth naturally and this is where James stepped in to deliver the child by caesarean with the assistance of a local doctor, who unfortunately fainted, so James had to rely on a female assistant to help him.  Jane survived, but sadly the child didn’t.

Wellcome Collection
Wellcome Collection

In 1829, James had worked his magic again and Mr Edmund Forrest’s wife was delivered of a child, both mother and child were said to be doing well. This was apparently the fourth successful surgery performed by Mr Barlow.

The Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser, 27 August 1839 reported

Died on 20 August, at his residence, Spring Mount, near Blackburn, aged 73, James Barlow, a celebrated and talented surgeon.

The Blackburn Standard, 28 August 1839, reported

The funeral of James Barlow Esq. The remains of this lamented gentleman were interred yesterday, in a vault recently made in the parish churchyard. His funeral was attended by a numerous concourse of those who had respected him during his life. Twelve carriages accompanied the hearse in is mournful course to its final resting place, which was thronged by thousands, many of whom no doubt benefitted by the gratuitous exercise of the skill of the deceased.

Sources

Essays on Surgery & Midwifery: With Practical Observations, and Select Cases By James Barlow (1822)

Featured Image

Wellcome Collection

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