I always enjoy when my OPS interacts with my daily life so I was intrigued to read of the death of a local lady in the Rossendale Free Press of 16 March 1916. The headline for this unfortunate lady was ‘Collapsed under Chloroform and as anaesthetics is my day job I had to read on.
The deceased was a Mrs Rose Ann Roberts of Waterfoot, about a mile from my OPS place, who had died whilst undergoing an operation at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. She was 36. She was undergoing the removal of her thyroid for goitre or swelling of the gland. There was an Infirmary in the local area since 1910 but this lady travelled 25 miles for surgery, no mean undertaking in 1916. I suspect the local hospital did not offer this kind of treatment at that time.
The report is of her inquest which was held in the Coroner’s court covering the Infirmary. The tradition of holding inquests in the pub seems to have died out by then. Having attended a couple of inquests, the pub seems a good idea… Unlike modern inquests this one was held the next day. Currently the coroners are working hard to get it down to 6 months.
The next interesting thing is that the anaesthetist is a doctor. Formal postgraduate training of medically qualified anaesthetists commenced in 1935 although the Royal Society of Medicine in London had a Section of Anaesthesia since 1906. Prior to that, no formal training was required. Mrs Rose received chloroform and ether, both standard anaesthetics at the time. Death was said to be due to heart failure, a known risk with chloroform but unusual in a lady who was only 36 years old. The coroner stated that the anaesthetic was properly carried out, doubtless a great relief to both the widower and the anaesthetist.
Chloroform was introduced in 1847 and its use became prominent after it was given to Queen Victoria for the birth of Prince Leopold in 1853 - chloroform a la reine. It is often stated that she was advised that this was too dangerous and is alleged to have replied ‘we are having the baby and we are having chloroform’. Anaesthetic safety has improved enormously since 1916!
In those days the coroner could be either a lawyer or a doctor. Today they are all legally qualified, often having worked as medical negligence solicitors. The coroner in this case is not named so we don’t know whether he was medical or not.
Unfortunately inquest records have not usually survived (although some may be in County Record Offices with solicitors’ papers and the like) and newspapers are often the best source of information. Be aware that the inquest may be a long time after the death (often up to 2 years) and the death will not be registered until after the inquest. The date of registration therefore may be some time after the death actually occurred. The funeral is usually before the inquest, but may it may be some time after death that the coroner releases the body.
Are there any interesting inquests in your place? Alternatively, are there any links between events in your place and your working lives?