History of the RSM
Feature of the month - April
John Snow (1813-1858) was a British physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia.
Interest in John Snow’s pioneering contribution to the science of anaesthesia may well stem from a spoken remark that prefaced a paper given in 1936 at a meeting of the Section of Anaesthesia.
A visiting American physician, Dr Ralph Milton Waters, spoke at the 2 October 1936 meeting of the Section of Anaesthetics on 'Carbon Dioxide Absorption from Anaesthetic Atmospheres'. Attending that meeting was Professor Sir Robert MacIntosh who, in the Ralph M. Waters Memorial Lecture, which he delivered at a conference in Chicago in 1969, recounted how [Waters] opening sentence, unfortunately not published with his paper, was: ‘The greatest anaesthetist was an Englishman,’ then, after a slight pause: ‘John Snow.’ Snow was then someone of whom delegates to the meeting had never heard.
During this visit Dr Waters drew attention to the poor state of Snow’s tombstone erected in 1858 in Brompton Cemetery. He then successfully appealed to Members of the Section of Anaesthesia for contributions of five shillings (25p) each to raise the money for the tombstone’s restoration. Unfortunately, the restored tomb was destroyed in 1941 in an air raid, and the present monument to Snow was put up by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.
A reprint of MacIntosh’s Ralph M. Waters Memorial Lecture can be found in Anesthesia 1970; Vol. 25: 4-13.
The transcript of Waters' lecture appears in Vol. 30 of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine for 1937.