Henry Hill Hickman

Henry Hill Hickman (1800 – 1830) 150

Henry Hill Hickman (1800 – 1830) was an English physician

Hickman was born in Bromfield Shropshire to a well known family. He studied medicine in Edinburgh in 1819-1820. Around this time there was increasing knowledge of gases and their use for treatment of disease. Hickman was the first to attempt to produce the hypnotic state by means of an inhaled gas. The resulting unconsciousness he called “Suspended Animation”.

His pamphlet on the subject, in 1824, was refused a reading in England and disregarded in France. He even travelled to France in 1828 to address his letter, asking to demonstrate his findings to the Royal Academy of Medicine; he was met with contempt from his peers and his demonstration never happened. Hickman unfortunately died in 1830, two years after his return to England.

In 1847, after the introduction of ether anaesthesia, Dr Thomas Dudley wrote to the lancet advising that Hickman had the original idea of producing anaesthesia by removing atmospheric air and introducing carbonic gases and this idea was improved upon with the introduction of ether.

  • Born on January 27, 1800 in Bromfield near Ludlow, the seventh of thirteen children and son of a tenant farmer
  • 1819 – 1820 – Studied medicine in Edinburgh
  • 1820 – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • 1830 – Died of syphilis
  • 1930 – The Henry Hill Hickman medal was established by the Royal Society of Medicine


Henry Hill Hickman Medal

The Henry Hickman Medal is awarded for work of outstanding merit in anaesthesia or directly related subjects. It is awarded every three years


Hickman experimented his theory of using gases to achieve reversible ‘suspended animation’ on small animals. His first experiment was partial asphyxiation of a dog; he placed the dog in a bell jar and excluded air for 17 minutes until the animal stopped breathing, he then cut off its ear without causing pain and with no bleeding, the dogs breathing then returned and the ear healed in three days. The same operation was also performed on dogs in a conscious state, producing pain and significant haemorrhage. Hickman then repeated the experiment but instead of excluding air he exposed the same dog to carbon dioxide, cutting off the other ear; again without causing pain, with minimal haemorrhage and healing in four days. Although the protocols of these experiments are not fully outlined by Hickman in his journals, it was clear he was experimenting true anaesthesia as he was comparing asphyxia to the introduction of a gas.

He continued these experiments, exposing various animals to carbon dioxide (cats, dogs, rabbits, mice) cutting off part of the animals body; documenting if pain was caused and the time taken for the wounds to heal. Hickman was confident that if repeated on humans his method of anaesthesia would provide both physiological and psychological advantages to patients undergoing surgery.

Major Publications


Hickmans experiments received a lot of backlash at the time, including a scathing article in the lancet titled surgical humbug.



Inhalational anaesthesia

Dr Alex Johnson LITFL Author

Doctor currently working in South Wales, training in anaesthetics. Graduated Leeds University with MB ChB with BSc in microbiology in relation to medicine. Special interests in emergency medicine, critical care and anaesthetics

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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