Richard Lower

Richard Lower (1631 – 1691) was an English physiologist.

Eminent 17th century physiologist most remembered for his works on transfusion and the function of the cardiopulmonary system (Tractatus de Corde). His posthumously published work “An Appendix of the Heart and its Use” in John Browne’s Myographia nova defines an early understanding of cardiac morphology and cardiopulmonary blood flow.

Lower recognised the consequences of pericardial effusion and tamponade as well as those of constrictive pericarditis.


  • Born 1631
  • 1649 – Christ Church College, Oxford (BA 1652; MA 1655)
  • 1656 – Association with Thomas Willis (1621–1675)
  • 1665 – Published ‘Vindicatio’ in defence of Dr Willis and his paper concerning digestion, fever, and urine that had been strongly criticised by Irish physician Edmund O’Meara (1614–1681) [Examen diatribæ Thomæ Willisii]
  • 1667 – Fellow, Royal Society. Demonstrated first blood transfusion in a human in England (second in the world) in front of the Royal Society
  • 1669 – Published Tractatus de Corde. Described his experimental methods; transfusions; clinical observations of heart disease; the nature and function of heart muscle, the change in the color of blood as it passed through the lungs, and the behaviour of the pericardium.
  • 1675 – Fellow, Royal College of Physicians
  • Died 1691

Key Medical Attributions

Blood transfusion

Chapter IV: The Transfusion of Blood from One Animal to Another. The Time and Occasion of Its Discovery by the Author.

In February 1665, Lower performed the first blood transfusion from the artery of one animal to the vein of another.

And first I tried to transfer blood from the jugular vein of one animal to the jugular vein of a second by means of tubes between the two; but, seeing the blood clot at once in the tube and block its own passage on account of the slow movement of the venous blood, I soon began to try another way, and guided, as it were, by nature herself, I finally determined to transfer blood from an artery of one animal into a vein of a second ; and by this new device to extend the circulation of the blood beyond the boundaries prescribed for it.

Lower; De Corde IV: 174
Lower. Tractatus de corde. 1669. Table 7
Lower. Tractatus de corde. 1669: Table 7
Silver tube fittings used to connect the carotid artery of an animal with the jugular vein of another

News of the transfusion travelled to London and on June 26 1666, Robert Boyle (1627-1691) wrote to Lower requesting that he communicate with the Royal Society his experience of transfusion. Lower responded on July 6th and his account was published in Philosophical Transactions in December 1666

June 15, 1667 the French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis (1643 – 1704) performed the first documented human blood transfusion. He transfused twelve ounces of sheep’s blood into a 15-year-old boy, who had been excessively bled with leeches. The boy survived the transfusion.

Lower acknowledged that Jean Denis, first transfused blood into a man, but felt aggrieved that he was no longer deemed to be the the ‘first transfuser’. The priority claim produced a heated debate between Lower and Denis, however chronological review with supporting evidence form the diary of Pepys, holds Lower as the first to perform (animal to animal) transfusion

…talk of it (transfusion) wandered across to nations abroad and to France, where, attracted by the novelty of the thing, some soon began to follow it up more thoroughly, to extend and embellish it by other further experiments, and to apply to the use of man that which I had only accomplished in animals….But, as this recent discovery of blood-transfusion is now a general subject of conversation, and a certain Denis, Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics, seeks in a recently published letter to deprive me of priority in the discovery of this experiment, and to claim it for himself, let me be permitted to insert here the letter of the Honourable Boyle to me and my reply to it, so that the reader may see how rightly or wrongly Denis so acted.

Lower; De Corde IV: 175-177

On November 23, 1667, Lower and Edmund King (1629 – 1709) transfused the blood of a lamb into a 22 year old patient, Arthur Coga who was paid 20 shillings. The event was recorded by Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)

The blood did run all the time of those two minutes and we concluded …. upon the man’s saying he thought he had enough. The man after this operation, as well as in it, found himself very well, and hath given in his own narrative under his own hand, enlarging more upon the benefit he thinks he hath received than we think fit to own as yet. He urged us to have the experiment repeated upon him within three or four days after this, but it was thought advisable to put it off somewhat longer

A second transfusion was performed the following month and afterwards Coga, stated he felt better. This second experiment was not recorded in the Transactions of the Royal Society.

Major Publications



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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