10+ Vintage Medical Illustrations That Show The True Horrors of 19th-Century Medicine

Surgery is not fun even in modern day medicine. So imagine what it was like in the Victorian era? Although some of the more major advances in medicine were made in the 19th century, surgery was pretty brutal in those days. Anatomist John Hunter, described surgery in 1750 as “a humiliating spectacle of the futility of science.”

Over the next century and half, the men and women of medicine benefitted from a plethora of revolutionary scientific processes that were displayed in instructional textbooks, illustrated in color.

Surgery for cancer of the tongue

Surgery for cancer of the tongue

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Removal (or “resection”) of the lower jaw

Removal of the lower jaw

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Amputation of various toes

Amputation of various toes

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Compression of arteries in the arm and leg to reduce blood loss during surgery

Compression of arteries in the arm and leg to reduce blood loss during surgery

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Anatomy of the armpit, and the ligature (clamping by string to stop the blood flow) of a blood vessel near it

Anatomy of the armpit

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Sites for ligature of arteries in the lower arm and elbow joint

Sites for ligature of arteries in the lower arm and elbow joint

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Surgery to correct strabismus (abnormal alignment of the eyes) which involved the division of the internal muscles of the eyeball so the eye would point in the right direction

abnormal alignment of the eyes

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Ligature of an artery in the inguinal region, using sutures and a suture hook, with compression of the abdomen to reduce aortic blood flow

Ligature of an artery in the inguinal region

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

A painting depicting one of the first British operations carried out with anesthesia by pioneering Scottish surgeon Robert Liston. He operated with a knife gripped between his teeth and could amputate a leg in under three minutes

pioneering Scottish surgeon Robert Liston

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Anatomy of the large intestine, front, and back

Anatomy of the large intestine

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Dissection of the thorax, showing the relative positions of the lungs, heart, and primary blood vessels

Dissection of the thorax

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Cross section of the human brain

Cross section of the human brain

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Dissection showing the aorta and the major arteries of the thorax (the bit inside the ribcage) and abdomen

the bit inside the ribcage

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Surgical saws, knives, and shears for operations on bone

Surgical saws

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Two kinds of caesarian section

Two kinds of caesarian section

Source: The Welcome Collection 2015

Graphic and at times unnerving, these intriguing illustrations serve to tell us a lot about early history surgery – one of the most macabre and mysterious professions in the world. The book Crucial Interventions notes the evolution in medical surgery over the ages. It draws from some of the most fascinating surgical textbooks from the mid-nineteenth century.

About Ghada Ibrahim

Student, blogger, graphic designer and aspiring cook, Ghada enjoys writing and researching in her spare time.

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