In January 1860 the death occurred of a doctor due to his use of chloroform.

His death caused a ‘most painful excitement’ in Alloa on New Year’s Day, when it became known that Dr. Alexander Renwick had died during the morning while under the influence of chloroform.

It appeared he had been suffering from an ingrown toenail on his big toe and on the afternoon of Saturday 31st December 1859 he had spoken to one of his professional colleagues, Dr. John Duncanson, and asked him to come the following morning so that he could cut away the painful nail.

Being an operation that was going to cause him a lot of pain, he informed Dr Duncanson that it was his intention to take chloroform.

As soon as he said this Dr. Duncanson suggested that another medically trained man should be called in to assist but he said no.

He explained his brother-in-law, who was coming to Alloa from Edinburgh to spend the New Year with him, would be present.

He assured Duncanson that he ‘would do quite as well.’

Chloroform had only been in use since the 1830s, although it was in 1842 that it was discovered that it had anaesthetic qualities which could make surgery easier.

It was not until 1847 that Edinburgh obstetrician James Simpson used it on humans for the first time when he tried it out on friends.

He saw the result of his experiment by putting one of them to sleep overnight, with no adverse effects when he regained consciousness in the morning.

On the Sunday morning, New Year’s Day, Dr. Duncanson arrived, and found his friend in good spirits, but Renwick still insisted on taking the chloroform.

Duncanson made no further objection, having administered it to him on a previous occasion without any adverse effects.

Having expressed some thoughts to how he wished the operation to be performed, and instructed by Renwick to be sure not to begin until he was suitably dosed up, a little of the chloroform was poured on a towel, and he held it to his mouth with his own hands.

After a short while, as he felt it was not taking the desired effect, he asked for some more, which Dr. Duncanson at first refused to give.

However, after a time, finding it was having no effect, he applied some more. Noting that Renwick was trying to quicken its effect by breathing in deeply, Dr Duncanson asked him to breathe normally, which he then did. It still seemed to be having no impact.