In pictures: 19th-century surgery

From dissecting abdomens to pulling teeth; amputating limbs to performing caesarean sections, readers can now explore the gruesome history of 19th-century surgery in a new book published by Thames & Hudson…

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

The 19th century witnessed a complete transformation in surgical techniques, and saw the introduction of the use of anesthesia. Using rare images from European surgical textbooks from the time, Crucial Interventions: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles and Practice of Surgery reveals some of the vivid images of surgical practices from this period.

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Here, we bring you a selection of our favourite images…


Ligature of an artery in the inguinal region, using sutures and a suture hook, with compression of the abdomen to reduce aortic blood flow (p4-5). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

An early European anatomical dissection from Johannes de Ketham’s Fasciculus Medicinae, published c1493. A learned physician reads from a treatise while a surgeon carries out the dissection (p17). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Surgery for cancer of the tongue (p110). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Resection of the lower jaw (p59). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Commissioned by Henry Wellcome and made in 1912 by Ernest Board, this painting reconstructs one of the first British operations carried out with anesthesia by the surgeon Robert Liston (p45). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Dissection of a seated man, showing the aorta and the major arteries of the thorax and abdomen (p154). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Amputation of various toes, and amputation of the toes at the metatarsals (p237). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Dissection of the thorax, showing the relative position of the lungs, heart and primary blood vessels (p155). (© The Wellcome Library collections)

Compression of arteries in the arm and leg to reduce blood loss during surgery (p141). (© The Wellcome Library collections)
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Crucial Interventions: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles and Practice of Surgery, published by  Thames & Hudson in association with Wellcome Collection, is out now. To find out more, click here.