15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

Surgery is never fun, but it was especially brutal during the Victorian era. The nineteenth century saw major advances in the practice of surgery. In 1750, the anatomist John Hunter described it as “a humiliating spectacle of the futility of science”; yet, over the next 150 years, the feared, practical men of medicine benefited from a revolution in scientific progress and the increased availability of instructional textbooks. For the first time, surgical techniques were refined, illustrated in color, and disseminated on the printed page.

Crucial Interventions follows this evolution, drawing from magnificent examples of rare surgical textbooks from the mid-nineteenth century. Graphic and sometimes unnerving yet beautifully rendered, these fascinating illustrations provide a captivating look at the early history of one of the world’s most mysterious and macabre professions.

1. 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.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

2. Removal (or “resection”) of the lower jaw.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

4. Surgery for cancer of the tongue.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

6. Amputation of various toes.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

10. Anatomy of the large intestine, front, and back.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

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

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

12. Cross section of the human brain.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

13. Two kinds of caesarian section.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

14. Surgical saws, knives, and shears for operations on bone.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

15. 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.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

Crucial Interventions or, An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles & Practice of Nineteenth-Century Surgery by Richard Barnett is published by Thames & Hudson in association with the Wellcome Collection.

15 Vintage Medical Illustrations That Reveal the Horrors of 19th-Century Surgery
The Wellcome Collection 2015.

Read more from Historical Horrors

You may also enjoy these stories: