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'Was Queen Victoria Secretly Scottish?'

An article for the May 1999 Deep Cove Crier
As told in the delightful movie "Mrs. Brown", Queen Victoria had a great love for the Scottish Balmoral Castle.  The Queen actually preferred Scotland to England.  As a result, everything Scottish suddenly became fashionable.  Tartans, reels, bagpipes and sporrans were considered cultured and refined where before they had been hidden away when friends from the South arrived.

Queen Victoria also had a preference for Scottish doctors, in particular Sir James Simpson of Edinburgh.  Her appointment of James Simpson as one of her Majesty’s Physicians was symptomatic of Victoria’s innovative leadership style.  Despite the prejudice many have today to all things 'Victorian’, Queen Victoria helped open the doors for her people to modern science and medicine.  Even as a child, she led the way as the first member of the Royal Family to be vaccinated for smallpox.  Later as Victoria was to give birth to her fifth child, she turned to Sir James Simpson, the father of modern anesthetics, for help.

Until Queen Victoria’s bold move, there was a great controversy about the morality of whether women should use anesthetics in childbirth.  Her leadership broke people free from superstition and fear.  Her use of an anaesthetic was so controversial that the official Royal Press ‘The Lancet’ actually denied that she had accepted chloroform, but the lay press rushed to spread the news.

Dr. Petrie in Liverpool considered anesthesia a breach of medical ethics.  It was the act of a coward, he wrote, to avoid pain, and if a woman insisted on the use of chloroform to alleviate her labour pains, she must be told that she was in no fit state to make decisions.  ‘Are we going to allow the patient to tell us what to do?’ he enquired indignantly.

Sir James Simpson used careful statistics to overcome enormous prejudice among these medical colleagues.  Many of Simpson’s fellow doctors feared that chloroform would increase the already high death rate following operation, increase the incidence of bleeding, paralysis, & pneumonia, and bring on ‘mania’ in the mother.

There were also clergyman who argued that anesthetics was somehow against the Bible.  Simpson humorously responded that on the occasion of the first recorded operation –the removal of a rib – the Lord had caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, proof of his approval of anesthesia!  In defending anesthesia against clerical criticism, Simpson noted that some churchmen also first spoke against optical glasses, spectacles and the telescope as ‘offsprings of man’s wicked mind’, because they changed the natural appearance of things and presented them in an untrue light.  Simpson was so convinced of the rightness of anesthetics that he even called his study ‘St. Anesthesia’.

Why is it that Queen Victoria was able to make such a difference in the very controversial anesthetics/child birth debate?  Click to find out more…


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St. Simon's Anglican Church 
North Vancouver, B.C.