Robert Liston, Surgical Pioneer

Robert Liston operating, painted by Ernest Board. Commissioned by Henry S. Wellcome in 1912. Wellcome Images/licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Liston is most known for a tale about how multiple deaths resulted from one of his surgeries. But that means that his entire biography as a surgeon is dominated by the apocryphal events of one day. So today we’ll unpack his career and ethics.

Holly's Research:

  • Kaufman, M.H. “John Barclay (1758–1826) extra-mural teacher of anatomy in Edinburgh: Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.” The Surgeon. Volume 4, Issue 2. April 2006. Pages 93-100. Accessed online:
  • Littlewood, A.H.M. “Robert Liston (1794-1847).” British Journal of Plastic Surgery. Volume 13. pages 97 – 101. Accessed online:
  • “WHO Surgical Site infection Prevention Guidelines Web Appendix 7 Summary of a systematic review on the effectiveness and optimal method of hair removal.”
  • Richardson, Ruth. “Death, Dissection and the Destitute.” University of Chicago Press. 2000.
  • Jenkins, John Philip. “William Burke and William Hare.” Encyclopædia Britannica.July 27, 2011.
  • Jones, Andrew J. et al. “Time me, gentlemen! The bravado and bravery of Robert Liston.” American College of Surgeons. 2016.
  • Masson, A.H.B. “Two Early Ether Inhalers.” Anaesthesia. Vol. 44 pages 843-846. 1989. Accessed online:
  • Thomas, Bill. “Saints and Sinners: Robert Liston.” The Royal College of Surgeons of England Bulletin. 2012.
  • Onwhyn, J. “The Lancet.” Volume 2. 1847. Accessed online:
  • Liston, Robert. “Practical Surgery: With One Hundred and Twenty Engravings on Wood.” J. Crissy. Philadelphia. 1838.
  • Liston, Robert. “Elements of Surgery.” London. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green ad Longmans. 1840.
  • Littlewood, A.H.M. “ROBERT LISTON (1794-1847).” British Journal of Plastic Surgery. Vol. 13, pages 97-101. 1960.

Topics in this Podcast: 19th century, anesthesia, British history, European history, rhinoplasty, medical history, Scotland, biographies