Also called trichloromethane, chloroform is prepared through the chlorination of methane gas. It was first prepared in 1831 by the American chemist Dr. Samuel Guthrie, who combined whiskey with chlorinated lime in an attempt to produce a cheap pesticide. In 1847, the Scottish physician Sir James Young Simpson first used the sweet-smelling, colorless, non-flammable liquid as an anesthetic. When administered by dripping the liquid onto a sponge or cloth held so that the patient inhaled the vapors, chloroform was seen to have narcotic effects on the central nervous system, and produced these effects relatively quickly.
On the other hand, there were higher risks associated with chloroform than with ether, and its administration required greater physician skill. There were early reports of fatalities due to chloroform, beginning with a 15-year-old girl in 1848. Skill and care were required to differentiate between an effective dose (enough to make patient insensible during surgery) and one that paralyzed the lungs, causing death. Fatalities were widely publicized, and the risks involved led some patients facing surgery to decline anesthesia and brave the pain. Still, use of chloroform spread quickly, and in 1853 it was famously administered to Britain’s Queen Victoria during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold.