Robert Liston bigraphy, stories - Scottish surgeon

Robert Liston : biography

28 October 1794 - 7 December 1847

Robert Liston (28 October 1794 – 7 December 1847) was a pioneering Scottish surgeon. Liston was noted for his skill in an era prior to anaesthetics, when speed made a difference in terms of pain and survival.


Liston received his education at the University of Edinburgh, became first 'The Great Northern Anatomist' of Blackwell's Magazine, and in 1818 became a surgeon in The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. He lived from 1840 to 1847 (the year of his death) at No. 5 Clifford Street, off Bond Street in Mayfair, in a building and indeed area now of some historical significance, hence Richard Gordon's specific mention of this address in his section on Robert Liston.Gordon, Richard (2001), p.1


a. The difference in pagination between the 1983 and 2001 editions is attributable to the fact that for the 1983 edition, the frontispiece is counted as page 1, with printed page numbering commencing at page 13, which is the first chapter, on Robert Liston. Conversely, the online edition commences numbered pagination at chapter one. A comparison of the 1983 edition and the viewable online text shows no discernable deletions of text. Certainly chapter one appears word-for-word, as does chapter 11 (Disastrous Motherhood). In the latter case, the 1983 pagination encompasses four pages, whereas the online book encompasses three. However, the text is the same. The 1983 edition has each sequential chapter commencing on the same page as the preceding chapter ends, which causes a greater page range for some chapters. The online edition has each chapter commencing on its own page. Text is compressed so that there are more words per line, but of the text is verbatim for that able to be compared.

b. There are several publications of Notes on Nursing, including online versions. The exact pagination will depend on such things as prefaces and introductory chapters on Nightingale. There may be additional variations in online sources. Some online versions may even not contain some footnotes or margin notes from Nightingale's book. However, the online source cited at the same time as this footnote, does have Nightingale's footnote on page 30.

c. The main article of relevance re Liston at appears to be 'Utopian Surgery'on the website, in which Liston is mentioned near the bottom of the 'Historical Background' section, with a link which takes one to the L.V. Martin page, in which there is another link to Liston, which takes one to the page with the url in this reference

Publications by Liston

  • (Note: The volume listing for Google is incorrect, as evidenced by the first page which clearly states "volume the twentieth").
  • Full text at Internet Archive (
  • Full text at Internet Archive (
  • Full text at Internet Archive (
  • Full text at Internet Archive (


Liston's legacy comprises both that which has made its way into the popular culture, and that found primarily within the medical fraternity and related disciplines.

Liston's image has been preserved in both bust and portrait form. Following Liston's death, a meeting was held of his friends and admirers, who "unanimously resolved to establish some public and lasting Testimonial to the memory of this distinguished surgeon". A committee of some 78 people was formed, which resolved that the testimonial should consist of a marble statue to be placed in some designated public spot, and the inauguration of a Gold Medal, to be called the "Liston Medal", "and awarded annually, as the Council of University College, may decide".


Richard Gordon describes Liston as "the fastest knife in the West End. He could amputate a leg in 2 minutes". Indeed, he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient; he is said to have been able to perform the removal of a limb in an amputation in 28 seconds.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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