Born in Southampton of a naval family, James Robinson studied in Guy’s Hospital and London University before setting up a dental practice in Gower Street. At the request of his neighbour, Dr Francis Boott, he was the first person to administer ether for general anaesthesia in England. Having made his own vaporizer, on 19th December 1846, Robinson used it before extracting a molar tooth from a young woman in Boott’s study. The vaporizer was not very satisfactory so Robinson redesigned it and successfully demonstrated the ‘narcotising’ effect of ether to, amongst others, Robert Liston.
Within weeks Robinson was recognised as the best anaesthetist in the UK. He was zealous, impetuous, enthusiastic and eminent in his profession and able to convince his peers of the efficacy of his technique. By 1st March 1847, Robinson had published the world’s first anaesthetic textbook: A Treatise on the Inhalation of the Vapour of Ether. However, after four months he gave up his interest to John Snow, returning to dentistry and, in 1849, was appointed Surgeon Dentist to HRH Prince Albert. He died in Middlesex at the early age of 48, following an accidental knife injury in his garden.