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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Lost diary found in charity shop
Lost diary
The diary was handed in by an anonymous donor
A lost diary documenting the last days of a famous Scottish physician has been discovered in a second hand bookshop.

The diary depicts the life of Sir James Young Simpson, who discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in Edinburgh in the 19th Century.

It was handed in to the Shelter bookshop in the Stockbridge area of the city by an anonymous donor.

The diary was written by Sir James' nephew, Robert, and was last used for a biography that was published in 1873.

Iain Milne, from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: "In one of the original biographies of Simpson the diary is referred to and brief extracts appear, but I'd never seen the actual diary until this fascinating discovery."

Mr Milne said Simpson popularised chloroform as the first effective pain relief in medicine.

We are indebted to the Shelter bookshop for spotting it, recognising its importance and bringing it to our attention
Iain Milne

"He wanted to use it for childbirth, but it was quickly used for surgery as well, and dentists discovered how good it was for pain relief," he said.

"Once Queen Victoria had used it, the Victorians were flocking to make use of it."

The memoirs describe the physician's last days in Edinburgh before his death in 1870.

His passing led to a day of public mourning in the capital, with about 30,000 people lining the streets for his funeral.

The diary, written by the Edinburgh lawyer Robert Simpson, has now been bought by the library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Mr Milne said: "Sir James was a real celebrity of all classes in Edinburgh. There were more than 2,000 people who followed his coffin, which left from his Queen Street home, and it's rather nice that the diary is going back to Queen Street."

'Personal account'

The diary has been added to the Simpson Collection, which forms one of the college's main collections.

It contains about 3,000 items, including Simpson's lecture notes and personal papers, as well as books and pamphlets collected by him.

Mr Milne said: "The whereabouts of this diary have been unknown for over 130 years and it will form a valuable addition to the college's Simpson Collection.

"We are indebted to the Shelter bookshop for spotting it, recognising its importance and bringing it to our attention."

Sir James Young Simpson
Sir James' discovery was vital in making operations less painful

Manager of the charity shop, Jack Wall, said such discoveries were a highlight of the job.

He said: "We get so many bags through the door we have absolutely no clues as to who donated this to us.

"We'd be certainly very interested to find out who donated it and I'm sure the college of physicians would too."

Sir James was born in Bathgate in 1811. He was educated locally before entering Edinburgh University at the age of 14.

He graduated as a doctor in 1832 and was also one of the founders of modern obstetrics and gynaecology.

Watch a report on the lost diary

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