James Syme

1799 - 1870

James Syme
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

James Syme

Surgeon. Born in Edinburgh and educated at the High School and University there. After some years of private practice, he was appointed Professor of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh in 1833, a position he held until his death. Recognised as the greatest surgeon of his time, he pioneered many new techniques and moved the profession away from the barber-surgeon image of the past.

In a period before anaesthetics, he managed to reduce the time needed to amputate a leg to 90 seconds. He also explored alternatives to amputation, but where these were necessary he tried to minimise the damage caused by removing as little diseased tissue as possible and even experimented with reconstruction through what is today known as 'plastic surgery'. In 1842, he introduced an amputation at the ankle now known as Syme's Amputation.

Syme also discovered the process of using naphtha as a solvent for rubber which could then be used to water-proof cloth. This was developed and patented by Charles Macintosh (1766 - 1843).

His daughter married pioneer of antiseptics Joseph Lister (1827 - 1912).

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