King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

A contemporary amputation set

Photograph showing 1805 Battle of Trafalgar amputation set which includes main saw, capital knife, forceps and needlePhotograph showing 1805 Battle of Trafalgar amputation setThe amputation set shown here was utilised by naval surgeons at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, ten years before the Battle of Waterloo. It is a contemporary example of the tools that surgeons would use as they undertook the medical treatment described by the other books featured in this section.

The tools were kept in a wooden box with an inner lining of plush and each surgeon would also carry additional supplies such as sponges, linen, opium and ligatures. The implements would be utilised without antiseptics or anaesthetic – a tot of rum or wine giving the patient his only solace.

The set shown here includes the main saw, a capital (or amputation) knife, forceps and a needle. Also shown are a cauterizing device, which would be heated and then placed against an artery or wound to stop bleeding, and a trochar, which would be used to insert a draining tube into a patient.

At Waterloo the French employed horse-drawn carts known as ‘flying ambulances’ for the transport of their wounded to field hospitals. However, the system for transporting British wounded was more basic, with the musicians of the British regimental bands often employed in both the transport of the wounded to the surgeon and then the holding down of the patient as he was operated on.

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