During April 2021, we took part in the Australian Heritage Festival, organised by the National Trust of Australia. As part of the festival we offered a range of public talks on interesting topics.

First up was Rebecca Lush. Rebecca is the curator at the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre at The University of Queensland. She has an impressive record of involvement with the history of medicine, and at UQ, Rebecca manages the pathology collection, supports pathology teaching, organises exhibitions and tours, and participates in community outreach. Rebecca is also interested in the darker side of medical history, and in challenging many of the overarching narratives.

During her presentation for the heritage festival, Rebecca took us on one of those dark journeys, into a world of serial killers who used chloroform for their own purposes.

“The overarching narrative of chloroform in the history of medicine”, Rebecca tells us, “is one of great achievement and medical triumph. Along with ether and nitrous oxide, chloroform is regarded as one of the earliest experimental forms of anaesthesia in Western medicine.

“While this is an important narrative, it does not exist in isolation. Recent historiography, for example Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion by Linda Stratmann, is beginning to explore the darker side of chloroform and how it has been misused since the 19th Century.”

And, so began our journey into the murders, with and without chloroform, committed by H.H. Holmes, Frederick Mors and Thomas Neill Cream.

If you’re up for a bit of the dark side of history, you can view the talk below.