Esdaile, James (1808-1859)

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Esdaile, James (1808-1859)

Scottish surgeon and mesmerist. Esdaile was born February 6, 1808, at Sydenham, England, and educated at Edinburgh University (M.D., 1830). After graduation he took a position as a physician for the East India Company (1831-35). He initially developed an interest in mesmerism from reading reports on the medical uses of mesmerism by John Elliotson, who originally introduced the subject into Britain.

Esdaile became a pioneer of surgical operations under mesmeric trance. As director of Hooghley Hospital, Calcutta, India, he performed many operations using mesmerism at the same time that another surgeon, James Braid, was using similar techniques in Britain. In support of his work, he wrote a series of books: Mesmeric Facts (1845), Mesmerism in India and its Practical Application to Surgery and Medicine (1846), and Record of Cases Treated in Mesmeric Hospital, 1846-47, with Reports by Official Visitors (1847). In 1848 Esdaile was appointed Bengal presidency surgeon. That same year chloroform and ether became available as anesthetics in India, but Esdaile recommended caution in their use, on the basis of his successful use of mesmerism.

He returned to Scotland in 1851 and wrote two booksThe Introduction to Mesmerism as an Anesthetic and Curative Agent into the Hospitals of India (1852) and Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance (1852)detailing his work in an attempt to introduce his successful procedures into Great Britain. He found that his mesmeric techniques were not nearly as successful with Europeans as they had been with Indians. He died January 10, 1859, in England.


Esdaile, James. Mesmerism in India and its Practical Application to Surgery and Medicine. 1846. Reprint, Chicago: Psychic Re-search, 1902.

. Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance. New York; London: H. Bailliere, 1852.