Wellow Village | Nottinghamshire
The first person in England to receive an amputation under “ Mesmerism “ (Hypnotism ).
Information supplied by: Tony Bak
Let us start in Maplebeck where James Womble , the son of William
Womble and Ruth Chambers was baptised on May 27th 1802. In 1811 it is
noted that William ran the “ Gate Inn “ later becoming The Beehive Inn, an
Ale House which was the smallest public house in England until 1977.
James Woombill a servant from Maplebeck, living in Bilsthorpe married
Jane Bean also a servant, from the village of Wellow. (Wellow is
approximately 6 miles from Maplebeck). They married in the Parish Church
of Wellow on the 20th December 1838. In 1841 James and Jane were
living in Wellow with their young son George aged 2; James being a
In 1842 it became apparent that James had a major health problem with one of his legs.
The following is from an account read to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London .
“The following account of a case of successful amputation of the thigh, during the mesmeric state, without the
knowledge of the patient.”
James Wombell a labouring man of a calm and quiet temperament had been suffering for about 5 years from a painful
affection of the left knee. On the 21st of June 1842 he was admitted into the hospital at Wellow, no longer able to work and
suffering much pain. (In the early 1840’s a small hospital and dispensary was created on the west side of Wellow Hall ). It
was soon found that the amputation of the leg above the knee joint was inevitable. It was eventually proposed that it
should be performed if possible during mesmeric sleep ! Mr Topham, “ Mesmeriser” of Middle Temple and Dr Ward Esq
the surgeon were appointed to do the operation. Mr Topham first saw James on the 9th September and stated that
Wombell was sitting upright on a bed in the hospital, the only position that he could bear! He complained of much pain
from his knee and of much excitability and loss of strength from his constant restlessness and deprivation of sleep For he
had not during the three previous weeks slept more than two hours in seventy!
Mr Topham’s first attempt to mesmerise James lasted 35 minutes, the only effect was him closing his eyes lids with the
quivering appearance peculiar to mesmeric sleep. And though awake and speaking he could not raise them until after the
lapse of one minute and a half!
James was continually mesmerised every day until 24th September, his susceptibility gradually increasing so that on the
23rd the sleep was produced for four minutes and a half. The duration of this sleep varied , continuing generally for half an
hour, sometimes for an hour and occasionally for one hour and a half. Invariably he was found awakened by the violent
pain from his knee, which recurred at uncertain intervals.
The third time that he was seen he was suffering great agony ! Mr Topham commenced by making passes , longitudinally
over the diseased knee. In five minutes James felt comparatively easy and on proceeding further to mesmerise him at
the expiration of ten minutes he was sleeping like an infant!
Not only were his arms violently pinched but also the diseased leg itself, without him exhibiting any sensation; yet this limb
was so sensitive to pain in his natural state he could not bear even the slightest covering to rest upon it . That night he
slept seven hours without interruption! After constantly mesmerising him for ten or twelve days a great change was
observed in his appearance.
The hue of health returned, he became cheerful, felt much stronger; was easier both in mind and body; slept well and
recaptured his appetite!
On September 22nd he was first appraised of the necessity of an early amputation, the communication affected him
considerably. He was seen again on the 28th,, he was looking cheerful
and healthy, his natural sleep was sound and regular and his pain soothed and diminished. Mr Topham was now
convinced that the operation might be safely attempted during mesmeric sleep and with James consent the operation was
fixed for Saturday October 1st.
When the operation was complete and James gradually and calmly awoke he uttered no exclamation and for some
moments seemed lost and bewildered; but after looking around he exclaimed, “ I bless the Lord to find it’s all over !”
He was asked to describe all he felt and knew after being mesmerised. He replied, “ I never knew anything more and
never felt any pain at all . I once felt as if I heard a kind of crunching but had no pain at all ! The crunching no doubt was
the sawing of his own thigh bone.
James and Jane relocated to Carlton on Trent between 1843 and 1845, living in the Parish Cottages / Poor Houses.
In the 1871 census it states that James was a labourer and pauper with one leg. James and Jane spent the rest of their
lives in Carlton-on-Trent raising a further 6 children.
Jane was buried March 14th 1874 and James buried February 15th 1876 both in Carlton on Trent.
I found the article published on your site regarding James Wombwell's
amputation super ! However I failed to mention that James Wombwell was an
ancestor of my mothers whose maiden name was Jean Wombwell .
The Wellow Village History Website
Information supplied by: Tony Bak