An Ear Operation

24 December 1730   Last night a reprieve came down to Newgate for respiting the execution of Charles Ray, condemn'd for stealing 5 watches, and he is shortly to undergo the experiment of having the drum of his ear cut out, and is afterwards to have his Majesty's most gracious free pardon. [Grub-street Journal]

7 January 1731   The experiment to be try’d on Cha. Ray in Newgate, is in order to discover, whether deafness cannot be cur’d by purging. It is to be done by an instrument, which is to cut the Tympanum, or drum of the ear, which will demonstrate whether the hearing proceeds from the Tympanum, or from the nerves that lie between that and the conseptor of the ear, it being the opinion of several eminent surgeons, that deafness is principally occasioned by obstructions in the said nerves. The tryal of the experiement is put off to next week. We hear it is laid aside. [Grub-street Journal]

21 January 1731   We hear that at the last meeting of the Royal Society, was read a very curious letter to Martyn Folkes, Esq; in defence of Mr. Cheselden’s [surgeon to the King] intended operation on the drum of the ear of a condemned malefactor, which, we hear, will be printed. In the mean time the following extract of that discourse, we hope, will be acceptable to the publick.
       — The author first observes, this skin, commonly called the drum of the ear, is not the organ of hearing, as is vulgarly thought; for the proof of which he offers a great number of reasons and observations of his own, as well as the opinions and reasons of the most learned and judicious anatomists. He then observes, there are two passages to the organs of hearing; one by the outward ear, the other through the back part of the mouth, through which some people can hear, who cannot hear through the outward ear. In this case he supposes the sound may be interrupted by the drum of the ear, which is seated in this passage, and being diseased, may hinder sounds from passing to the internal parts, where are seated the proper organs of hearing: in this case only, he supposes, that perforating the drum may prove a remedy for deafness, as depressing the crystaline humour of the eye (vulgarly called couching a cataract) is daily found to be a remedy for blindness; and yet that operation has been as indecently and ignorantly ridiculed, as this experiment of Mr. Cheselden’s; One writer against that operation not

scrupling to give his book the following title, A new Method of recovering the Sight, by putting out the Eye. He also observes, that the situation of the drum is such, that the operation may be easily made by a skilful person; and it being a very thin skin, he presumes it will not be very painful; and if so, the person who is to undergo the experiment will purchase his life upon very easy terms: but supposing it should be very painful, (which it is hoped it will not be) on whom can the first experiment be so fitly made, for the service of mankind, as on one whose life is already forfeited to the publick?

. . . A machine is making [i.e. being made] by a person in Covent-garden, in which the head of Charles Rey, the malefactor, is to be fixed, in order to make an experiment on the drum of his ear. [Grub-street Journal]

28 January 1731   We hear that Mr. Delander, an eminent watchmaker in Fleet-street, famous for several useful inventions, hath lately performed the operation of taking the drum out of the ear, which has given entire satisfaction to the curious. [Grub-street Journal]

18 March 1731   This week some young surgeons made an experiment on the drum of the ear of one of the malefactors executed last monday at Tyburn, after his death. A certain eminent surgeon having declined performing the operation upon the drum of the ear of Charles Ray, that convict was ordered for transportation: but we hear that he is now continued in Newgate, upon the request of the most ingenious Mr. Delander of Fleet street, who designs, in the presence of several eminent surgeons, to shew his great skill in the particular chirurgical branch of taking the drum out of the ear; and convince by practice what he has most ingeniously laid down in theory, as is acknowledged by many learned Gentlemen, who were present at the several lectures by him read on that subject. His machines are now preparing by himself, at his shop in Fleet-street, where the curious do daily resort. [Grub-street Journal]

8 July 1731   We hear the eminent surgeon who, ’twas said, was to try an experiment upon the drum of the ear of Charles Rey, and on his submitting to undergo the same got him a reprieve, was the person that afterwards got him his pardon, and very generously paid the fees for it in the proper office. [Grub-street Journal]

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "An Ear Operation", 20 April 2002 <>

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