Smellie-type obstetrical forceps

1740-1760 in United Kingdom

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Forceps, obstetrical, Smellie, steel and leather, British, c.1750

William Smellie (1697-1763) was a Scottish man-midwife who invented these forceps and helped develop obstetrics. The steel blades are covered with leather. They were greased with hog’s lard so the obstetrical forceps could be inserted into the body easily. Obstetrical forceps gripped a baby’s head during difficult labours to help delivery. The leather also prevented the alarming sound of metal clacking together.

Smellie suggested changing the leather after use to prevent venereal diseases spreading. Ignoring this advice meant they were impossible to clean properly and the leather became a haven for germs. Puerperal fever, a form of septicaemia, was an often fatal infection contracted by birthing women, so using these forceps was potentially dangerous.

Related people


Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Contraception
Object Number:
leather and steel
obstetrical forceps and obstetrics (instruments) smellie, obstetrical forceps and obstetrics (instruments)
  • furnishing and equipment
  • tools & equipment
  • medical instrument
  • obstetrical instrument
Loan, Wellcome Trust

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