A common report by surgeons in the early 19th century was, 'operation successful but the patient died'. Joseph Lister, Professor of Clinical Surgery at King's from 1877 to 1893, introduced an antiseptic system which changed the practice of medicine and drastically reduced mortality rates from major operations.
In the 1860s, under the influence of Louis Pasteur's theory that decay was caused by living organisms, Lister began to experiment by cleaning and dressing wounds with carbolic acid. Later he opted for boracic acid, spraying it around the operating area. In 1877 at King's College Hospital he successfully carried out a major operation to repair a broken kneecap, and his methods became famous worldwide.
Lister's method, based on the use of antiseptics, is no longer employed. But his principle - that bacteria must never gain entry to an operation wound - remains the basis of surgery to this day.
Lister was the first surgeon to become a peer (in Queen Victoria's Jubilee Honours list of 1897). He was a member of the King's College Council and a life governor of the College.