History of MS (4): Robert Carswell (1793-1857)


The first description of the pathology of MS was made by Robert Carswell, a pathologist of the mid 19th century.

  • During a postmortem, Carswell found lesions in the spinal cord of an unfortunate subject. 
  • Unaware of their cause, he recorded their gross appearance and made a hand-painted illustration of the lesions (above).
  • The illustration and description were published in 1838 in his Atlas of Pathology.
  • Despite Carswell’s major contribution in describing the pathology of MS lesions, he did not record any clinical associations with his observations.

    “Why is important? To define a disease you need to link the pathology to the clinical presentation and clinical characteristics of the disease; the so called clinico-pathological correlate. He did not do this therefore the definition of MS could not be attributed to Carswell; in other words we can’t refer to MS as Carswell’s disease.” 

“Carswell was clearly a very talented artist; his illustrations are simply beautiful!”

Other relevant postings on the history of MS:

01 Jul 2011
History of MS (3): Sir August d’Esté (1794-1848). After St. Lidwina the next historical description of MS appeared in 19th century; a personal account of the illness by Sir Augustus d’Esté, the illegitimate grandson of 
26 Jun 2011
“I believe that studying or being aware of the history of MS is important; it may provide important insights into the origins of the disease and important clues to its cause.” Possibly the earliest known description of a 
23 Jun 2011
History of MS (1): Russell Brains Monologue. Murray T. Russell Brains Review of MS. Int MS J. 2011 May;17(2):50-3. In 1930 there were many conflicting views on the cause, incidence, precipitating factors, inheritance and 

About the author

Prof G

Professor of Neurology, Barts & The London. MS & Preventive Neurology thinker, blogger, runner, vegetable gardener, husband, father, cook and wine & food lover.


  • I really dislike the combination of 'multiple sclerosis', much prefer Carswell's disease… oh well, not to be, I guess

  • I actuslly prefer the term 'multiple sclerosis'. It has more of an edge to it.

    Prof G, please upload pics of iMAN aLI on to your blog. Nice to see that such a pretty face can develop such an insideous disease and still look so grand. Made me realise just how indiscriminate MS is.

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