Our speciality commonly traces its origin to a demonstration of the inhalation of ether by a patient undergoing surgery in Boston in 1846. Less well known is the demonstration of the i.v. injection of opium with alcohol into a dog in Oxford in 1656, leading to anaesthesia followed by full long-term recovery. After gaining i.v. access, a mixture of opium and alcohol was injected, resulting in a brief period of anaesthesia. After a period during which the dog was kept moving to assist recovery, a full recovery was made. Details from this momentous experiment allow us to compare the technique used with modern management. It is important to consider why there was a failure to translate the results into clinical practice and nearly 200 yr of potentially pain-free surgery. Possible factors include lack of equipment for i.v. access, lack of understanding of dose–response effects, and a climate of scientific discovery rather than clinical application. Given the current interest in total i.v. anaesthesia, it seems appropriate to identify its origins well before those of inhalation anaesthesia.