©Wellcome Library, London

Ectopic pregnancy had been known for centuries. This illustration, from a treatise on midwifery by the French surgeon, Pierre Dionis (1643-1718) shows a foetus developing in the Fallopian tube which is the commonest site for an extra-uterine pregnancy. Before the advent of abdominal surgery, it was generally fatal since the tube eventually ruptured causing peritonitis, severe pain and haemorrhage. Prior to Tait's first operation, he had treated such a case conservatively with the inevitable consequence. However, in 1549, surgeons in Vienna were said to have removed an extra-uterine foetus from a woman who had been pregnant for 4 years. As far-fetched as this may seem, it was certainly possible for a foetus developing outside of the womb to stop growing and become calcified.

Pierre Dionis. A general treatise of midwifery. A Bell, London 1719.