Posts tagged ‘Ledingham’

Feb 27, 2020

Don’t try this at home, folks: quack medicine, bloodletting and a hen coop at sea

Fear over the spread of coronavirus has led to a spate of so-called miracle cures such as drinking a couple of ginger teas daily. That sounds as useful as Spectator and Financial Times journalist Camilla Cavendish’s recommendation of aerobic exercise to fight off dementia. Neither the tea or exercise will harm you but as for their efficacy – I have my doubts. Much like the ginger tea advice for coronavirus, a strong infusion of elder blossom and peppermint tea at bedtime was recommended to stall death.

Miracle cure claims are as old as the hills. Before drugs were controlled some terrifying concoctions found their way into people’s stomachs, and other parts, with fatal consequences. At the beginning of the 20th century the British Medical Association published information warning the public about quack ‘remedies’ widely advertised and available. The scoundrels who promised cures for everything from alcoholism to corns had a ready market for access to a doctor was usually way beyond the means of most people. The BMA’s cautionary advice might stop folk wasting their money on swallowing cod’s wallop, some deadly, but did not provide alternative relief to impoverished sick people.

Box’s Golden Fire was poisonous. People still purchased it. It is often said that people today live longer than in the past – they don’t. People in the past did live to ripe old ages but fewer of them than now. There were lots of reasons for the incidences of premature death – poor health, dangerous working conditions, accidents, overcrowded living conditions, general filth, lack of sewerage, poor medical facilities and treatment etc – and so of all causes of premature death quack cures probably rate low but they did contribute to dispatching the desperate.

What of Box of the poisonous Golden Fire? Mr Box claimed he could cure cancer, TB, diphtheria, wind, influenza, heart disease and blindness, to name a few. Another of his wheezes, his Electric Fluid of Intense Power – was promoted as being able to dissolve ‘obstructions’ in the system (of sufferers.) Frankly that sounds terrifying.

But, what of his Golden Fire? It could be rubbed on or swallowed. The fire referred to ‘the hidden fire or life of plants and flowers, the “Quint-essence of Life!” His punctuation. “Bottled Fire!” “Bottled Health!” “Bottled Life!” Box was also keen on Biblical quotes to validate his claims, a particularly nasty trait aimed at winning over the sick and vulnerable folk who had little or no access to health care.

And quack medicines were never short of testimonials.

‘My brother-in-law had his leg jammed in South Africa between rocks just above the ankle. He came home, and feared he would be a cripple for life. I advised him to get you Pills and “Golden Fire,” which he did, and after 6 days a spot came out under the heel as Black As Your Hat. He has since left for America Quite Cured.’

I still haven’t said what’s in his Golden Fire. Here we go. Box was enraged by the BMA casting aspersions on his ‘cure’ so in order to ‘sew up the lying lips’ of the medical authorities he submitted his Golden Fire to chemical analysis. His Fire contained ‘certain carefully selected and powerful, but perfectly innocent, ingredients…’, according to him. These ingredients consisted of acetic acid (which can damage skin, eyes and internal organs), sodium chloride (salt), volatile oils (eucalyptus, camphor, amber, rosemary, alcohol, starch, dextrin (glucose), extractive (barley, lobelia, capsicum). Lobelia, poisonous, was widely used in herbal medicines throughout the 19th century. As for Box’s pills their size varied, as did their ingredients which, in addition to the above, contained flour, soap, aloes and water. The pills were sold at twelve times the value of their worthless ingredients.

Syrup of Poppies sounds a bit more like it. A typical recipe would be to add 3 ½ pounds of white poppies to 6 pounds of sugar and steep in 8 gallons of distilled water. That sounds like the makings of a pretty damn good party – a children’s party for the poppy syrup was kid’s stuff.

Morphine from poppies was a common ingredient in infant soothing syrups. Just the job to send a child to sleep and keep her sleeping for the long hours her mother toiled in Britain’s mills and factories. An alternative version contained potassium bromide (another sedative), alcohol, anise oil but mainly sugar. Often Senna, rhubarb, Cascara Sagrada etc were included, presumably because of the constipating effect of the sedatives. `

Naturally adults were also consumers of the old poppy syrup. For those inclined to over-imbibe while on the high seas there was the risk of falling overboard. If this happened it was advised to throw a hen coop into the water as close to the drowning person as possible. Hopefully, the coop would float and the drowning man could grab hold of it. It his rescue took a long time he might have eggs to keep up his strength. But to avoid such unfortunate accidents at sea it was recommended sailors stitch cork shavings into their clothes, to keep them afloat – and make it easier to reach the hen coop.

The Great Indian Gout and Rheumatic Cure, Levasco, was discovered by a Hindu Doctor in the Himalayan Mountains. Rubbed onto the skin it was said to be absorbed and then break up uric acid crystals while diffusing heat to pain centres. This marvellous treatment worked within hours, even banishing bothersome sciatica. Or didn’t. It also claimed to sort out toothache, headaches, earache – aches of every kind. Levasco was made up of capsicum, rosemary, lavender, camphor, alcohol and soap.

from Berlin came Radium Salve to treat lupus, cancer and all skin diseases. Its radioactive ingredients were in tiny amounts but still…also from Germany was Sprengel’s herbal juice – a blood purifier to tackle diphtheria, trichinosis and whooping-cough. A brown liquid it contained powdered jalap bulbs, suspended in a liquid containing alcohol and liquorice. Jalap is a member of the morning glory family of plants and a purgative, and was illegal in Germany.

Men’s preoccupation with preserving their hair encouraged wonderful head tonics such as the Mexican Hair Renewer and Lockyer’s Sulphur Hair Restorer which could even turn grey hair back to its original colour! Actually, most hair preparations claimed this. These quack concoctions were largely sulphur, lead acetate and lead sulphate, glycerine and rose water. You probably don’t need telling that the lead content was highly poisonous.

Fat was tackled with the Nelson Lloyd Obesity Cure; guaranteed to work. There was no such person as Nelson Lloyd, or rather there was a man who used that name on his ‘cure.’ Not only was his name not Lloyd but his claim to have studied medicine was also untrue. All sorts of names to dupe folk were used – Nurse so-and-so was a favourite, designed to fool folk into believing some kind of nursing/medical knowledge was behind the product. Nurse Hammond was typical of the madey up, approach to deceiving the sick. ‘Her’ remedies for not sure what exactly were marketed as Treatment No.1, Treatment No. 2 and Treatment No. 3. The difference? The price. Treatment No. 3 was over three times the price of No 1 which was twice the price of Number 2. Liquid No 2 combined alcohol with glycerine and not much else. Treatment pills contained some iron and very little else besides the talc they were coated with, a tiny bit liquorice, starch, and soap.

The words, ‘cones are placed in the rectum’ drew my attention when reading up on the topic. This was a wheeze from a ‘Mrs Stafford-Brookes’ – her pelloids were pessaries of boric acid, oil of Theobroma and a smidgen of quinine. Boric acid has been used as an antiseptic for a long time. Theobroma is cocoa butter and was often an ingredient in suppositories and pessaries. Quinine is famously used to treat malaria but it can be lethal in the wrong hands. Just why Mrs Stafford-Brookes wanted folk to stick her pelloids into their rectums I haven’t managed to get to the bottom of yet

Quack medicine providers

In that vicinity, the Absorptive Pile Treatment sound worrying while Martin’s Apiol and Steel Pills aimed at women – they were pink chalk-coated – thankfully contained not steel but iron, Barbados aloes, apiol (known to cause liver and kidney damage) cinnamon and cardamom. Cheap ingredients sold at extortionate prices.

Pregnant women were encouraged to take Matrozone to ensure their children became healthy, beautiful and smart. This was basically diluted alcohol. The few trace solids detected in the cure were suspected to have come from through the tap water content or dust or other chance contamination when it was being bottled.

Alcohol and drug addictions were tackled with the highly dangerous poisons, strychnine and brucine (similar to strychnine.) I think the idea was to induce vomiting and get up what had gone down. These poisons were also promoted for gnawing and baldness. Gnawing might have been used here as a reference to depression or extreme worrying.

In the United States leprosy was put down to cigarette smoking by some authorities (not very authoritative authorities.)

More universal was bloodletting. Once this procedure was regarded as an important means of ridding the body of all things harmful. Hospital floors were described as slippery hazards, awash with patients’ blood. A German physician visiting England in 1836 found medicine there consisted of prescribing mercury, purging and blood-letting. Draining patients’ blood was very popular for a time. Barber-surgeons often carried out this procedure (think of the red and white barber poles still around – red for blood and white for bandages) – they would ‘breath’ a vein – cut into an artery. Another means of bloodletting was carried out with a scarificator, a smart piece of kit that was spring-loaded and armed with gears to enable a blade to move in a circular fashion through the skin.  Leeches, lots and lots of them, were frequently applied to the skin, again and again till patients ran out of blood and fainted. Fainting was seen as a good sign.

“Leeches were applied, and over and over again the patient died while the leeches were on his temples- died as surely as if shot through the head.”

There was nothing that the removal of copious amounts of blood could not cure. Allegedly. It did not matter what the complaint was – cancer, plague, TB, stroke, leprosy, herpes – bloodletting would sort it out. Even a broken heart was tackled, in France, by spilling blood till the point of death.

Bloodletting

Mercury was a standard medicine for treating parasites and syphilis as far back as ancient Greece. In the 19th century it was applied to the treatment of typhoid fever. And before you shake your head at physicians and others being so free with this dangerous metal think about those amalgam fillings in your teeth. Amalgam was introduced in the 1830s to preserve rotting teeth – an amalgam of silver, tin, copper, zinc and mercury. Antimony was another favourite and toxic purgative that saw off many a man and woman. And children, in more recent times the presence of antimony in mattresses was suspected of being implicated in some cot deaths.

The Pharmacy Act 1868 aimed to restrict the sale of poisons in so-called cures and remedies to qualified pharmacists and druggists, a move not without its critics. Fifteen poisons were named and could only be purchased if the buyer was known to the chemist and the sale recorded in a poison register. Arsenic, commonly used in agriculture to treat sheep ticks etc, was already controlled following the tragic poisoning of over 200 people in Bradford, England, when arsenic inadvertently found its way into sweeties.

Trader, Humbug Billy, sold peppermint humbugs, lozenges, made by a man called Joseph Neal. Neal intended substituting gypsum for sugar which was more expensive. In the 19th century all kinds of nasties went into food and drink, in the drive for profit. On this occasion it appears a young pharmacy assistant got confused and sold arsenic instead of the gypsum (chalk) or dust or whatever the chemist usually sold to bulk foods. Neal then made about 40lbs (18kg) of lozenges and some of these were sold by Humbug Billy. Many died as a result of eating his sweets but at first the deaths were put down to cholera. Eventually the real culprit was detected. Each sweet was found to contain over three times a lethal dose of arsenic.

Inadvertent poisoning was a consequence of quack medicines during the 19th century. Strychnine; potassium cyanide; ergot (grass fungus) used to treat migraine and post-childbirth bleeding; opium and all poppy preparations were as common as aspirin today. Laudanum, tincture of opium, was frequently taken to tackle pain and as a cough suppressant.

Every so often a medical crisis, such as coronavirus, reminds us there are always challenges to be met when it comes to illness. Vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) has been one of the greatest preservers of young lives. There have been questions asked about having the three injected as one dose but there is no evidence of this being harmful and hysterical outcries against the vaccine are positively dangerous to life. The discredited former doctor, Andrew Wakefield, struck off in 2010, has influenced public opinion against vaccination, linking it to autism. The success of measles vaccination has meant huge numbers of people have not encountered how deadly it can be for both children and adults and so underestimate its dangers. Now the incidence of measles is rising across Europe.

There always was opposition to vaccination driven by ignorance, self-interest and belief that mass immunisation was tantamount to totalitarianism – with the population deprived of choice over immunisation, in the interests of the greater good. Sir John Ledingham from Boyndie in Banffshire , a director of the Lister Institute in 1939, was an outspoken critic of such opposition. Ledingham condemned Britain for dragging its feet behind other countries when it came to preventative medicine at a time when children died needlessly from diphtheria, whooping cough and measles.

A fascinating little detail – the prevalence of measles among London’s children at the beginning of the 20th century was so widespread that medical authorities found it near impossible to obtain serum for vaccines from the adult population. It was then discovered that Scottish policemen and domestic servants, and Irish domestics, too, often fell victim to measles on arriving in London from rural parts of Scotland and Ireland where they had never encountered the disease as children. They were pressed to provide serum containing active measles antibodies to protect the city’s youngsters.

Time for a cup of ginger tea followed by some light aerobic exercise. And remember, prevention is better than cure.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/train-your-brain-how-to-keep-your-mind-young/