Aug 312012

As a quick follow-up to my blog on illustrations cut from paper, showing life in the Georgian era, here are a few more of the cut-outs made by Richard:

First, one of two men visiting the dovecote to collect meat during the winter months (a reminder that fresh meat was hard to come by in the winter because many animals would be slaughtered and ” salted away” – leaving pigeon as the main source of fresh meat). Unfortunately the leading man’s  gun has folded back on itself and it looks more like a walking stick….I am reluctant to undo the crease in case it breaks off!

Secondly, one I have used before of the amazing rapier made by Richard. It is just over five inches long (it lost its extreme tip when I failed to exercise due care when moving it onto the scanner – oops!).

Then there is this amazingly intricate memorial cut out by Richard when his first wife died. It is hardly more than an inch wide, and must have taken hours of careful work. It shows the coffin under a temple roof, with Eleanor Hall’s age (forty six) and date of death (11th January 1780).




Slightly more routine, here is another coaching scene, one of cavalry, and one showing British military and naval might.



I rather like this one showing Richard up a ladder pruning one of his cherry trees:








To end with, Richard’s cut-out of rushes growing in the banks of the River Windrush at Bourton on the Water.

In all I have perhaps fifty or sixty cut-outs, and I have used  around twenty to illustrate aspects of Richard’s life in my book The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman. It looks as though paper cutting (which originally spread from  Germany to the United States, where it is known as ‘scherenschnitte’  i.e. scissor cut) was a family tradition – I have a number of rather larger cut-outs, obviously Victorian, in a note-book belonging to Richard’s grand-daughter Lucy Hall.

Aug 292012

Some of the more remarkable groups of papers surviving from my ancestor’s miscellany are the cut-out illustrations. There are dozens of them, and each must have taken a fair amount of time, concentration, a steady hand – and sharp scissors!

 The blades of the scissors would almost certainly have been made of steel, and in all probability have been around one and a half inches long (with two-inch handles). The ones shown are modern embroidery scissors, but of a traditional design. Richard would have kept two areas of paper uncut at opposite sides, so that he could hold on to these while he turned the paper around and cut out the detail. These holding ‘knibs’ would then have been the last two bits to be chopped off, leaving the cut-out as an incredibly delicate art-work.

I like the way Richard appears to catch movement by showing different images of the same object (in this case, deer in a forest setting). He used the same technique when showing a marching column of men, or a troop of cavalry on horseback.


The marchers.


Cavalry on the move

Richard often recorded familiar  ‘stories’ of travel by coach with (the pre-Turnpike Trust) bumpy roads, as with this scene with a coach and four:

Contrast this with a scene where the roads are less bumpy:



Any traveller would have been familiar with the risks from highway robbers:



but equally would know that when caught they would get their come-uppance (on the gallows).




Richard also cut out everyday scenes of country pursuits and farming activities:

The art of paper-cutting  was popular in Germany and Switzerland in the 18th Century and emigrants took the craft to the United States, where its popularity is such that it merits its own museum, and magazine. There is even a Guild of Paper Cutters. It has to be said however that the ‘art form’ was never really popular in England, and for that reason many paper cutters showed an interest in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman when it was published, because it showed a style with which they were not familiar.

Me, well I am happy to enjoy them for what they are – fragile mementos of  family history.

Aug 272012

The shadow of the Great Fire of London remained throughout the whole of the Eighteenth Century – and my ancestor Richard Hall recorded every single major outbreak of fire within the boundaries of the City of London during the time he lived there – usually with the heart-felt prayer that the Lord in his Mercy had spared him. Obviously people were easily rattled, and small wonder when you think that the blaze in 1666 destroyed 13,200 buildings, and left thousands of households with debts which crippled them financially.

Out of the ashes of the Great Fire grew a system of mutual insurance – members of coffee houses clubbing together to form groups which employed a brigade of workers to look after their properties and to put out fires when they broke out.

On the 12th November 1696 a number of enterprising individuals gathered together at Tom’s Coffee House in St. Martin’s Lane, and formed themselves into a society for the transaction of fire insurance business on a mutual basis “having for their sole object the benefit of the insured”

The society adopted as the emblem for its fire mark “Two hands clasped with a crown over them, a symbol of friendship and good faith”” Because of this it was not long before the society was affectionately known as “The Hand-In-Hand”, and this was adopted as the official name of the company in 1706. The fire marks was usually made of lead stamped with the name of the insurer, and bearing an identification number. They were placed high up on the front wall of a building (hopefully high enough out of the way to stop unscrupulous people stealing them and putting them up on their own houses…). The point here is that these private insurance brigades only put out the fires of their own members, and a visible badge on the outside of the building was the best way of ensuring you were protected. It was of course also  a good advertisement for the insurer…

A second insurer, formed in 1714, was closely linked to the Hand-in-Hand, and was known as the Union Fire Office. It had as its fire mark a symbol of four clasped hands. The companies were associated, with more than one director sitting on both boards. They agreed a non-competition pact whereby the Hand- in-Hand would cover buildings, and the Union the contents. This arrangement lasted until 1806. In turn, their brigades would help put out each other’s fires.

This then is the background to Richard Hall’s diary entry recording the insurance arrangements for his shop premises at One London Bridge:

It confirms (right hand side) that the building was covered in the sum of £900 with Hand-in-Hand and that the Household goods in 1778 were covered by the Union Office for £500, and Utensils & Goods in trade (stock, etc) £2100. Two years later Richard moved his own items of furniture from the house above the shop, reducing the value of the  household goods to £300. At the same time his son William appears to have increased the amount of stock carried in the Haberdashery Shop downstairs,and cover for stock etc rose to £2300.

It is just as well he was properly covered since his diary entry for the last day of October 1779 recorded the scary news that a fire had broken out in the Hop warehouse next door. The fire spread, forcing Richard and his family to evacuate to the safety of St Magnus the Martyr Church, across the road. They must have watched in horror as the flames burned the warehouse to the ground, along with the water wheel on the banks of the Thames, which daily had pumped water to the wealthy families of the neighbourhood. The scene was recorded by a contemporary artist (picture courtesy of the Guildhall Library).

It is ironic that the destruction of the water wheel must have made it even harder for the fire crews to tackle the blazes which broke out elsewhere in the city on later occasions. In many case bucket brigades were the only way of tackling fires – teams of men employed by the insurance companies and backed up by volunteers lending a hand in return for beer tokens.

The actual buckets were made of leather, as were the hoses, stitched together to form a flexible tube. These tubes were joined together with brass fittings every fifty feet in length.

There were early  fire engines – capable of sending a water jet up to 36 metres and dispensing nearly 400 litres of water a minute. The original patents for such a machine were granted to Richard Newsham in 1725 and 1735. The engine used a twin cylinder single acting pump equipped with an air chamber.  Water was provided by a bucket brigade which emptied buckets into the hopper at the engines rear.  The engine also came with a suction fitting which could draw water from a cistern or other water source.  I was pleased to see that one of the oldest surviving examples (1745) is to be found in Devon at the South Molton Museum:

©South Molton and District Museum

Known as “bed posters” they required teams of sixteen men to pump the  side bars and to keep the open tank (holding 640 litres of water) topped up.The South Molton example cost £46 (equivalent to £4000 today), and it is safe to assume that a machine very similar to this would have been wheeled round to One London Bridge on the night of 31st October 1779. Richard’s premises remained intact, and no-one was hurt.

These fire engines were widely advertised, as in this Broadsheet issued by James Broadbent in 1743. Some of the machines were specifically designed to be narrow enough to be pushed along corridors, but by and large  firemen were forced to try and contain fires from outside the building. Once a fire had taken hold, there was little the fireman could do other than contain the flames and stop them from spreading, and to salvage goods in order to minimise the cost to the insurer.

The Newsham machines were widely used both in England and in America.When Newsham died in 1743, the manufacturing company passed to his son, Lawrence. After Lawrence’s death, his wife took over and joined forces with her cousin George Ragg. The machines that used Newsham and Ragg pumps were still in use in the late 1930s.

The London brigades were often made up of twenty or thirty casual labourers, usually recruited from the free watermen or ferrymen on the Thames. They were paid a retainer and given distinguishing uniforms by the Insurer. Porters would also be drafted in to salvage goods. It was not until an agreement was reached between a group of ten London insurers in 1833 that they finally agreed to tackle each other’s fires, and not just to protect their own insureds.

Parliament had passed the Parish Pump Act in 1708 requiring each local authority to provide and maintain a pump for use by local brigades. Most cities had their own insurers, since it was not practical for brigades to travel from one town to another.

These are examples of early Norwich Union and Bristol fire marks:



Aug 242012

My ancestor Richard Hall loved to see shows, exhibitions and the like and was in his element when he visited 18 Cheyne Walk Chelsea:

“1755 – April. Was at Don Saltero’s Coffee House at Chelsea £0/13/0 ”

                                                 Don Saltero’s, from an engraving in the British Museum.

 Chelsea Bridge from the West, c.1790 (courtesy of the British Museum).


The Salter Coffee House  in Cheyne Walk Chelsea was something quite unlike any of its rivals! James Salter – or  “Don Saltero” as he was generally nick-named, was quite a character and his coffee house was also a museum of curiosities.  He called it his “Knackatory.” Salter had started as a barber, later becoming valet to Sir Hans Sloane. In 1695 he set up a coffee shop by the river, and Sir Hans gave him a number of historical oddities to display. He attracted custom from naval officers who gave him other curiosities brought back from around the world and which Salter displayed in glass cabinets, or hung from the walls by the thousand. He decided that a more interesting persona would be as a Spanish naval captain, so ‘Don Saltero’ he became!

Visitors were not charged to see the “museum” but were expected to drink coffee or buy a catalogue for two pence. We know from the catalogues – and from the auction inventory when the contents were eventually sold in 1799, that Richard would have been able to see :

“a curious model of our Saviour’s sepulchre, a Roman bishop’s crosier, antique coins and medals, minerals, fossils, antique fire-arms, curious birds, fishes, and other productions of nature, and a large collection of various antiquities and curiosities, glass-cases, &c”

Relics included:- “King James’s coronation sword; King William’s coronation sword and shoes; Henry VIII.’s coat of mail, gloves, and spurs; Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer-book, stirrup, and strawberry dish; the Pope’s infallible candle; a set of beads, consecrated by Clement VII., made of the bones of St. Anthony of Padua; a piece of the royal oak; a petrified child, or the figure of death; a curious piece of metal, found in the ruins of Troy; a pair of Saxon stockings; William the Conqueror’s family sword; Oliver’s broad-sword; the King of Whiddaw’s staff; Bistreanier’s staff; a wooden shoe, put under the Speaker’s chair in James II’s time; the Emperor of Morocco’s tobacco pipe; a curious flea-trap; an Indian prince’s crown; a starved cat, found between the walls of Westminster Abbey when the east end was repaired; the jaws of a wild boar that was starved to death by his tusks growing inward”.

As if that wasn’t enough to satisfy Richard’s curiosity he was also able to view “a frog, fifteen inches long, found in the Isle of Dogs; the Staffordshire almanack, used when the Danes were in England; the lance of Captain TowHow-Sham, king of the Darien Indians, with which he killed six Spaniards, and took a tooth out of each head, and put in his lance as a trophy of his valour; a coffin of state for a friar’s bones; a cockatrice serpent; a large snake, seventeen feet long, taken in a pigeon-house in Sumatra—it had in its belly fifteen fowls and five pigeons; a dolphin with a flying-fish at his mouth; a gargulet, that Indians used to cool their water with; a whistling arrow, which the Indians use when they would treat of peace; a negro boy’s cap, made of a rat-skin; Mary Queen of Scots’ pin-cushion; a purse made of a spider from Antigua; manna from Canaan; a jaw of a skate, with 500 teeth; the mermaid fish; the wild man of the woods; the flying bull’s head…”

Richard must have been in his element at such a display – a veritable treasure trove of tat embellished with improbable claims, the walls festooned with exhibits. But to pay out thirteen shillings – that’s a lot of coffee! In today´s money that equates to slightly more than fifty pounds so it looks as though Richard bought half the shop. I wonder whether any of the hundreds of miscellaneous odds and ends left to me with Richard´s possessions include items from Don Saltero? Now I’m sure I saw an old sword marked “William ye Conq” somewhere around here….!

(A modified version of this post first appeared on my Posterous site in 2011).

Aug 222012

Picture of a woman being bled, early 1700's, by a Flemish artist

There is no other way of putting this: Richard Hall enjoyed ill health. He was a worrier,a hypochondriac, and was always being treated for his nerves, for his digestive problems and so on. I still have his prescriptions e.g. for ‘a Chalybeate Medicine’ (indicating an iron deficiency). He also on one occasion had an incision made behind his ear, a dried pea inserted and his ear was then bandaged up for a couple of days, so that a blister was formed. The pea was removed along with the “humorous liquid” and no doubt the doctor went away well paid and happy.

As often as not the doctor recommended blood-letting. Usually this involved leeches being applied to the skin. Collecting the leeches from the streams was a job for women – as seen from this print dated 1814. (Incidentally, all the images in this post come from the Wellcome Library, who have an excellent catalogue of (sometimes!) gruesome images on their website here).

Although the print is titled Leech Finders I suspect that in fact the ladies took off their shoes and stockings and waited for the leeches to find them! The leeches would then be sold on to pharmacists, who would keep them in jars like the one shown here. The top is held in place with a clasp, and contains tiny air holes so that the leeches could breathe.

The actual leech is a type of worm. It has suckers at either end enabling it to fasten on to a suitable host, and once in place they would then gorge themselves until full, when they would fall off. Nice little pets…

I remember that in the village where I grew up there was an old family doctor (who had brought both me and my father into the world). He was in his eighties, still practising medicine, and he explained to me that in the 1920’s he used to prescribe leeches. Apparently the pharmacy kept them in rotation: the ones fed most recently were the cheapest, whereas the really hungry ones cost the most! And yes, I am aware that leeches are still used occasionally by doctors, for instance after plastic surgery. Leech saliva apparently contains compounds which reduce pain, prevent clotting and dilate the blood vessels. In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration cleared the use of medicinal leeches for wound healing, limb reattachment and reconstructive surgery, and they are  also employed to treat arthritis, blood clotting disorders, and varicose veins.


The alternative was to use a scarificator like this little number with six lancets which would dig into your arm (or wherever it was applied) and soon get your juices going. Just don’t even think about cross-infection or contamination!

One can only imagine the debilitating effect of blood-letting on someone already feeling poorly.



I was rather taken with this cartoon showing a doctor treating the Bishop of Durham. It dates from 1791 and shows the good medic deserting his patient, who is sitting in his episcopal chair, in order to treat a horse. The jockey is saying that this horse has spavin (in other words has gone lame as a result of osteoarthritis in the lower hock joint). Gleefully the doctor exclaims “Who does he belong to. I never saw such a beautiful creature. What a neck! What a nose! What a magic eye….I will go and dress him out of hand. What’s the Head of the Church to the head of a horse.”  The poor bishop meanwhile looks set to expire, blood spurting from his lower arm…

Aug 202012
Aug 182012

18th August 1720 marked the arrival in this world of someone born with not just the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but with an entire canteen of hall-marked cutlery. His name: Laurence Shirley; he was to become Earl Ferrers and his story is one of arrogance, cruelty, dissolute living and ultimately murder.

His grandfather the First Earl had sired no fewer than 15 sons and 12 daughters (by two wives) and looking after that lot rather diminished the fortunes of the earldom. Nevertheless the title included family estates in Leicester, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire. Laurence’s father was the tenth son and Laurence inherited the title in 1745. It may be worth mentioning that there appears to have been a strain of madness in the family …

At the age of twenty he had turned his back on a University education (Oxford) and had gone to Paris where he displayed a talent for every excess especially drinking, gambling, fighting and whoring. He returned to England and initially set up home with a Mrs Clifford, by whom he had four daughters. Requiring a son once he succeeded to the earldom, he married a sixteen year old girl called Mary Meredith in 1752, but without giving up his mistress. For the young bride it must have been horrific. Her husband was twice her age; he was violent when drunk (which was often). She must have been humiliated by his womanising. Remember, this was a time when the rich – particularly the males, and especially the nobility – could do more-or-less what they wanted. As it turned out, the one thing they could not do was ‘get away with murder’.

All the more amazing that in 1758 Mary succeeded in petitioning Parliament for a formal separation from the Earl, on the basis of his cruelty. Parliament not only took the unusual step of awarding a formal separation (which must have cost Mary’s family a bomb) but also declared that the Earl’s assets should be controlled by trustees and that the trustees should pay Mary  rents and profits from the family estates. Laurence must have been furious at having to watch as he lost control of his affairs. Initially he had been keen to recommend his steward John Johnson as rent collector to the Trustees – John had worked for him loyally for some years and was good at book-keeping. Maybe he thought he could lean on John to ‘cook the books’ … we don’t know. But it appears that over time the Earl grew to distrust the steward, perhaps inevitably given John’s role as go-between, serving the Earl but paying his rents to the Earl´s  estranged wife.

On Sunday 13th of January 1760 Earl Ferrers went to his home at at Stanton, about two miles from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, and ordered the unfortunate Mr Johnson to come to him on the Friday following, at three o’clock in the afternoon. The steward arrived as requested on 18th January and waited to be summonsed to the Earl’s quarters. The Earl was still eating his lunch. After the meal he sent Mrs Clifford and her young daughters for a long walk and arranged for all five of the male servants to depart on sundry errands. This left only the three housemaids, an old man and a young boy in the house. He then called Mr Johnson into his Study, locked the door and, according to the Newgate Calendar, “being thus together, the Earl required him first to settle an account, and then, charging him with the villainy which he attributed to him, ordered him to kneel down. The unfortunate man went down on one knee; upon which the Earl, in a tone of voice loud enough to be heard by the maid-servants without, cried: “Down on your other knee! Declare that you have acted against Lord Ferrers. Your time is come — you must die.” Then suddenly drawing a pistol from his pocket, which was loaded, he presented it and immediately fired. The ball entered the body of the unfortunate man, but he rose up, and entreated that no further violence might be done him; and the female servants at that time coming to the door, being alarmed by the report, his lordship quitted the room.”

The Earl agreed that a doctor could be sent for, and went off for a drink or two in his private quarters, emerging worse for wear some hours later. He refused to let the doctor take the dying man away to his own house. The doctor patiently awaited until the earl retired to bed, and rigged up an easy chair with poles so that the dying man could be carried away in a makeshift sedan. He died the following morning at nine o’clock.

Come the morning and the Earl declined to give himself up – half-dressed he rode off on his horse, but a few hours later was confronted by an angry crowd and despite being armed with a blunderbuss, a brace of pistols and a dagger, was disarmed and taken before the magistrates.

But the Earl was entitled to insist that his trial should take place before his peers in the House of Lords. Not for him the humiliation of being tried as a common criminal. He was permitted to drive in his landau, pulled by six horses, to London where in April his trial started in Westminster Hall. The Earl conducted his own defence, apparently most eloquently, which may have hindered rather than helped his claim that he was insane. He was found guilty – and at that stage he indicated a regret at having pleaded insanity, saying that he intended to kill his victim, and showing no remorse.

Murder carried an automatic death penalty. In vain the Earl pleaded to be dispatched in the manner of a nobleman, that is to say by being beheaded by a swordsman. But that penalty only applied to treason, and the Earl was forced to accept that he would end up in the hangman’s noose, just like any other common felon. He was however entitled to travel from his place of imprisonment (The Tower) to Tyburn in his own landau, accompanied by a guard of lancers. A huge crowd was in attendance to see the hanging and the journey to Tyburn took nearly three hours. The Earl was attired in his best white suit, richly embroidered with silver, (the one he wore at his wedding) saying “This is the suit in which I was married, and in which I will die.” A specially made set of gallows had been put up, furnished with black silk cushions for his Lordship’s comfort.

The Newgate Calendar continues:

“The executioner now proceeded to do his duty, to which his lordship, with great resignation, submitted. His neck-cloth being taken off, and a white cap, which he had brought in his pocket, being put upon his head, his arms secured by a black sash, and the cord put round his neck, he advanced by three steps to the elevated part of the scaffold, and, standing under the cross-beam which went over it, which was also covered with black baize, he asked the executioner: “Am I right?” Then the cap was drawn over his face, and, upon a signal given by the sheriff (for his lordship, upon being before asked, declined to give one himself), that part upon which he stood instantly sank down from beneath his feet, and he was launched into eternity, the 5th of May, 1760.

The accustomed time of one hour being past, the coffin was raised up, with the greatest decency, to receive the body; and, being deposited in the hearse, was conveyed by the sheriffs, with the same procession, to Surgeons’ Hall, to undergo the remainder of the sentence. A large incision was then made from the neck to the bottom of the breast, and another across the throat; the lower part of the belly was laid open and the bowels taken away. It was afterwards publicly exposed to view in a room up one pair of stairs at the Hall; and on the evening of Thursday, the 8th of May, it was delivered to his friends for interment.”








He was the last member of the House of Lords to be hanged. It was considered to be his duty as a nobleman to die in a proper and dignified manner – he did his duty, but probably only for the first and last time in his life…

 A contemporary etching of the deceased Earl in his coffin.

Post script: hopefully the widow of the unlovely Earl found solace after his death: she re-married but was to die in a house-fire some years later. A melancholy tale.


Aug 172012
Oscar Wilde, in The Importance of being Earnest, extols the benefits of having a Bunbury, but I wonder how real life Bunbury’s reacted to hearing that their name was synonymous with a “fictitious excuse for making a visit or avoiding an obligation” (O.E.D)?

One Bunbury who I suspect might have been amused was the lovely Henry William Bunbury, born in 1750. His father was the 5th Baronet (Sir William Bunbury of Mildenhall, Suffolk) so he can be said to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth (if not with a whole canteen of silverware).

After completing his studies at Cambridge University (St. Catherines College) he began to draw caricatures and other comic subjects, the first of which were etched and published in 1771. Not for him the scatological, virulent political satire of Gillray or even Thomas Rowlandson (who was a close friend of his) – more a gentle dig at the world and its foibles. Many of his friends were the subject of his gentle satire and remained on good terms with him because they could see that no malice was intended.

All Fours

The Breakfast, showing the hounds eager to go a-hunting while their masters show signs of drowsiness and seem reluctant to leave the dinner table…

Love and wind








Me, My Wife and Daughter

He was a good artist – he exhibited at least once at the Royal Academy, and did the usual Grand Tour on the continent before coming back to England to try his hand at a spot of soldiering. He was captain of the West Suffolk Militia, and used his artistic talents to record their activities and in particular their horsemanship.




He enjoyed the patronage of the Frederick, Duke of York (he was appointed his Equerry in 1787) and was an adept mover through the fashionable salons of London Society. He was Groom of the Bedchamber to one of the younger royals, and was generally well-liked and highly successful with his drawings, many of which were adapted as etchings by Rowlandson.

Hail Storm











Tooth extraction











The Bird-Cage.

He was particularly liked for his series entitled A Long Minuet as Danced at Bath published in 1787. The finished engraving was printed on a piece of paper five feet long, and consisted of a comic-strip of dancing couples, some elegant, some ungainly, as they minuet across the pages. It is presumably this paper roll which Bunbury is shown holding in the portrait (by Thomas Lawrence) at the start of this blog. This is probably a sketch for one of the scenes:

Pictures of riders were a favourite of Bunbury and in the same year (1787) he decided to have printed “An Academy for Grown Horsemen, containing the completest instructions for walking, trotting, cantering, galloping, stumbling and tumbling. Illustrated with copper plates, and adorned with a portrait of the Author.”  He chose to do this under a pseudonym, namely “Geoffrey Gambado”. I find his pictures charming, warm, and beautifully observed.

Catherine Horneck 1753 – 1799











As a twenty one year old he had married Catherine, the daughter of Captain Kane William Horneck, and Catherine bore him two sons. He died on 7 May 1811. He will never be as famous as Hogarth or Gillray, but his gentle poking of fun at the world around him is a real pleasure to see.


Aug 152012

In just about every cartoon of Napoleon the Emperor is shown as being of below-average height. Cartoonists loved to belittle the man – and yet he was five feet six inches tall (at a time when the average Frenchman was three inches shorter than this! We even talk of a ‘Napoleon Complex’ (short man, big chip on shoulder) and yet his lack of stature seems to have been a product of British propaganda. Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that he surrounded himself with officers from the Imperial Guard, who were chosen for their tall stature and whose height was then topped by plumed helmets. But I suspect it was all down to an attempt to make Napoleon appear weaker and more insignificant – the equivalent of the Second World War contention that Hitler only had one, and that Himmler was very similar…

As an example of a beautifully scurrilous cartoon here is one of my favourites: taken from Teggs Caricatures and entitled “The Arch Dutchess Maria Louisa going to take her Nap”. The Emperor had divorced his first wife Josephine, and had chosen as his new bride someone he had never met and who only learned of her betrothal after the French and Austrian governments had already completed all negotiations. Maria Louisa was only nineteen, and had been brought up to detest the French, so her marriage must have been something of a shock to her system to say the least. But ‘she did her duty’ and bore a son within a year of marrying the Emperor in 1810.

The cartoon shows her in bed, feet sticking out at the bottom, while she says “My Dear Nap: your bed accommodations are very indifferent! Too short by a yard! I wonder how Josephine put up with such things even as long as she did!!!” to which ‘Nap’ replies:

“Indeed Maria I do not well understand you: the Empress Josephine who knew things better than I hope you do, never grumbled. La Diable! I will never be able to get what I want after all!!!”

There is of course the underlying implication that Maria Louisa is talking, not about the length of the bed, but about her husband’s manhood. His first wife Josephine knew about ‘these things’ because of her allegedly adulterous affairs, whereas he hoped that the virtuous Maria Louise was a complete innocent! Poor Napoleon: in his first marriage he was ridiculed for being unable to satisfy his wife’s demands (we still chuckle at the thought of “Not tonight Josephine”) and in his second marriage the cartoonists suggest that he wasn’t getting it at all ! It just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun about making jokes about the lack of sexual prowess of your enemy!

As today, 15th August, is the birthday of the great/little man (depending on your viewpoint) I offer this post by way of an anniversary greeting!

Aug 132012

Among the papers listed in Richard Hall´s inventory of items at One London Bridge was a second edition of Dr Buchan´s Domestic Medicine. I still have the book. Buchan was a remarkable man in many ways, and his book had an astonishing success, being reprinted over 22 times and being hugely influential both in the UK and the United States, where it was published in both New York and Philadelphia.

His masterpiece was more than just the 18th Century equivalent of the Readers Digest Book of Home Medicine – it was a ground-breaker in many ways. Buchan had been born in Scotland in the same year Richard was born – 1729. It had been intended that the young Buchan would go into the Church but his interests were inclined elsewhere and he graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University. After a spell in Sheffield he returned to Edinburgh in 1766 and spent a number of years in one of the poorest areas in the country, and was confronted with the ignorance about basic hygiene and cleanliness which he could see was causing pain, suffering and premature death. Indeed he was so upset at seeing that half of all children were dying before their teens, largely through unhygienic conditions, that he determined to end the mystique which went with the job of being a doctor, and encourage the public to understand the importance of hygiene in order to prevent illness. This was revolutionary – until then most treatises were a mixture of witchcraft and mumbo-jumbo. Rather like the Magic Circle trying to guard the secrets of the magician´s trade, the medical profession frowned on such openness. But in 1769 Buchan published the first edition of his Domestic Medicine and it became a runaway success with the public. The book cost six shillings and the 19 editions published in his lifetime sold 80,000 copies. The work was translated into many European languages including Russian French and Spanish.

We may find the advice somewhat rudimentary but Buchan was working at a time when washing was a rare occurrence. After all, Richard Hall´s own diaries record that he only bathed once every three months. Any lesser interval and he states that ´he resumed his bath´ as if it was part of a single process.

Picture courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

What Buchan was trying to do was to point out that hygiene was something that the public could embrace as a form of self-help. He also called for the provision of pure water supplies, publicly cleaned streets, and advocated the benefits of fresh air. Exercise and a good diet were also a part of his campaign. We may not think of his ideas as revolutionary – but they were at the time. Look at some of his quotations from the Domestic Medicine.

“The want of cleanliness is a fault which admits of no excuse.”

“Diseases of the skin are chiefly owing to want of cleanliness.”

“Nothing can be more preposterous than a mother who thinks it beneath her to take care of her own child, or is so ignorant as not to know what is proper to be done for it.”

“Few things prove destructive to children than confined or un- wholesome air.”

“Sufficient exercise will make up for several defects in nursing; and it is absolutely necessary to the health, growth and strength of children.”

“The clothing of infants is so simple a matter, that it is surprising how any person should err in it; yet many children lose their lives and others are deformed by inattention to this particular.”

“A child never continues to cry long without some cause, which might always be discovered by proper attention.”

“Allowing children to continue long wet is another pernicious custom of indolent nurses.”

He even appears to have recognized the problems of inherited diseases, with the advice “A person labouring under any incurable malady ought not to marry.”

Buchan´s book is divided up into chapters for different types of ailment, and contains guidelines on what treatments should be given. He explains, for instance with broken limbs, the diet and regime to be followed by the patient. He lists how to make poultices and plasters; infusions and ointments; what herbs should be applied, and so on. And if we dismiss them as being unscientific we are to miss the point – he was encouraging people to understand about illness from his admittedly 18th century viewpoint so that people could help themselves.

Did the book´s success make him rich? Apparently not, since according to one story he sold the copyright to his publisher for £700 pounds, only to see the publisher recoup as much every single year from sales!

Quoting from an interesting article by Dr. Adam G. N. Moore, writing for the Boston Medical Library

“ In 1778 Dr Buchan moved to London where he gained a considerable practice. He was known for his convivial and social habits, one of which was to frequent the Chapter Coffee House, a haunt of authors and the publishing trade. Full of anecdote, of agreeable manners, benevolent and compassionate, he was unsuited to make or keep a fortune, for a tale of woe always drew tears from his eyes and money from his pocket. It’s little wonder that the Doctor, by then a handsome and genial white-haired Tory, often served as moderator for the “Wet Paper Club”. This band of early morning paper readers assembled daily at the “Chapter”, as it was familiarly known, to discuss the news of the day. The men, as they all were, grabbed the papers as soon as they were delivered, still wet from the printing process, before the coffee house waiters could dry them.”

Buchan died in 1805 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Intriguingly three years later when the mutineers from the Bounty were discovered on Pitcairn Island it was found that they had kept a copy of Buchan´s book with them, wrapped in sail cloth.

Helpfully the book has now been digitized. One such site containing the work can be found at

(This post is a re-working of a blog I previously did on Posterous, but I felt it deserved another airing.)