A medical duel

Medical disputes could be dangerous affairs in the old days. Two hundred years ago two physicians settled their differences not in the pages of the medical journals, but by fighting a duel. This arresting story appeared in a January 1828 edition of The London Medical Gazette: A Duel was fought last Saturday about three o’clock in the afternoon, between Dr. … Continue reading A medical duel

A Victorian hospital Christmas

As a seasonal antidote to all the misery and medical disasters usually documented on this blog, here is something genuinely heart-warming. The Victorians were particularly good at Christmas – they invented most of the domestic Christmas traditions we enjoy today, from the meal to the tree.  A story published in the British Medical Journal in … Continue reading A Victorian hospital Christmas

Hard to stomach

In 1823 The Lancet’s regular summary of goings-on at the London hospitals contained this interesting report of an early public demonstration of the stomach pump.  The experiment documented here took place at Guy’s Hospital: Friday, Nov. 21. At half past one o’clock the operating theatre was crowded to excess, in consequence of its having been stated … Continue reading Hard to stomach

The bird and the bees

In August 1868 the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Norwich.  One of the members invited to present a paper was Lydia Becker, an amateur astronomer and botanist; among her accomplishments she could count a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society and the respect of Charles Darwin, with … Continue reading The bird and the bees

Roger ‘two urinals’ Clerk

In 1868 the Corporation of London published a slim volume entitled Memorials of London and London Life in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries.  It contained extracts from the archives of the City of London.  An editor at The Lancet read it, and found an anecdote which remained topical, half a millennium later: One Roger … Continue reading Roger ‘two urinals’ Clerk

The black sheep

In the days before the NHS, when physicians charged patients for their services, there was an unspoken agreement that members of the medical profession would waive their fees when the patient was a colleague or a member of their family.  In countries with no national health service this convention persisted for longer: in the late … Continue reading The black sheep

Portrait of a quack

In 1804 The Medical and Physical Journal decided to name and shame some of London’s most notorious quacks.  One of the unscrupulous practitioners exposed to public humiliation was a certain Dr Day: He was born in  Holland, though of German parents, of the name of Dies, which the Doctor has translated into the English synonym … Continue reading Portrait of a quack

Medical qualifications: optional

Here’s a report of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey from a little over a century ago which truly made me grateful for modern medicine – and in particular for the modern regulation of the profession.  In this case a doctor without any qualifications escaped with a slap on the wrist, despite having killed a … Continue reading Medical qualifications: optional

Do no harm – unless it’s a criminal

In 1875 the British Medical Journal had some fun digging around in the archives: BARBAROUS PUNISHMENT: A SURGEON’S OCCUPATION. – 1720, March 29th. On Wednesday, Thomas Hayes, formerly the commander of a merchantman, stood in the pillory at Charing Cross, for the hour of twelve to one, when a surgeon, attended by the prison officers, … Continue reading Do no harm – unless it’s a criminal

A 19th-century doctor’s guide to etiquette

In the nineteenth century the medical profession had something of an image problem.  The archetype of the pompous or unscrupulous doctor was well established, and authors like Charles Dickens had much fun sending them up with satirical depictions which were painfully close to the mark.  In The Pickwick Papers, the young doctor Bob Sawyer uses … Continue reading A 19th-century doctor’s guide to etiquette