The stone-swallower

swallowing stonesEighteenth-century authors were fond of giving their books ridiculously long titles – often so lengthy that they weren’t titles at all, but rather pedantic descriptions of each volume’s contents. Today I came across the longest book title I think I’ve ever seen – and it’s a medical book, first published in 1781: Hugh Smythson’s Compleat Family Physician. (That’s only … Read more

The man with a snake in his heart

I was fascinated to stumble across this seventeenth-century autopsy report in an old edition of the British Medical Journal.  It was unearthed by Benjamin (later Sir Benjamin) Ward Richardson, one of the great figures of Victorian medicine. His name is less familiar today than that of his friend John Snow, the leading British exponent of early anaesthesia, but … Read more

Shot by a toasting fork

foreign body found in the heart of a boyThis is one of my favourite nineteenth-century cases, which I originally intended to include in my forthcoming book but which didn’t quite make it to the final manuscript. It was written by Dr T. Davis, from the small Worcestershire town of Upton-upon-Severn, and published in the Transactions of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in 1834:

On Saturday evening, January Read more

The King of Smokers

king of smokersThere were plenty of doctors in the nineteenth century who thought that smoking was good for you; so there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary in this excerpt from an article published in the Medical Press and Circular in 1871:

So much, and often so much nonsense, is prated about the evils of tobacco that its virtues rarely get a Read more

Death from peas

In July 1842 the London Medical Gazette printed one of the most intriguing headlines in the history of the journal:

Death from peasThe story accompanying it was told by George Johnson, a physician’s assistant at King’s College Hospital in London. This is what he had to relate: 

peasJohn Lydbury, aged 60, labourer, was brought to the hospital on Monday, June 27th, when Read more