The spermatorrhoea alarm

observations on spermatorrhoeaIn 1843 the Provincial Medical Journal published a landmark paper by Dr W.H. Ranking from Suffolk. It was a ‘landmark’ in that it was the first full-length publication in English to discuss a new disease that was soon to become the scourge of the male population: spermatorrhoea.  Or, in plain English, involuntary ejaculation.

The person who first brought this worrying … Read more


In 1882 a young doctor from Clayton West in Yorkshire had his first paper published in a major medical journal.  Dr Duncan Alistair MacGregor was not interested in making a name for himself: after completing his training in Edinburgh he had set up in practice as a country doctor, a vocation he would follow with dedication for another 40 years. … Read more

Making a mark

Foreign body in Wharton's ductOne evening in 1877 a medical student at the University of Paris, a young man by the name of Vielle, made a little piece of medical history – although perhaps not in a way he might have hoped for. This is how he later recalled the experience:

About 10 o’clock P.M., April 6th, 1877, I felt a smarting pain, heat, Read more

The lithophagus

Unless you’re a marine biologist, the chances are that you’ve never used the word ‘lithophagus’.  You may have eaten one, however: Lithophaga is a genus of mussels, some of whose species are edible, often served in a garlic, white wine and parsley sauce with plenty of crusty bread. Delicious.

But I digress.

‘Lithophagus’ comes from two Greek words: λίθος, … Read more

Born in a cesspit

This strange little tale appeared in the London Medical and Surgical Journal in June 1832: attempt at infanticide

A curious case of this description became the subject of investigation at the Bow-street Police Office, a few days ago.

Interestingly, this crime was not being investigated by what we would regard as the ‘official’ police. London’s Metropolitan Police had been set up just three … Read more

A harrowing incident

In 1873 the Chicago Medical Journal published this article by a Dr Stewart from Muscatine, a small Iowa town on the banks of the Mississippi that would later become famous as the world-leading manufacturer of pearl buttons.

The article’s matter-of-fact headline scarcely does justice of the drama to come:

wound of the liver

Anthony B., a lad aged 17, while standing beside a Read more

A week entombed in a snowdrift

In a week that’s seen snow across much of Britain and record low temperatures in parts of the US, this story from the Annals of Medicine for 1799 seems particularly appropriate:

A remarkable and well-authenticated case, of a woman surviving nearly eight days buried in the snow, without food, has occurred this spring, near Impington, in Cambridgeshire.

It’s no exaggeration … Read more