Some truly bizarre goings-on were reported at the Exeter meeting of the Provincial Surgical and Medical Association in 1842. A Dr Davis, of Presteign, made this report:
A boy, fifteen years of age, the son of a labourer named Griffiths, living in the village of Bucknill, near Knighton, had for some months complained of pain in his stomach, which did not yield to common remedies. On the 9th of June his mother gave him an emetic of antimonial wine…
This commonly-used purgative was produced by leaving wine overnight in a cup made of antimony, a toxic metallic element.
…after which he vomited a considerable number of millipedes (wood-lice), an insect of the genus scolopendra.
For the record, Scolopendra are neither millipedes nor woodlice: they’re venomous centipedes. Members of the family include the terrifying Scolopendra gigantea, a nightmare creature that grows to the length of 12 inches, can kill a snake and likes to dangle from the ceilings of caves in order to catch bats on the wing. Somehow I doubt this was the species involved here.*
They were mostly alive and full grown, but wanting the brown color of those found in natural situations. These were white. I happened to be in the neighbourhood, and being apprised of the circumstance by my friend, Mr. Warren, I accompanied him to the place, when we were fortunate enough to secure some of the insects, which are now in Mr. Warren’s possession.
Lucky Mr Warren!
I had the testimony of the mother and neighbours that they would have half filled a common sized teacup. In a practical point of view, such a circumstance is of little or no value; but I submit this short notice to the meeting from a natural desire one feels to communicate to them whatever is unusual. I think there can be little doubt that the ova had been swallowed by the boy with his food.
I think there can be little doubt that several of Dr Davies’s colleagues thought he’d made the whole thing up.
I find the insects frequently buried in bacon, which is sometimes eaten raw by hungry children.
If you keep finding centipedes in your bacon it’s definitely time to change your butcher.
*Update: A reader tells me that in the nineteenth century the name Scolopendra was also given to pincushion millipedes (Polyxenida). It seems likely that this is what Dr Davis was referring to. H/T @derekhennen.
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