Sunday, 17 September 2017

Spinach Ice Cream And 5 Other Weird Victorian Recipes

 Laurence Scales 

The Victorian cookery writer Agnes Marshall (1855-1905) has faded from memory despite running a cookery school in Mortimer Street and, like Jamie Oliver, putting her name on every kind of saleable utensil. (Jelly moulds were particularly big just then.)
Marshall's cookery book of 1885 include recipes for fairly normal things such as coffee cake, cauliflower cheese and curried chicken — but there are some more problematic meals for the modern cook...

Turtle soup

Warning: Contains no mock turtle. But to make it easier Mrs Marshall says you can use sun-dried turtle.
Preparation time: The long Easter weekend should be just about enough.
Method: "Soak it in cold water for three days, constantly changing the water, then put it to cook for 10-12 hours in good stock.
"Add more stock as the pot reduces. Strain; thicken with arrowroot mixed in a wineglassful of sherry. Cut the turtle into pieces. Add a small tin of turtle fat. Flavour with lemon."

Iced cream with foie gras


Preparation: You need a mould in the shape of a duck. If you don’t have one we think one in the shape of anything else would probably taste the same.
A couple of other necessities Mrs Marshall suggests: "If you have glass eyes for the duck they give it a finished appearance."
Method: "Take one and a half pints of cream and season it with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a little salt; mix with it three quarters of a pint of liquid aspic jelly and freeze in the freezing machine until the mixture is setting, then line the duck mould with it. Fill up the centre with pâté de foie gras."

Beef and lark pie

Warning: You need a lot of larks; 36 are needed for a dinner party of six people.
Method: "Take some boned larks, fill them inside with a farce." (Don’t worry. It’s French. This farce is made of egg yolk, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, suet, herbs and nutmeg.)
"Fill them until plump. Take about 1lb of fillet of beef for every 12 larks."
The collective noun for larks is an exaltation, though at this point an exclamation of larks might be more appropriate.
"Sauté cubes of the beef for a few minutes. Add some stock, and the larks. Cover with puff pastry and bake for an hour and a half. Serve hot or cold for dinner, luncheon or breakfast."

                                        An advert for Mrs Marshall's cookery school.

Ox ears

Careful now. We would not want to make a pig’s ear of this, although Mrs Marshall says the pork version is just as good.
"Scald and remove the hair. Bring to the boil and rinse. Then, in a herb and vegetable stock, boil the ears for eight-10 hours. Press between two plates until cold. Now they are ready to cook.
"Cut each ear into three or four pieces, and steep in warm butter, season with a little fresh chopped mushroom that has been washed, a little chopped eschalot, parsley, thyme, bayleaf and mignonette pepper*, and dip into whole beaten up egg and into freshly made white breadcrumbs, and fry in clean boiling fat till a pretty golden colour."
*That’s something like a peck of pickled pepper.
Serving suggestion: Discard.

Iced cream with spinach

Warning: It might come as a bit of a shock if your guests were expecting pistachio.
Method: Bring some spinach to the boil with a pinch of soda. Strain off and press. Boil half a pint of milk and stir in on to four yolks of eggs, and put it on the stove again to thicken. To half a pint of this custard add a small dessert-spoonful of castor sugar, and a pinch of salt; mix with the spinach, pass through the tammy and freeze; add, when partly frozen, half a teacupful of whipped cream sweetened with a very slight dust of castor sugar.

Serving suggestion: Mrs Marshall says to arrange it in ‘cutlets’ with a border of iced cream made with sugar, orange flower water and vanilla. Why not? It can't be worse than some smoothies we have seen.

Ichthys fish sausage

Note to Mrs Marshall: Do not expect your customers to buy something that they cannot pronounce.
Actually, Mrs Marshall did not make these. They came from the factory in Hull of WP English, confusingly described in an ad as ‘sole manufacturer’ even though they were made from cod.
Serving suggestion: "They are excellent when fried in a little butter."
Is that all? Agnes must have had shares in the company.

Ice cream queen

But let's end on a high. As you'll have seen from a couple of the above recipes, Marshall was a great populariser of ice cream, for which she developed her own ice cream maker. Think of one you might get from Argos but made from planks — you can see one at the London Canal Museum.
She also invented the cornet, and even advocated using liquid air to make ice cream at a time when scientists were still busy trying to liquefy various gases for the first time.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Unwritten Laws of the Past and the Freedom to Kill 

Dan Sickles, congressman from New York, was married to the most beautiful woman in Washington but his other interests, including his mistresses, often kept him away from home. His lonely young wife, Teresa, found comfort in the arms of Philip Barton Key, D.C. District Attorney and son of poet Francis Scott Key. When Sickles learned of their affair he armed himself and confronted Key on the street. Blinded by rage he shot and killed his wife’s lover. Was it premeditated murder or temporary insanity?
                                                                 Teresa Sickles
When Daniel Sickles married Teresa Bagioli in 1852, she was 15 years old, and he was 33. She was the daughter of his music teacher and had known Sicles all her life. Her family refused to give their consent to the marriage, but undeterred, the couple was married in a civil ceremony. Seven months later, their only child, Laura Buchanan Sickles was born. 

                                                                 Philip Barton Key

At the time of their marriage, Dan Sickles was an attorney and a New York Assemblyman, a rising star in the Tammany Hall Democratic political machine. Sickles also had a reputation as a ladies' man. Though he loved his beautiful young wife, he continued his extra marital affairs including a long term relationship with Fanny White, owner of a well-known New York brothel. If Teresa knew of these affairs, she chose to endure them in silence.

                                                                         Daniel Sickles

In 1856, Dan Sickles was elected to the U.S. Congress and moved his wife and young daughter to Washington D. C. The Sickles were very popular in Washington social circles. Teresa, beautiful, charming and well educated, was a perfect Washington hostess winning the admiration of men and women alike. But when they weren’t entertaining, Dan’s work and other interests kept him away and Teresa spent much of her time alone.

To ease her loneliness Teresa began spending time in the company of Philip Barton Key, Washington D. C. District Attorney and son of Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled Banner." It began as innocent meetings on the street but soon became a romantic affair. When Dan was away, their trysts would end in the parlor of the Sickles's home. Key rented a house in a poor section of Washington so they could meet in private and avoid detection.

In spite of Key's precautions, their affair became common knowledge in Washington's social circle. Dan Sickle seemed to be the only one in the city unaware of his wife's romance with Philip Barton Key. That situation changed when Sickles received an anonymous letter giving the details of Teresa's affair with Key stating "...I do assure you he has as much use of your wife as you do." Sickles investigated and when he was convinced the story was true he confronted Teresa and made her sign a complete confession.

The following day, Sunday February 27, 1859, Key, unaware that they had been discovered, stood in Lafayette Park, across the street from the Sickles' home waving a handkerchief to get Teresa's attention. Dan Sickles saw the signal and went into a rage. He armed himself with several pistols and rushed into the square saying "Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die."

Sickles fired a pistol at close range but it only caused a glancing blow to Key's hand. Key grabbed Sickles lapels, Sickles dropped the derringer he was holding and the two men grappled. Sickles pulled away and drew another pistol. In defense, Key threw the only weapon he had, a pair of opera glasses, at his opponent. Sickles fired again, hitting Key near the groin. Key fell to the ground and Sickles fired a third shot that struck Key in the chest. Sickles backed off then and onlookers took Key to a nearby house. He died soon after. 

Trial: April 4-26, 1859

Dan Sickles had a team of high powered attorneys handling his case, including Edwin M. Stanton who later became Secretary of War. Sickles had the sympathy of Washington society, and if adultery could have been used as defense to murder he would have been easily acquitted. Instead, his attorneys argued that Teresa's infidelity had driven him temporarily insane. The jury agreed and for the first time in American history temporary insanity was successfully used as a defense to the charge of murder.

Verdict: Not guilty

Dan Sickles had the support of the public who felt his action against Philip Barton Key was justified. Opinion changed dramatically that summer when Sickles took Teresa back and the two lived together again as husband and wife. This was considered a greater transgression than killing Key. Teresa never regained her position in society. She died of tuberculosis in 1867. Sickles went on to be a Union Major General in Civil War and lost a leg at Gettysburg. He died in 1914 at the age of 94.

Compare this to the treatment of Mrs. Kate Southern

                          The sad case of Mrs. Kate Southern! The beautiful, virtuous Georgia
                          wife, who, being maddened to insanity by the outrageous taunts
                          of a bad woman who had enticed her husband away, killed her
                         (Philadelphia, Pa.: Old Franklin Pub. House, 1878). McDade 894.

Dozens of cases invoking the "unwritten law" would be heard in American courts by the end of the 19th century, homicidal jealousy was limited to men.   Any woman committing murder under similar circumstances would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  This became abundantly clear in the case of Kate Southern, a Georgia woman who was charged with murdering a rival for her husband's affections in early 1878.

                                     Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette.
According to the lurid news coverage,  Kate had married her husband, Bob Southern, despite the active opposition of Narcissa Fowler (frequently described in the newspaper coverage as a "woman of notoriously lewd character") who had been sexualyl intimate with Bob before, and after,  his marriage.   Though Kate knew about the affair and had been "unsettled and annoyed by the knowledge", she seemed determined to keep Bob and Narcissa as far apart as possible.    Narcissa actively tried undermining Kate's marriage, including starting scandalous rumours about her and saying that "they would have no peace or satisfaction as long as (Narcissa) lived."

                                 Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette.
A few months after Kate and Bob were married, Narcissa confronted Kate at a party where, under the influence of the whiskey she had been drinking, she began insulting Kate using what one witness later described as "epithets too vulgar and obscene to be written or spoken."   After finally provoking Kate into a fistfight, Kate's sister, Amorelli Hambrick got involved as well.   Though Narcissa likely had no idea that Kate was armed with a knife, she learned this quickly enough when Kate stabbed her repeatedly.  The newspaper coverage fails to mention whether Narcissa died at the scene or later but Kate promptly fled.   Joined by her husband and other members of her family, she became a fugitive until a posse eventually tracked her and her husband down.   After being returned to Pickens County where the stabbing occurred, Kate Southern was subsequently charged with murder.  Her sister was charged as an accomplice while her husband was charged with helping her escape.

The legal defense that Kate received at her trial was far less spirited than what Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette. managed to arrange.  Many observers accused Kate's lawyers of mismanaging her defense but their legal options were fairly limited.  There was certainly no question of seeking any kind of defense based on the "unwritten law."   Though husbands could claim that a wife's infidelity was an attack on their "personal honour", wives were expected to endure the extramarital affairs of their husbands in silence.   Women could claim self-defense if they were being raped but killing an unfaithful husband or the other woman typically led to a criminal conviction.  Presumably, the courts didn't feel comfortable giving wives the same "license to kill" that husbands enjoyed.

And so it was with Kate Southern.   It probably didn't help that her defense attorneys failed to launch much of  a defense on her behalf.   Many of the newspaper reporters commenting on the trial openly criticized the lawyers for not calling any witnesses on Kate's behalf or their failure to cross-examine many of the witnesses that were called.    All that they were able to come with was a half-hearted insanity defense which failed to convince the jury.  Her conviction hardly came as a surprise to anyone though the penalty handed down by the judge certainly was.   Kate Southern was sentenced to death by hanging.

Almost immediately after news of the sentence got out,  the campaign to save Kate's life began to mobilize.  Her attorneys mounted an appeal to Georgia's Governor to commute the sentence.   This included numerous depositions from Kate's family members (including her husband) which attempted to show that she was provoked into killing Narcissa.   It also helped that Kate had recently given birth and descriptions of Kate in prison with her baby where she awaited her execution helped the media campaign to save her life.  Petitions with thousands of signatures (mostly women) were sent pleading  for clemency.

The campaign worked.   Kate'a sentence was commuted to ten years in prison to be spent in a Georgia prison camp.  Her sister, Amorelli, was sent to the same camp to serve her own sentence.   Thousands of supporters came out to watch the train that would take Kate to prison.  As one newspaper description reported, "at all the towns through which the train passed, the people (ministers, gamblers, women, and all classes) crowded to the depots to see and express their sympathy for her, and at Atlanta, where a large purse was collected for her benefit, the excitement was so great that the car windows were broken."    Her husband found work near the prison and was even granted conjugal visits (Kate had two more children during her time in prison).    After serving only three years of her sentence, she was granted a full pardon and allowed to return home.

Kate Southern largely faded into obscurity after she was released but her case continued to generate controversy.  In the years that followed, more conservative newspaper editors accused Kate's supporters of allowing her gender to save her from execution and argued against granting clemency for women committing murder.  And there would  be no more clemency.   When Emma Simpson shot her estranged husband in 1919, believing that "the new unwritten law, which does not permit a married man to love another woman, will be my defense,"   even Clarence Darrow couldn't save her from being found "insane but guilty."

While the number of cases claiming the "unwritten law" became less frequent by the 1920s,  husbands committing murder to defend their "personal honour"  still used the defense well into the 20th century.  In many U.S. states, the law allowing husbands to kill "interlopers" was formally enshrined into legal statutes (thus making it the "written law").    When and where the law could be used became a major sticking point for many judges who insisted that husbands could only kill their wive's lovers if it was done in the "heat of passion."  If the husband allowed time for his anger to cool and to become more reasonable, then any homicide committed afterwards became "deliberate revenge" and he could be prosecuted.

In Texas, for example, one statute held that, "Homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon one taken in the act of adultery with the wife, provided the killing take place before the parties to the act have separated. Such circumstance cannot justify a homicide where it appears that there has been, on the part of the husband, any connivance in or assent to the adulterous connection."    In other words, the couple had to be caught in flagrante delicto for the killing to be legal (it was eventually repealed in 1974).  Other states, including Georgia, New Mexico, and Utah passed similar law, almost all of which would be repealed by the end of the 1970s.

Today, while husbands are no longer so free to kill to avenge "personal honour", the "temporary insanity" or "diminished capacity" defense is still around in one form or another.  Perhaps fittingly these days, it is more likely to be used by women on trial for murdering their husbands due to domestic abuse (a.k.a. the "battered woman defense") than vice-versa.   Whatever the status of "unwritten law" today however, defense attorneys are still known to use it during murder trials simply because it might work.  There is often no telling what a sympathetic jury might decide to do in cases where they regard the husband (or wife) as being fully justified in committing murder in the heat of passion.

And so, the legacy of Daniel Sickles and Kate Southern remains with us even today.


The National Police Gazette

Monday, 4 September 2017



The 1850 murder of Gustave Fougnies in Belgium is not famous because of the cleverness of his killers. Not at all. They - his sister and brother-in-law - practically set off signal flares announcing their parts in a suspicious death.
It's not famous because it was such a classic high society murder. The killers were the dashing, expensive, and deeply indebted Comte and Countess de Bocarmé. The death occurred during a dangerously intimate dinner at their chateau, a 18th century mansion on an estatein southern Belgium.
Nor it is remembered because the Comte died by guillotine in 1851 - so many did after all.
No, this is a famous murder because of its use of a notably lethal poison. And because the solving of this particular murder changed the history of toxicology, helped lay the foundation for modern forensic science. The poison, by the way, was the plant alkaloid nicotine. And it was chosen because at the time, no one - absolutely no one - knew how to detect a plant alkaloid in a dead body. During the unsuccessful prosecution of a morphine murder only a few years earlier, a French prosecutor actually started shouting about it in the courtroom: "Henceforth, let us tell would-be poisoners...use plant poisons. Fear nothing; your crime will go unpunished. There is no corpus delecti (physical evidence) for it cannot be found."

                                  Note: Carbon (black), hydrogen (white), nitrogen (blue)
And that was certainly the idea when the Comte and his wife decided to murder her young brother for his money. That they could kill him with this very special poison. And never be caught.
We probably know nicotine best today for its role in creating the highly addictivechemistry of tobacco, a reason that so many people find it difficult to quit smoking even though the habit is so conclusively linked to disorders ranging from heart disease to lung cancer. The compound has such a potent effect on the brain that some researchers have even suggested that it provides a gateway for drugs such as cocaine. Others have wondered whether that potency could somehow be harnessed to good effect, as a treatment for disorders ranging from Alzheimer'sto depression, although its addictive nature makes such approaches obviously complicated.
But back in the 19th century, of course, there was no way to peel apart its neurochemicaleffects. What people did know was that nicotine was one lethal compound. Tobacco, a plant native to the Americas, had caught the attention of the Europeans during the 16th century. One of its strongest advocates was Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal, who acquired plants and seeds from the Portuguese colony in Brazil and promoted their use during the 1560s. The tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, is named after him, as is the plant's primary alkaloid.
Nicotine was first isolated from tobacco leaves in 1828 by two German chemists, Wilhelm Heinrich Posselt and Karl Ludwing Reinmann (its structure would be determined in 1893 and it would be first synthesized in 1904). Do you wonder what it's made of? Three of the most common elements on Earth - carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen - and this represents one of the things I like best about chemistry, the way nature takes the planet's ordinary ingredients and mixes them up to such varied effect. The formula for nicotine is a straightforward: C14H10N2. Of course, that underestimates its complexity. If you look at a 3D model of nicotine (frankly, these always remind me balloon art) you'll see what a clustering twist of compound it really is:
And it's that elegant arrangement that turns nicotine into such an effective poison, moving through the bloodstream with exceptional speed. When inhaled, nicotine travels from lung to brain in an estimated seven seconds. Toxicologists estimate that a fully smoked cigarette delivers about 1 mg of nicotine to the lungs; this compares to a lethal dose estimate of 30-60 mg. (For further comparison, the lethal dose range for arsenic is 70-200 mg.) The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) notes that: "Nicotine is one of the most toxic of all poisons and has a rapid onset of action. Apart from local caustic actions, the target organs are the peripheral and central nervous systems."
Obviously, again, people didn't know all that in earlier centuries. They wouldn't have called it a neurotoxin as we do today. But they did know that it was a poison that killed humans, pets and pests alike and by the 18th century, nicotine had become a very popular insecticide. That use has continued into modern times although pure nicotine pesticides have been gradually phased out due to their broad spectrum toxicity. (Their replacements, neonicotinoide pesticides, which have a chemically similar but theoretically less dangerous structure are now under fire as contributing to the widespread collapse of bee colonies). It's worth noting that because they're based on plant chemistry, pure nicotine poisons have been acceptable to the U.S. government for use by organic farmers treating insect infestations. And also that these same pesticides have occasionally turned up in more recent homicide investigations and in one unnerving2003 mass poisoning incident in Michigan.
We know about those poisonings, these successful murders and these attempted ones, because of what we learned from that bungled murder in Belgium more than 150 years ago. With the help, of course, of one completely obsessive chemist named Jean Servais Stas.

As the story goes, Comte Hyppolyte de Bocarmé rather fancied himself a chemist also. He built a laboratory in the wash house of his rambling estate, ostensibly for the purpose of brewing up perfumes. But in the summer of 1850 - according to one of the gardeners - he also bought an astonishingly large quantity of tobacco leaves and stored them in a barn. Slowly the leaves began to disappear though.
The count's wife, Lydie, was the daughter of a wealthy apothecary and she, like her husband, enjoyed an extravagant life style. The couple became famous for wild parties and hunting sprees - and for living beyond their income. They both counted on a large inheritance when her father died. But the old man left almost all his money to his son, Gustave. The brother, long-troubled by ill health, made his own will, handily leaving all to his sister. And the Bocarmés continued living on their expectations - but with increasing impatience.
By the fall of 1850, as it would turn out, the Comte had distilled two large vials of pure nicotine from his tobacco leaves. Investigators would also later discover the bodies of farm cats and birds that he'd apparently used to test his poison. If you spend any time studying poisoners, you learn that they are by nature planners and plotters and patient with it. So who knows how long he might have waited on his brother-in-law's ill health. But Gustave forced his hand - he decided to get married.
On the night of November 20, 1850, the 32-year-old Fougnies was invited to a celebratory dinner at his sister's home. As the servants testified, everything about the evening was, from the beginning, odd. The children, who usually ate with the family, were instead sent away to the nursery. The countess insisted on serving the meal herself when normally she liked to be waited upon. One servant said he heard a call for help; all heard the thump of a body hitting the floor.
And then the comte and countess poured vinegar down the dead man's throat and washed his body as well in that mild acid. They scraped the floor; the comte's clothes were sent to be washed. His shirt was burned to ash. The conspiring couple announced that her brother had suddenly dropped dead of a stroke. But no one could help but notice that the dead man's face was bruised, cut, and appeared burned by some caustic substance (pure nicotine is, in fact, corrosive). Unnerved, the chateau's servants took the unusual step of contacting the authorities - in this case, a local priest - themselves. The priest contacted a magistrate who took one look at the battered body and summoned the police.
Their investigation led the police to suspect that Fougnies had been poisoned with nicotine. But everything, the tobacco leaves, the laboratory, even the dead animals made only a chain of circumstantial evidence. At the start of the 19th century, no tests existed that could detect a poison in corpse. In the 1830s, the British chemist James Marsh had developed the first procedure for detecting the metallic poison arsenic in a body. But the Marsh testrequired that the tissue be destroyed and, as it turned out, that destructive process also destroyed the more fragile plant alkaloids like nicotine. No test had been developed by 1850 to overcome that problem.
The magistrate decided to take his problem to Jean Servais Stas, the country's best chemist, famous, in particular, for his work with atomic weights. Stas found himself infuriated by this perversion of chemistry. He retired to his Brussels laboratory with organ tissues from Fougnies' body and he began a series of experimentsthat lasted three full months. Chemists can also be patient, after all. And in that time period, he managed to figure out a method using ether, acetic acid and ethanol (for preservation), that enabled him to extract the oily liquid of nicotine from the preserved tissues. His approach has been updated since, but the Stas-Otto method remains a fundamental part of toxicology today.
It's not surprising then that Comte de Bocarmé was found guilty, executed on July 19, 1851. His last request was for a clean death; he asked that the blade be very sharp. His wife, Lydie, claimed that she'd acted solely out of fear of her husband and was found not guilty. Also, perhaps, not surprising. Little is known of her life afterwards. We barely remember her, her husband, even her poor dead brother. But perhaps we should try. They - these incompetent killers, this nicotine murder - changed our lives. This poison and this crime broke down one of the largest barriers in toxicology and helped lay the foundation for the profession of forensic chemistry that we know today.

Images: 1) Murderpedia 2)Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Strange Victorian Fashion Of Self-Electrification

In the 19th Century, a titillating electric shock was said to cure many diseases. Now neuroscientists are coming to reinvestigate the techniques – but do they work?

        Jolts of electricity were though to cure all sorts of physical and mental ailments 

By David Robson

Are you tired? Plagued by migraines? Or suffering from anxiety? Then Isaac Pulvermacher had the answer with his famous “hydro-electric belt”.
Shaped like a cowboy’s bullet belt, the device was really a series of small batteries with two clasps at either end. Applying these electrodes to the offending areas, you would then enjoy a titillating electric current coursing through your flesh.
Appearing at the first World’s Fair at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851, the device soon became a talking point in fashionable drawing rooms across the world – with 50,000 people a year reportedly plugging in.
 Even Charles Dickens was curious. During his gruelling reading tours of the late 1860s, the writer suffered from agonising leg pain – and on the advice of the actress Marie Bancroft, he ordered Pulvermacher’s “magic band” on 3 June 1870.
“If the Pulvermacher magic band was put to the test, the patient did not survive to report the result,” notes the medical historian Robert K Waits. Dickens’s very last letter was addressed to Pulvermacher & Co, acknowledging receipt.

Today, scientists are again exploring the use of electro-therapy to treat a range of disorders – and some desperate patients are even attempting to build their own ‘medical batteries’ that are surprisingly reminiscent of Pulvermacher’s Chains. “There’s this re-emergence of things that people think are advances in the medical field,” says Jeff Behary, who has curated a museum of these electro-therapeutic devices in Florida. “But if you go back, you can see they were doing it 100 years ago.” But what are the real benefits of these devices? And what are the risks?

Despite his fame, Pulvermacher was by no means the first to consider the therapeutic potential of electricity. In 48 BC, Emperor Claudius’s physician, Scribonius Largus, recommended placing an electric torpedo fish on the head to cure migraines.
Largus is unlikely to understood the physical force at the source of those sensations, but by the 18th Century modern scientists such as Benjamin Franklin had begun to capture and control this energy – using Leyden Jars to store static charge within thin tin-foil plates. And they were quick to explore its effects on the body. Franklin, for instance, tried applying a static electric shock to cure the cramps that came with a woman’s hysteria.
Roche’s son’s frock caught fire with a great blaze – the flame rising six inches above the collar
Such treatments were not without danger, however – as Waits recently noted in a paper for Progress in Brain Research. In May 1748, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society published a report by a man named Robert Roche, whose 16-year-old son had suffered from periodic fits “that entirely take away his senses”. He took to building his own “electrifying machine”, deliberately shocking his son twice a day in a desperate bid to prevent the seizures.  One time, however, his son’s “frock” caught fire “with a great blaze… the flame rising six inches above the collar.” Fortunately, Roche managed to quell the fire with his own hands, and he happily reported that he had redesigned his machine to prevent future mishaps.
The technology would change dramatically in the 19th Century, with the invention of the first chemical battery – using metals soaked in an acidic solution to generate an electric current. But it was only with the rise of consumerism, during the industrial revolution, that these instruments began to reach the general population.
“With mass production, they could be produced efficiently and cheaply – and mail order catalogues let you sell the products across the whole country,” says Anna Wexler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The result was the rapid rise of countless electro-therapies that aimed to improve circulation and reduce blockages in the major organs. “People used them for pretty much everything,” Wexler adds. “Both consumers and physicians were just trying things, experimenting and seeing if things would stick.”

 Electrotherapies were often portrayed as panaceas – a claim lampooned in this English cartoon 

The Hydro-Electric Chain was one of the most successful products. Its inventor, Isaac Pulvermacher, was a Prussian emigre moving between Germany, France and England, whose previous accomplishments had included a new kind of dynamo. Thanks to clever marketing, however, his ‘magic band’ soon turned out to be a far more lucrative business, selling in its thousands across Europe and the USA.

Pulvermacher’s belt even makes an appearance in Gustave Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary, where it apparently endows the pharmacist Monsieur Homais with astonishing sex appeal. His wife, we are told, “was quite dazzled by the sight of the golden spiral in which he was almost lost to view, and she felt a redoubling of her passion for this man, bound tighter than a Scythian.”
By varying the number of batteries within the belt, and the location of the electrodes on the body or the scalp, the device could be adapted to treat headache, rheumatism, dyspepsia, heart palpitations, dropsy, and piles, fatigue and general nervous complaints. “The success which has attended them is UNPARALLELLED in the history of medicine,” his promotional pamphlets claimed. “That most were purchased and used by the wealthy and intelligent speaks volumes in their favour!”
The company did not address any side-effects of the device, besides the occasional appearance of sores around the electrodes, although it did warn that the sensation of the electric current could become “unsupportable” at high powers.
And they had success stories aplenty. “You know in what a pitiful state of debility and emaciation I was, unable to digest anything,” wrote one satisfied customer, who had been suffering from a bout of diarrhoea so severe that “it could not be stopped by any medical advice”. Within two days he was eating again; within 10, he was completely cured. “I am perfectly well now, and beg you to accept my best thanks for having restored my life.”
Whether we can trust these reports is another matter: Pulvermacher’s agents were known to misquote doctor’s testimonials. But Wexler points out that many of the other manufacturers were more sober in their claims, and less faddish “medical batteries” (essentially a wooden box with electrodes and dials) were often used by reputable doctors.

                                       Could an electric shock be the secret to a virile body? 
By the 1920s, however, the treatments began to fall out of fashion, both among doctors and the general public. But many of the inventions still turn up at antiques auctions, and one American collector, Jeff Behary, has spent years restoring and testing them on himself – a collection that is now held by the RGF Environmental Group in Florida.
One of the stranger contraptions used a build-up of static electricity, perhaps a little like the device used by Roche in the 1740s. The “patient” would stand on a wooden platform under a metal crown – and as the voltage in the device built, they would experience the charge drawn through their head. “You feel a rush of energy escaping your body,” says Behary. There’s also the sensation of cool air flowing over your skin.  “It is one of the most relaxing and oddly peculiar sensations one will ever experience.”
Pulvermacher’s Chains were less dramatic, he says – provoking the sensation of a slight shock. In a sense they were more like a fashionable piece of jewellery, he says, and although he thinks it might have relieved some symptoms, he suspects this was due to distraction more than anything else. “It sort of takes your mind off the pain.”
Despite the decline of those devices, the possibility of using electricity to treat diseases has never completely disappeared from mainstream medicine. Electroconvulsive therapy, for instance, used an electric current to trigger a brain seizure, as a means of treating severe depression in the 40s, 50s and 60s. (The therapy is perhaps most famously depicted in the book and film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.) The severe side effects – such as substantial memory loss – mean that it is often considered a last resort for the most severe cases.
A gentler electro-therapy, called ‘transcranial direct current stimulation’ or tDCS, involves passing a much smaller current through the scalp, to gently tickle the neurons underneath. The equipment today looks surprisingly similar to the medical batteries of the past, and depending on the placement of the electrodes, neuroscientists think they can selectively activate or deactivate the different brain regions involved in certain kinds of thinking and reasoning.
The technique has already shown some promise in boosting recovery after stroke, soothing chronic pain, and alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Some experiments have also suggested that it can boost concentration, memory, and mathematics skills. Sceptics argue that some of the results may just be a fluke, however, and doctors still need to perform larger clinical trials before these benefits can be proven.

This diagram from Pulvermacher’s manual shows the way that Charles Dickens may have treated his leg pain

But that has not stopped some people from starting to apply tDCS themselves, in their own homes, using off-the-shelf kits and home-made devices.
Wexler has studied this trend in depth, and in a recent paper for Brain Stimulation journal, she draws many parallels with the 19th Century craze for electro-therapies of the past. In both cases, for instance, there is a spirit of self-experimentation – with a community of like-minded enthusiasts sharing tips and tricks – through the pages of magazines, or (today) online reddit forums.
What’s more, many of the tDCS users have turned to the devices out of frustration with other medical treatments – particularly for disorders like depression – and this was similarly true in the 19th Century.  “They were marketed as a substitute for a visit to the physician,” says Wexler. Then, as now, reputable scientists and doctors became increasingly concerned about this unsupervised use of the devices. Neuroscientists today are calling for tDCS to be regulated by organisations such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Wexler thinks we would do well to consider that history as we consider both the promise – and the risks – of those devices. “What we’re seeing now can feel new – it can feel crazy,” she adds. “But if you look to the past it’s not new at all – the home-use of electricity was popular 100 years ago. History does repeat itself.”

Wikimedia Creative Commons
Science Photo Library

Monday, 21 August 2017

Victorian Feminine Hygiene

                                                                      Sanitary Aprons

Until disposable sanitary pads were created, cloth or reusable pads were widely used to collect menstrual blood. Women often used a variety of home-made menstrual pads which they crafted from various fabrics, or other absorbent materials, to collect menstrual blood.

Public facilities often had incinerators where women could burn pads when away from home and households kept buckets full of cold water and bicarbonate of soda (still a great way to get rid of blood stains) where pads could be boil washed after a long soak.

Disposable menstrual pads grew from a Ben Franklin invention created to help stop wounded soldiers from bleeding, but appear to have been first commercially available from around 1888 with the Southball’s pad. The first commercially available American disposable napkins were Lister’s Towels created by Johnson & Johnson in 1888**. Disposable pads had their start with nurses using their wood pulp bandages to catch their menstrual flow, creating a pad that was made from easily obtainable materials and inexpensive enough to throw away after use. Kotex’s first advertisement for products made with this wood pulp (Cellucotton) appeared in 1888. Several of the first disposable pad manufacturers were also manufacturers of bandages, which could give an indication of what these products were like. [Wikipedia]

                     Lister's Towels ad. Arizona Republic. Phoenix AZ. 7 Jun 1906
The pads ended up being just too cutting edge for the times, and the product was quickly considered a failure.

 Menstrual cups weren’t far behind. The first was invented just after turn of the century.

 Advertisements in the Victorian era were intentionally vague as taboos prevented open discussion of feminine hygiene, birth control, or menses.

                  Ladie’s Doily Belt. Sanitary Napkins. Sears Roebuck and Co. 1898 Catalog no. 107
No. D2261 Ladie’s Doily Belt [sic]. Made of Soft Sateen and Silk with Rubberband [sic]. An almost necessary article for ladies during their menstrual period for the convenience of attaching the napkin or pad. It is easily adjusted, and will not interfere with other Garments. Each, with two cotton shields or pads…40c.

Item No. 10932: Ladies’ Suspenders for supporting skirt 
Per paid $0.10. Note: such suspenders were worn to distribute the weight of the lady’s skirt to her shoulders as well as helping to keep the skirt up where it belongs about her waist. The suspenders were worn beneath the blouse, unlike men’s suspenders which were worn atop the shirt and beneath the waistcoat/vest.


Women had long used syringes (at least by the 17th century) for douching. Both Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery, Ward & Co. catalogs sold various style syringes for feminine hygiene. According to the advertisements, the devices were used for post-coital cleanliness and to (with additives such as alum, baking soda, or vinegar) reduce the risk of pregnancy. Douches were apparently employed during menses as well as post-partum (which may have contributed to “childbed fever”, a.k.a. peritonitis following childbirth). Advertisements were intentionally vague as a newspaper reporter had been arrested in 1882 for obscenity.


               Abdominal and Uterine Supporter. 1898 Sears Roebuck and Co. Catalog no. 107
Similar products were advertised in Sears, Roebuck & co. catalog of 1897 and Montgomery, Ward & co. of 1895. Uterine Prolapse must’ve been relatively common and without the surgical intervention of today, devices such as this kept bits tucked inside.


Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health, published in 1847

“In those severe cases, when the gush of blood is almost instantaneous, and so great as to endanger life in a very short time, we may employ, temporarily, mechanical means to prevent it. The best of which, and the most readily prepared, is called the tampon or plug. It may be made of linen rag, cotton, or sponge, in the form of a ball, and introduced into the vagina like a pessary, It should be large enough to completely fill up the passage, but must not be introduced more than about two inches, for fear of irritating and inflaming the mouth of the womb, which is then very sensitive.

A very good way to make the plug is, to cut out round pieces of soft linen cloth, then pass a stout thread through the middle of each and press them close together, till the mass is au inch thick. The string is convenient for pulling it out again, and should always be attached to every one. A small bag filled with tan, or ashes, or sawdust soaked in alum water, is also very excellent. These plugs should not be withdrawn in a hurry, unless severe symptoms supervene, and when they are removed, care must be taken not to disturb or irritate the parts. If the danger be imminent, and there be not time, or means to prepare a tampon, the lips and vulva should be firmly pressed together with the hand, till other means can be procured.”

Below are  images of tampons from Minor Surgical Gynecology: a Manual of Uterine Diagnosis and the Lesser Technicalities of Gynecological Practice: For the Use of the Advanced Student and General Practitioner, by Paul Fortunatus Mundém, published 1880. These tampons are for medical use.


Source: Through the ages: A Brief history of your period
Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health

Monday, 14 August 2017

Female Soldiers of the American Civil War


Today’s subject choice originated by stumbling across a photograph of Albert D.J. Cashier, born Jennie Hodgers in 1843. He served for a full 3 year term after enlisting in the Union army at the age of 19 and fought in over 40 battles against the Confederate Army. When the war was over, Albert continued to live as a man in small town Illinois, voting in elections and enjoying the freedoms that most women did not. He even received his military pension, but never married and lived in a one room house alone. No one knew Cashier’s secret until 1913, when he developed dementia in his old age. Attendants at a state hospital for the insane discovered that Albert was born a female during bathing. He was forced to wear a dress for the first time since childhood and ultimately died from a fall after tripping over his own skirt.

According to the National Archives, as many as 400 women secretly fought during the Civil War while attempting to conceal their gender. Stories of women in uniform being discovered by accident or through medical examination in hospital, were frequent enough that they became common gossip for the army’s trenches.

Alas, Albert Cashier was buried in 1915 in full uniform with military honours and given an official Grand Army of the Republic funerary service. His former comrades, although initially surprised by the news of his gender revelation, rallied in support of Albert and protested his treatment at the hospital.

Other names left out of the history books include Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who enlisted in the Union Army under the false identity of Lyons Wakeman at the age of seventeen. Her letters written during her service remained undiscovered for nearly a century, stored away in the attic of her relatives.

Wakeman was first stationed as a guard in a Union army prison in Washington. Ironically, during her duty there, she met a female prisoner who had been arrested for the crime of impersonating a man to fight for the Union army. Wakeman later died of illness from contaminated drinking water like so many thousands of other soldiers. Her identity was never revealed, not even at the time of her burial. Her headstone reads “Lyons Wakeman”, marked with full military honours at Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans.

Pictured above is Frances Louisa Clayton, who enlisted in the Union Army under the alias Jack Williams. Stories and accounts of her life are contradictory, most likely because of conflicting information she gave to keep her identity a secret. She was described as a “very tall, masculine looking woman bronzed by exposure” easily able to pass as a man by her “erect and soldierly carriage”. She was also known to drink any other soldier under the table and adopted masculine habits such as smoking, chewing tobacco, swearing, and gambling. Known by her fellow soldiers as an “accomplished horse-man” and a “capital swordsman”, little else is known of her life.

Sarah Emma Edmonds fought in the Union Army as Frank Thompson and was a purported master of disguise. First serving as a male field nurse before becoming a spy, one disguise required Edmonds to use silver nitrate for dying the skin black, wear a black wig, and walk into the Confederacy disguised as a black man by the name of Cuff. When Sarah contracted malaria, she abandoned duty and checked into a private hospital to avoid discovery. Upon return to her regiment’s station, she saw wanted posters for Frank Thompson who had been labelled a deserter (punishable by execution). To avoid such a fate, Edmonds had no choice but to switch back to her female identity and serve as a female nurse at a hospital in Washington, D.C..

Mary Seaberry was another soldier who was said to be so convincing as a male that none of her fellow comrades suspected for a second until she was admitted into hospital for a fever and discharged on the basis of “sexual incompatibility”.

In my digging, I even came across an online forum dedicated to guessing the gender of subjects in nameless antique civil war photographs. Females in disguise or teenage boys? The forum calls them “Maybe’s”….

Author Bonnie Tsui of She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, spoke to the Smithsonian about how these women managed to fool the American army:

The lore is that the physical exams were not rigorous at all. If you had enough teeth in your head and could hold a musket, you were fine. The funny thing is, in this scenario, a lot of women didn’t seem any less manly than, for example, the teenage boys who were enlisting. At the time, I believe the Union had an official cutoff age of 18 for soldiers, but that was often flouted and people often lied. They had a lot of young guys and their voices hadn’t changed and their faces were smooth. The Confederacy never actually established an age requirement. So [women] bound their breasts if they had to, and just kind of layered on clothes, wore loose clothing, cut their hair short and rubbed dirt on their faces. They also kind of kept to themselves. The evidence that survived often describes them as aloof. Keeping to themselves certainly helped maintain the secret.

In many cases, being discovered and exposed as women couldn’t deter the female fighters. Lizzie Compton, who enlisted at the age of 14 kept getting discovered when injured in battle. Each time, she packed up her things and moved on to another regimen under a new male identity.

There are many reasons behind why women decided to conceal their identities and join such a horrific war– patriotism, a need for adventure or simply a means of earning money. But the consistent and long-term commitment to the male identity suggests that some of these women may also in fact have been transgender men. It’s an unknown part of history that perhaps leaves room for an untold story…

Of course transgender people have always existed, but from the average history class, you wouldn’t know it. Whether they truly were our modern definition of transgender or women trapped in a man’s world seeking the same freedoms, textbooks rarely mention these historical pioneers of the Civil War. So just a friendly reminder.

Monday, 7 August 2017


                                     Marston's coopers posing with their casks in 19th century

by Richard Jones

Did you know that it used to be quite common for people to die from the effects of “Sucking The Monkey”?

Indeed, the newspapers of the latter half of the 19th century contain numerous reports of such deaths, and if the accounts of it are accurate, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant way to go.

The various reported cases illustrate one important aspect of the East End of London in the Victorian era – and on into the 20th century, for that matter – that drinking alcohol was a huge part of everyday life, and, as a consequence, drunkenness was a massive problem, that could sometimes have fatal consequences for the unwise, or over-enthusiastic, imbiber.

                    Victorian Drinkers Outside A Beer Shop on Whitechapel Road.


The Cheltenham Chronicle featured a case of someone who survived the practice in its edition of October 4th 1870:-

“Walter Burke was charged at Thames Police Court on the 26th, with illegally drinking wine from a cask in the London Docks.

The prisoner was detected by a cooper named William Etheridge, knocking the bung out of a cask of wine on the dock quay.

The prisoner removed the bung with a hammer and then commenced sucking the wine out with his mouth, just like a dog lapping; holding his head up to allow the wine to run down his throat.

Etheridge seized the prisoner before he had finished swallowing the first mouthful, and delivered him over to an inspector of the dock company’s police.

Mr. Paget sentenced the prisoner to a month’s imprisonment and hard labour.”


However, there were some who indulged in the practice who paid a much heavier price than a prison sentence with  hard labour, as is evidenced from the following report, that appeared in The Edinburgh Evening News on Wednesday August 18th 1875:-

“On Monday evening Mr Humphreys held an inquest at the London Hospital relative to the death of Thomas Collins, aged 29, a labourer employed in the spirit vaults of the London Docks, and living at 12 Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields.

On Friday morning, the deceased left home in good health to go to his work as usual.

At a quarter to eight the same night he was brought home insensible, having been found by a fellow-workman lying on the pavement opposite the Princess Alice, Commercial Street.

He smelt dreadfully of spirits, and never becoming conscious was removed at two o’clock the following Saturday morning to the hospital, where the doctor pronounced life extinct.

Deceased’s wife stated that she had heard her husband speak about sucking the monkey; she knew he used a bone for that purpose.

The coroner said this was not the first case by many that had come under his notice.

No doubt most of the jury knew the meaning of  “sucking the monkey.”

A mutton bone was inserted in the bung of the barrel, which enabled the men to draw up the raw spirit into their mouths.

Deceased had contributed to his death, and no one was to blame but himself.

Dr. Hughes, assistant medical officer, having stated death to be due to congestion of the brain consequent on drinking strong spirits, a verdict to that effect was recorded.”


The Grantham Journal, on October 28th 1876, carried a report of a similar case, that ended with less tragic consequences:-

“At the Thames Police Court, London, on Monday, George Rodgers, a powerfully-built, elderly man, was charged with stealing brandy from a cask in the London Dock.

James Mann, a constable in the service of the dock, said that on Saturday afternoon he was on duty on the brandy quay, when he saw the prisoner lying between two casks in a speechless state of intoxication.

He sent for a barrow, placed the defendant on it, and drove him to the station in the dock.

On searching him he found a large tube wet with brandy.

A surgeon was called in to attend to the prisoner, and on his regaining his senses and being told the charge he made no reply.

The witness said that on the 25th of July last the defendant was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour for stealing wine from a cask through a gutta-percha tube, commonly termed among the dock employees “sucking the monkey”, and was also sentenced to a further term of one month with hard labour for assaulting a dock constable.

The Magistrate now sentenced the prisoner to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.”

                    A Policeman Wheels A Drunk Man Through The Streets Of The East End.

The Evening Telegraph, on Monday January 16th, 1888, reported on another fatal case:-

“Among the prisoners charged on Saturday morning at the Thames Police Court was James Donovan, aged 40, a labourer, who was charged with being found drunk and incapable.

The Magistrate was informed that, after the unfortunate man was arrested, he died.

About half-past-four, on Friday afternoon, a constable found Donovan lying on the pavement in High Street, Shadwell, in an insensible condition.

He was conveyed to the Shadwell Police Station, when the inspector sent for the Divisional Surgeon.

On the latter examining the man, he found him to be suffering from the effects of drink.

By the doctor’s advice, Donovan was removed to the London Hospital, where he died about three hours afterwards, from the effects of alcoholic poisoning.

From inquiries made, it appears that the deceased man had been “sucking the monkey” from a cask of rum at Colonial Wharf, and so brought about the condition in which he was found.

Some months ago, the same constable found Donovan in a similar condition as he was on Friday afternoon. On that occasion he had been “sucking the monkey” from a wine cask.

Mr Lushington marked the sheet, “Died in Hospital.”

                                                             The London Hospital.

The Evening Telegraph And Star featured a similar report on Thursday June 7th 1894:-

“A sad case of what is known in the dock warehouse as “sucking the monkey” was yesterday brought under the notice of  Mr Haden Corser, the magistrate, at the Thames Police Court.

Among the charges was one against Richard Barry, 29, a dock labourer, of Hungerford Street, Commercial Road, for having in his possession a tube for obtaining wine from casks at the London Docks.

Inspector Newman informed the magistrate that the unfortunate man had since died.

When charged at Leman Street Police Station, Barry appeared to be all right, but afterwards showed signs of illness.

Dr Clarke, assistant Divisional Surgeon, was immediately summoned, and although every effort was made to restore the man to consciousness, it was not successful.

Barry had been consuming sherry, and there was no doubt the excessive drinking of that brought about his sad end.

Mr Haden Corser marked the sheet accordingly.”


The practice was also responsible for the death of William Ryan, as reported by The Illustrated Police News on the 15th of December 1894:-

“FRIDAY afternoon, at the London Hospital, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, coroner for East London, held an inquiry respecting the death of William Ryan, aged thirty-six years; a dock labourer, late of 110, Coventry Street, Bethnal Green, who died in the hospital on Tuesday from the effects of drinking stolen spirits in the London Docks.

Walter Lilley, a detective employed by the London and India Docks Joint Committee, deposed that, on Wednesday last, he was asked to get the ambulance and take it to the tobacco warehouse.

He went there and found the deceased lying on a box partly unconscious, and witness took him to the hospital.

Witness believed the deceased had been stealing spirits, and asked him if it was so.

He said, “I met ‘C’ man in the docks, and he asked me if I  wanted a drink, “and the man took him to a cask of wine, and having removed the bung, they both had a drink out of the bunghole, and he remembered nothing more.

The cask was found to contain brandy, which had been put in a port wine cask.

James Warden, one of the dock constables, deposed that the deceased was brought to him on a man’s back about five o’clock in the afternoon, and witness saw he was ill and went for the last witness.

Robert Hailing, of 21, Bandon Road, Victoria Park, deposed that he was the deceased’s foreman that day.

He saw nothing of any man talking to the deceased.

Dr. Cook, house surgeon, deposed that the deceased was unconscious when admitted, and remained so for ten hours.

Death was due to bronchitis, following alcoholic poisoning.

The jury returned a verdict to that effect.”


The practice – and resultant fatalities – most certainly continued into the 20th century, as the following case, reported in The Farringdon Advertiser, on Saturday May 17th 1919, demonstrates:-

“At an inquiry into the death of a dock labourer, Joseph Hyams, at the London Hospital, a Port of London Authority constable told the coroner that the accused lost his life through the practice known as “riding the pony,” or “sucking the monkey.”

This means that a man, after making a hole through the bung of a cask of liquor, got astride the cask and sucked the contents by means of tubing or glass, or even paper.

The evidence showed that death was due to asphyxiation consequent upon acute alcoholism.

Hyams was found lying unconscious by the side of a sixty-gallon cask of brandy at the London Docks, and it was found that three casks of over-proof brandy had been tampered with.”