Andrew Wilson’s An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentery, 1777

For many of us, autumn is synonymous with falling leaves, darker nights, and wrapping up in warmer clothes. It’s a time when the clocks go back, and we can enjoy the last of the sunny days before winter sets in. However, in the Eighteenth Century, autumn was also synonymous with something altogether less pleasant: ‘autumnal dysentery’.

Dysentery was common in Newcastle and wider Tyneside during the Eighteenth Century, but reached epidemic levels during the autumns of 1758 and 1759. There were also significant outbreaks in 1783 and 1785.

Andrew Wilson (1718-1792) was a Scottish physician and medical writer, who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 1749. He set up a practice in Newcastle a short time after and stayed in the city until 1775 or 1776, when he moved to London.

Wilson was in Newcastle during the 1758 outbreak, and ‘the conceptions that I then formed of the nature and genius of the Autumnal Bloody Flux, and of the true indications of cure to be adhered to in it’ (pp.1-2), he put into his Essay. The Essay was first published in 1760. The second edition that we have in Special Collections was published in 1777. Considering Wilson’s Edinburgh connections, it is unsurprising that he dedicated the tract to Dr John Rutherford, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh, ‘my respected Master, my Patron, and my Friend’.

Title page from ‘An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentery’ (Medical Collection, Med Coll 616.935 WIL)

Wilson went into considerable detail discussing the causes, symptoms, and treatment of patients with dysentery. He offered a fairly gory description of the symptoms, which may not be suitable for those of squeamish dispositions…:

‘This disease is called the Bloody Flux, because more or less blood is generally, tho’ not always, mixed with the slimy fetid stools which are discharged during the course of it. The bloody discharge may be attributed to different causes, according to the degree, malignancy and continuance of the disease; such as, the vehemence of the inflammation, stretching the vessels opening into the cavity of the intestines, and straining red blood thro’ them, which does not naturally pass that length undissolved; the acrimony of the humours which are discharged into these guts during the inflammation, fretting and corroding the blood vessels…’ (pp2.3)

Page 2 from ‘An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentery’ describing the symptoms of the disease

Page 4 from ‘An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentry’ describing the time of year that dysentery spread

Wilson also mentioned how ‘This disease, like all epidemics, is… more frequent in cities and towns than in the country; among the feeble than among the strong…’ He also claimed that dysentery was ‘more frequent among the poor and labourers, than among the wealthy, and those who live better and pay more attention to their health’. As for the reason for this, he suggested that ‘indigence, but much more especially negligence in the article of cooling after heats by labour, exercise etc., exposes the lower class of people prodigiously to this and many other diseases’. (p.28)

Page 31 from ‘An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentry’ describing the signs of danger when treating patients

The second edition of the Essay, there is also the hint of medical controversy. In the ‘Introductory Discourse’ (which was new to the second edition), Wilson mentioned some of the recent publications on dysentery since his work was first published. Of particular interest to Wilson was a study by the Swiss physician Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, titled A Treatise on the Dysentery. Zimmerman had been made Physician in Ordinary in Hanover to George III in 1768.

First iii of the ‘Introductory Discourse’

Zimmermann’s book was of such interest to Wilson because, in the course of reading it, he ‘discovered that he had made use of my Essay, and totally supressed his knowledge of it, while he was very profuse in his references to every other latter English writer on the subject’. Wilson argued that he ‘would be sorry to mention this circumstance upon presumptive evidence only, but he has extracted a pretty long case verbatim from my Essay, which was to be found nowhere else…’ Wilson found this ‘a very strange way… of extracting from a writer upon the very subject he was treating of, while he was, almost in every page, citing other authors who had written in English as I had done…’ However, drawing back from a full accusation of plagiarism (perhaps because of Zimmerman’s relationship with George III), Wilson left the question open, and stated: ‘I make no remarks upon it’. (p.V)

Title page from Zimmerman’s ‘A Treatise on the Dysentery’ (Medical Collection, Med Coll 616.935 ZIM)

Newcastle University’s Special Collections have both Wilson’s and Zimmerman’s books here in Special Collections. Reading them and deciding whether there has been any wrongdoing might be a nice way to spend a dark autumn day, but only if you’ve got the stomach for it.

———————————–

Item references

Andrew Wilson, An Essay on the Autumnal Dysentery (1777) (Medical Collection, Med Coll 616.935 WIL)

Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, A Treatise on the Dysentery: with a description of the epidemic dysentery that happened in Switzerland in the year 1765 (1771) (Medical Collection, Med Coll 616.935 ZIM).

Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus

Exhibition now open to the public March – August 2017.
Level 1, Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle University. 

The text and images below are from the exhibition, ‘Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus’. Items within this exhibition are taken from the Frederick Charles Pybus Archive.  


Exhibition talk: ‘The Life of the Collector: Frederick Charles Pybus

 

ALL WELCOME

Date: 29th March 2017
Time: 5.30-7pm
Location: Room 152, Level 1 of the Philip Robinson Library

A talk on the exhibition will be given by our archivist Alex Healey hosted by the Friends of the University Library.

 


Frederick Charles Pybus is arguably best known for his collection of historic medical books, held here in the library. However, items from his personal archive reflect his medical career and personal interests, demonstrating that collecting was only one aspect of his personality.

Pybus the Surgeon

fp-1-3-9-1

Surgery team including Pybus ready for theatre in the Fine Arts department at Armstrong College, 1st Northern General Hospital, c. 1915 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the start of the 20th century, medical developments relating to antiseptics and anaesthesia allowed surgeons to perform more elaborate and lengthy procedures on their patients.

Frederick Charles Pybus entered the profession, registering as a medical student in 1901 and graduating in 1906. He was to remain associated with the medical profession for over 50 years, until his retirement in 1961.

Pybus not only witnessed the development of surgery in this period, but himself conceived and undertook experimental processes on his patients, contributing directly to the development and improvement of surgical procedures, including tonsillectomies and the removal of cysts.

With the exception of a brief stint in London after his graduation, Pybus’ career both as a student and a practitioner was spent working in medical institutions here in Newcastle, including the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Fleming Hospital for Sick Children and the Newcastle General Hospital.


Pybus the Veteran

The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) were responsible for the wellbeing of all military personnel during the First World War. As well as serving overseas, members of the RAMC worked on the home front. Suitable buildings were requisitioned as hospitals to accommodate the huge number of wounded soldiers returning from the trenches.

Pybus received his papers placing him on reserve duty in 1910. When war arrived four years later, he helped requisition Newcastle University’s Armstrong College for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital.

Over 1000 operations were performed by Pybus at the 1st Northern, at least some of which were performed in what had been the Fine Arts department. Many surgeries were attempts to correct the damage caused by gun-shot wounds and it was during this period that the field of plastic surgery was developed.

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pybus and Children’s Medicine

After the First World War Pybus was appointed Assistant Surgeon at the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children, located at what is now Princess Mary Court in Jesmond.

The early 20th century was a period of change for children’s hospitals, in which their status was shifting from being seen as the last resort of impoverished families, to places in which modern medical techniques, tailored to the needs of children, were delivered by skilled practitioners.

During this period, Pybus’ publications and research interests became focussed on the treatment of children. This culminated in the publication of his book The Surgical Diseases of Children: A Handbook for students and practitioners in 1922. The book was published in England and North America, and was received favourably by the medical press.

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

Pybus and Cancer Research

At the start of the 20th century improved understandings of the causes of cancer caused this long known illness to become a focus of public debate. The understanding that environmental factors could directly cause cancer made the illness a social issue as well as a medical one.

As a result of this, research into the identification of carcinogens became increasingly popular as the 20th century progressed. Having spent some time at cancer specialist hospitals early in his career, Pybus established a Cancer Research Institute in Newcastle in 1925.

The Institute used animal testing to research bone tumours and was one of the first to suggest that atmospheric pollution could be a major contributing cause.


Pybus the Collector

Arguably, Pybus’ most well-known legacy is the Pybus Collection of historic and rare medical texts. He became interested in such books after an encounter with a ‘really handsome book’ at the first meeting of the Association of Surgeons in the early 1920s. He later recalled that this encounter with the ‘magnificent’ plates of a Vesalius folio ‘wetted his appetite with a vengeance’.

Frontispiece from 'De humani corporis fabric' (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Pyb.N.v.10)

Frontispiece from ‘De humani corporis fabric‘ (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Professor Frederick Pybus Collection, Pyb.N.v.10)

Despite offers from book dealers and American universities to purchase parts of the collection, Pybus donated it in its entirety to Newcastle University Library in 1965, where a dedicated reading room was established in the old library. The collection is now held by Special Collections here in the Philip Robinson Library, and is included on the library catalogue.


Pybus the Person

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913 (Frederick Charles Pybus Archive)

Much of Pybus’ life was taken up with his medical career and hobby of collecting medical texts. His archive demonstrates that these were the dominating aspects of his life. Nevertheless, there is evidence of other interests.

Other items in the archive hint at Pybus’ other interests. These include involvement with lecture societies, membership of Masonic organisations and an attempt to resurrect the historic Company of Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Other Resources

Interested in Pybus’ book collection. Find out more about the Professor Frederick Pybus Collection.

More about Pybus our blog:

5th December – ‘Newcastle Beer’

#ChristmasCountdown

'Newcastle Beer' from Newcassel Sangs (Crawhall 12)

‘Newcastle Beer’ from Newcassel Sangs (Crawhall 12)

“When fame brought the news of Great Britain’s success,
And told at Olympus each Gallic defeat,
Glad Mars sent to Mercury orders express,
To summon the Deities was plac’d
To guide the gay feast,
And freely declar’d there was choice of good cheer;
Yet vow’d to his thinking,
For exquisite drinking,
Their Nectar was nothing to Newcastle Beer.”

Joseph Crawhall II (1861-1913) was the second son of Joseph Crawhall II (a local rope-maker, wood-block engraver, humorist and patron of the arts in Newcastle). Although from Morpeth, Northumberland; he trained in Glasgow and associated with the group of painters which came to be known as ‘the Glasgow Boys’.

Interested in more from Joseph Crawhall II? Find more in the Joseph Crawhall II Collection and Joseph Crawhall II Archive.

Shakespeare at the old Theatre Royal

Shakespeare performed by Children

May 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Newcastle has played host to the bard’s plays ever since – in more recent times, the Royal Shakespeare Company performed almost annually at the Theatre Royal by the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1977. Unfortunately, they will not be returning in 2016.

Our Theatre Royal Playbills (RB 792 (4282) – NEW) feature many notices for performances of Shakespeare at the old Theatre Royal on Mosley Street between 1770 and 1820, including this one by a Georgian/Victorian theatre sensation and her two sisters.

King Richard The Third playbilll (RB 792 (4282)–NEW).

King Richard The Third playbilll (RB 792 (4282)–NEW).

Clara Fisher (b.14 July 1811, London, died 12 November 1898, Jersey, U.S.) was an Anglo-American actress who inspired an enormous following in the United States. She made her stage debut in 1817, at the age of six, in a children’s adaptation of David Garrick’s Lilliput at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Her performance in that and in excerpts from Richard III captivated the audience. She then began a 10-year period of touring up and down Great Britain, winning popular acclaim in a variety of child’s and adult’s roles.

By the time she and her sisters Amelia and Caroline started their three-night engagement at the Newcastle Theatre Royal on 17 May 1819, Clara would have been only seven years old. On the opening night, she played the leading role in  ‘Shakespeare’s Historical Tragedy, called KING RICHARD THE THIRD; Or, The Battle of Bosworth Field. Clara was known for her ‘breeches parts’ (men’s roles), including Hamlet on at least one occasion. At the Theatre Royal, her sister Amelia was Henry VI, and Henry, Earl of Richmond, was played by Caroline Fisher.

On the second night, she played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and then, on a lighter note, performed ‘A COMIC SONG. (IN CHARACTER)’.

The third, and supposedly final, night was Shakespeare-free.

Such was the success of the Fisher girls’ engagement that they were held over for an extra performance on Friday 21 May, 1819, performing ‘some of the best scenes from the most popular Plays . . .’. This included acts four and five of King Richard the Third, with the sisters reprising their ‘breeches parts’ of the previous Monday.

Fisher went to the United States in 1827 and made her debut in New York City that same year. She was a sensation – her name was given to babies, racehorses, stagecoaches, and steamboats – and she was regarded as America’s leading stage actress. Her last performance was in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1889.

This performance, and about 240 others, is promoted by notices in one volume of our Theatre Royal Playbills collection, a bound collection of ‘posters’ for the ‘old’ Newcastle Theatre Royal in Mosley Street. The bills were printed in 1819 and 1820, and are typical of the early nineteenth century –  i.e. very small compared to the modern-day concept of ‘posters’ –  and utilising revolutionary display typefaces which had begun to be manufactured in about 1810 for advertising.

Fittingly, the bill was printed by Edward Humble, at the Shakespeare Press. Humble was a respected local printer, and a proprietor of the County Durham Advertiser.

If you are interested in coming into the reading room to see playbill and others from the collection…

# This item is held within a volume of our Theatre Royal Playbills (Ref Code RB792(4282) NEW.

# You can place your order by linking to our request form. The reference code and title will be RB 792 (4282) – NEW – Theatre Royal Playbills.’