From the journal of Miss Susanah Wellington (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire. Her diary includes copies of letters and a record of the last few years of her life.
On the 4th of May 1836 I walked to Brympton and walked back the next morning all in the wet. I was very ill & my Mamma sent for Mr Wm Shorland on the 15th of May I was bled which was the Sunday the eclipse of the sun. I was very ill the whole of the day. Mary and her children, Sophia, Mrs Groves & her family were at Weymouth.
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Susanah was a healthy sixteen year old in the Spring of 1836, and had a fairly active social life. She and her sister Jane visited with friends and also taught music to children of families within their acquaintance.
I don’t suppose that the WELLINGTON family were friends with the Countess of Westmorland and her daughter Lady Georgiana FANE who lived at Brympton d’Evercy near Yeovil. Although, it is said that Lady Georgiana FANE had an affair with the Duke of Wellington (who was no relation to our family).
Brympton manor was on a very grand estate and Susanah may have been friends with many of the families employed there. She probably stayed overnight with a school friend in the household and then walked back to Yeovil the next day in the rain.
Susanah came down with a cold which developed into influenza and a fever. Her father George WELLINGTON was a chemist. He would have recommended various tonics to ease her cough and maybe a mustard plaster or poultice to help relieve her congestion and fever.
With no improvement after ten days her mother called for Mr William SHORLAND, a physician in Yeovil. Unfortunately for Susanah the most common treatment for illnesses such as fevers and phlegm congestion was bleeding a sick person or applying hot cups to a patient to “balance the humors”.
Humorism, the now discredited theory of the makeup of the human body, was adopted by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and sadly it was still the most widely-held view of the human anatomy among European physicians in the early 19th century. Essentially, the theory held that the human body was filled with four basic substances called “humors” (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood) which are in balance when a person was healthy. All diseases and disabilities resulted from a deficiency or imbalance of these fluids.
Methods of treatment like bloodletting, emetics and purgatives were aimed at expelling a harmful surplus of a humor. In Susanah’s case, with chest congestion and fever, Dr SHORLAND would have recommended bloodletting, by either scarification or lancing a vein in her arm, or by applying five or six leeches on her chest. Each leech might ingest 5ml to 10ml blood in an application leaving the patient weaker than they were before the treatment and with open wounds that were susceptible to further infection.
You can read more about the various treatments for influenza, typhus and cholera in my post diseases and remedies of the 1800s. The www.phisick.com website has a great collection of antique medical instruments and historical information.
In October and November of 1835 Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky for the first time in 75 years. It was visible to the naked eye for about two weeks in October. With the renewed interest in astronomy it was reported in the newspapers there would be four eclipses in 1836 – two of the Sun and two of the Moon. As only two would be visible in the northern hemisphere, the partial eclipse of the Moon on 1 May and the annular eclipse of the Sun on 15 May 1836 were widely anticipated events in Great Britain. I doubt if Susanah was well enough to go out into the garden and view the eclipse.
Susanah also writes “Mary and her children, Sophia, Mrs Groves & her family were at Weymouth”. These ladies are all Susanah’s older half-sisters, who were enjoying a holiday at the seaside in May 1836:
- Mary Webb WELLINGTON (1808-1832) was married to solicitor James Tally VINING. Their two sons were James Wellington VINING and baby George Charles VINING.
- Sophia WELLINGTON (1810-1839) was unmarried and aged 26.
- Elizabeth Blackaller WELLINGTON (1805-1885) was married to chemist Simon GROVES of Blandford Forum in Dorset. Their three children were Elizabeth Wellington GROVES, Wellington Edwards GROVES and Frances GROVES.
You can read more about the VINING and GROVES families in my article George Wellington’s Letters.
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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Wikipedia – Brympton d’Evercy; Medical antiques and historical information courtesy of www.phisick.com; The National Archives; www.bcmj.org/premise/history-bloodletting.