susanah’s journal – 51 leeches

From the journal of Miss Susanah Wellington (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire.

SW_DIARY_p3a

After my return from Weymouth I spent a month at Stalbridge with Sarah & Mrs White and a few days at Marnhull which I enjoyed very much. Soon after my return I had another severe attack though not so violent as my last illness. I was again obliged to apply leeches to my chest which amounted to 51 from the 5th of May 1836 but I am thankful to God I am now much better though still not very strong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Susanah spent a month visiting with her recently married half-sister Sarah. She and her husband James DAVIS lived in the small market town of Stalbridge, Dorset, situated about 20 km east of Yeovil. The marriage notice for the newly-weds confirms that James DAVIS was in the same profession as his father-in-law George WELLINGTON.

Davis-Wellington marriage notice in the Bristol Mercury, Saturday 16 January 1836

Davis-Wellington marriage notice in the Bristol Mercury, Saturday 16 January 1836

I have no clues in my research as to who Mrs WHITE was. She was most likely a family friend or a relative of James DAVIS. The journal’s chronology suggests Susanah spent July 1836 in Stalbridge and Marnhill.

When she returned home to Yeovil her health deteriated and she had another bad attack of pulmonary tuberculosis. The doctor was consulted and, unfortunately for Susanah, the treatment he prescribed so ease her fever and chest congestion was bleeding with leeches.

TRADE_Surgeon_Leech_01

The use of leeches in medicine exploded during the mid-1800’s. There was such a high demand for Hirudo medicinalis, that its population in the wild was almost wiped out in England and Europe. Physicians would prescribe the leeches for all types of illnesses – everything from headaches to pneumonia and even anaemia. The blood-suckers were prescribed so often by physicians, that doctors were actually referred to as “leeches”.

In an article Breathing a Vein published in November 2011 on www.phisick.com, Dr Laurie Slater writes:

The bleeding of patients, practised since Babylonian times probably represents the most widespread application of ‘quackery’ in the history of medicine. The complexity of humoral theory was such that doctors could promote their own rationale for bleeding in almost any circumstances.

Poor Susanah suffered a life-threatening lung and chest infection as well as having her life-blood drained from her every few weeks. 51 leeches within three and a half months – is it any wonder she was not feeling very strong? Susanah celebrated her 17th birthday on the 20th August 1836, I hope she was well enough to enjoy herself with family and friends.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydneyMedical antiques and historical information courtesy of www.phisick.com.

Related Posts:

  1. susanah’s journal – eclipse of the sun

  2. susanah’s journal – weymouth 1836

  3. george wellington’s letters

  4. diseases and remedies of the 1800s

 

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One thought on “susanah’s journal – 51 leeches

  1. Whew, 51 leeches! I once got one leech on my foot when swimming in a lake and was totally grossed out. Doctor’s sure treated ailments back then using methods that seem very strange today.

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