OUTLANDER Links, Part 8: 18th Century Medicine

I have always been fascinated by the descriptions of 18th-century medicine in Diana Gabaldon's books. I think it helps to see pictures of what these things actually looked like. So, here are a few things I found online:

I think Daniel Rawlings' medical chest (the one that Jamie gave to Claire in DRUMS) must have looked something like the picture shown above.
"There's more," he pointed out, eager to show me. "The front opens and there are wee drawers inside."

There were--containing, among other things, a miniature balance and set of brass weights, a tile for rolling pills, and a stained marble mortar, its pestle wrapped in cloth to prevent its being cracked in transit. Inside the front, above the drawers, were row upon row of small, corked bottles made of stone or glass.

"Oh, they're beautiful!" I said, handling the small scalpel with reverence. The polished wood of the handle fit my hand as though it had been made for me, the blade weighted to an exquisite balance. "Oh, Jamie, thank you!"

(From Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 8 ("Man of Worth"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you ever get a chance to visit Colonial Williamsburg, the apothecary's shop there is definitely worth seeing! When I visited there in 2008, I saw a medical chest very much like the one pictured above, sitting on a table in a little room adjoining the main apothecary's shop (see photo here).

Amputation saw and knives - These scary-looking instruments are even more disturbing when you consider that the amputation was being performed without benefit of anesthesia! I can't even imagine Claire contemplating using something like that large saw on Jamie's leg (in FIERY CROSS, after the snakebite).

I bit my lip, looking at the other blades. The biggest was a folding saw, meant for field amputation, with a blade nearly eight inches long; I hadn't used it since Alamance. The thought of using it now made cold sweat spring out under my arms and inch down my sides--but I'd seen his leg.

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 91 ("Domestic Management"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Fleam - the picture above shows an 18th century fleam (the device used to open a patient's vein for bleeding). I can't look at that fleam without remembering the scene in FIERY CROSS where Brianna teaches the 18th century doctor, Murray MacLeod, a charm for putting his fleam in boiling water between uses. <g> And then there's Claire's encounter with the governor's wife in ABOSAA:
"I should be let blood," Mrs. Martin declared. "That is the proper treatment for a plethory; dear Dr. Sibelius always says so. Three or four ounces, perhaps, to be followed by the black draught. Dr. Sibelius says he finds the black draught to answer very well in such cases." She moved to an armchair and reclined, her belly bulging under her wrapper. She pulled up the sleeve of the wrapper, extending her arm in languorous fashion. "There is a fleam and bowl in the top left drawer, Mrs. Fraser. If you would oblige me?"

The mere thought of letting blood first thing in the morning was enough to make me want to vomit. As for Dr. Sibelius's black draught, that was laudanum--an alcoholic tincture of opium, and not my treatment of choice for a pregnant woman.

(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 92 ("Amanuensis"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Leeches and maggots are an important part of Claire's medical arsenal.
"Still bleedin' under the skin. Leeches will help, then." She lifted the cover from the bowl, revealing several small dark sluglike objects, an inch or two long, covered with a disagreeable-looking liquid. Scooping out two of them, she pressed one to the flesh just under the brow-bone and the other just below the eye.

"See," she explained to me," once a bruise is set, like, leeches do ye no good. But where ye ha' a swellin' like this, as is still comin' up, that means the blood is flowin' under the skin, and leeches can pull it out."

(From Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 6 ("Colum's Hall"). Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
As for maggots....
"What, exactly, is going to stop them eating my entire leg?" Roger asked with a thoroughly spurious attempt at detachment. "They...um...they spread, don't they?"

"Oh, no," I assured him cheerfully. "Maggots are larval forms; they don't breed. They also don't eat live tissue--only the nasty dead stuff. If there's enough to get them through their pupal cycle, they'll develop into tiny flies and fly off--if not, when the food's exhausted, they'll simply crawl out, searching for more."

(From Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 66 ("Child of My Blood"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Gallberries - these are the very bitter-tasting berries that Claire uses in ABOSAA as a substitute for cinchona bark, to treat Lizzie's malaria.
I picked out one of the dried berries and bit into it. The pungent taste of quinine at once flooded my mouth--accompanied by a copious flood of saliva, as my mouth puckered at the eye-watering bitterness. Gallberry, indeed!

(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9 ("The Threshold of War"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The picture above shows the seeds of Daucus carota, aka Queen Anne's Lace or wild carrot. I believe that these are what Diana's books refer to as "dauco seeds".
It was a small bag of oiled silk, plumply stuffed with something, with a faintly sweet, slightly oily botanical scent about it. A crude picture of a plant had been drawn on the front in brownish ink, something with an upright stalk and what looked like umbels. It looked faintly familiar, but I could put no name to it. I undid the string, and poured a small quantity of tiny dark-brown seeds out into my palm.

"What are these?" I asked, looking up at Polly in puzzlement.

"I don't know what they're called in English," she said. "The Indians call them dauco."

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10 ("Grannie Bacon's Gifts"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Here's an article describing how the seeds can be used for contraception.

And finally: If you've read AN ECHO IN THE BONE and you are wondering just what the "jugum penis" may have looked like, the picture above seems very similar to the description in the book. (Although the example above dates from the 19th century, not the 18th, the concept seems very much the same.)
“What on earth is it for?” I asked, more amused than offended by his reaction. “Given the name, obviously—-”

“It prevents nocturnal...er...tumescence.” His face by this time was a dark, unhealthy sort of red, and he wouldn’t meet my eye.

“Yes, I imagine it would do that.” The object in question consisted of two concentric circles of metal, the outer one flexible, with overlapping ends, and a sort of key mechanism that enabled it to be tightened. The inner one was sawtoothed— much like a bear trap, as I’d said. Rather obviously, it was meant to be fastened round a limp penis— which would stay in that condition, if it knew what was good for it.

(From An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 67 ("Greasier Than Grease"). Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

As I told Diana when I read that in the book, it sounds to me like a cross between a medieval torture device and some sort of modern-day S&M paraphernalia!

If you find these links interesting, check out my previous "OUTLANDER Links" blog entries:

OUTLANDER Links, Part 14: 18th Century Clothing

OUTLANDER Links, Part 13: Plants and Herbs

OUTLANDER Links, Part 12: Standing Stones

OUTLANDER Links, Part 11: Science and Technology

OUTLANDER Links, Part 10: Weaponry

OUTLANDER Links, Part 9: Historical Events

OUTLANDER Links, Part VII: Gemstones

OUTLANDER Links, Part VI: Wildlife

OUTLANDER Links, Part V: Castles and Palaces

OUTLANDER Links, Part IV: Native Americans

OUTLANDER Links, Part III: All Things Scottish
OUTLANDER Links, Part II: Colonial North Carolina
OUTLANDER Links, Part I: Culloden
What Do These Things Look Like?


Lisa said...

Wow, your research is SO COOL! Thanks for adding some visuals to the images in her books! I LOVE that kind of stuff.

Anonymous said...

Karen, Your research is well done! Thanks for these images that fit well with the books. I had seen a medicine chest at a Civil War encampment so I had an idea of that. I mentioned that it must have been so bad with only laudanum for the amputations and the Civil War doctor reenactor replied "Oh, actually the laudanum worked quite well for amputations."


Jamie and Claire Tour said...

Hi Karen,
My Grandfather was a Pharmacist in Ohio and my mum remembers a jar of leeches on the counter for individual sale. So this practice was still being actively applied into the 20th century!
Great displays on the 'antiquated' medical front!

Anonymous said...

Leeches are still being used into the 21st century

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