Wednesday, 28 October 2015

1873 - Grant Medical College, Bombay Felicitations of Dr. John Henry Sylvester

Grant Medical College, Bombay - 1873

In March 1873, the Graduates and Licentiates of Medicine felicitated Dr. John Henry Sylvester, the then Acting Principal and Professor of Grant Medical College, with a Scroll, written by hand, and signed by 41 students!

Dr. Sylvester was also the First Physician of Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Hospital.

Here I am holding the Scroll case, with gold inscription of Dr. J.H. Sylvester;

The Gold Frame design to the border appears to be printed, with all the remaining text and decoration being hand drawn and coloured.

The Title of the Scroll: A very fine illuminated Scroll!

This Scroll was presented to John Henry Sylvester on his leaving his position as Acting Principal and Professor of Grant Medical College and as First Physician of Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Hospital.  The Scroll is dated March 1873, Bombay.

The text details his achievements whilst at the college, as well as mentioning his 'eventful course of service' during the Indian Mutiny.

John Henry Sylvester (1830 - 1903) had a lively medical and military career, serving as Surgeon in the Indian Army and participating in the Persian Campaign (1857), The Indian Mutiny (1857 - 59) and the Umbeyla Campaign! The latter being attached to Probyn's Horse.  

He was the subject of A.McKenzie Annand's 1971 biography "Cavalry Surgeon". 

He finished his career as Deputy Surgeon - General of India and died in Bombay in 1903.

The Scroll is signed at the foot by 41 graduates and licentiates of Medicine of Grant Medical College!

The Scroll comes complete in the original (and rather beautiful) burgundy calf case with gilt tooled decorations and titles.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

1783 - "Our Indian Government is in its best state- A Grievance" Edmund Bruke

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

"Our Indian Government is in its best state - A Grievance"

(Courtsey -

In 1781, he was appointed to the House of Commons Select Committee on Bengal!

Being privileged to a steady flow of information on the administration in India, he felt strongly of the misuse of the powers granted to the EIC, and on their involvement in domestic wars in India. 

In April 1783, his party Rockingham Whigs led by Charles James Fox, submitted 2 bills in the House of Commons! 1st Bill to put the political government of India under a commission appointed by the parliament, and the 2nd bill to put the management of the Company's Commerce under another commission.

The Bills incorporated many of Burke's ideas!


Excerpt of the speech..

The Tartar invasion was mischievous; but it is our protection that destroys India. It was their enmity, but it is our friendship!

Our conquest there, after twenty years, is as crude as it was the first day. The natives scarcely know what it is to see the grey head of an Englishman.

Young men (boys almost) govern there, without society, and without sympathy with the natives.

They have no more social habits with the people, than if they still resided in England; nor indeed any species of intercourse but that which is necessary to making a sudden fortune, with a view to a remote settlement.

Animated with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they roll in one after another; wave after wave; and there is nothing before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect of new flights of birds of prey and passage, with appetites continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting!

Every rupee of profit made by an Englishman, is lost for ever to India!

With us in no retributory superstition, by which a foundation of charity compensates, through ages, to the poor, for rapine and injustice of a day!

With us no pride erects stately monuments which repair the mischiefs which pride had produced, and which adorn a country out of it's own spoils!

England has erected no churches, no hospitals, no palaces, no schools; England had built no bridges, made no high roads, cut no navigation, dug out no reservoirs!

Every other conqueror of every other description, has left some monument, either of state or beneficence, behind him.

Were we to be driven out of India this day, nothing would remain, to tell that it had possessed, during the inglorious period of our dominion, by say thing better than the ouran-outang or the tiger!

To the present....

Shouldn't we have some body like Edmund Burke, to have the gall to say it as it is and get the powers to indulge the public rather than themselves!   

Do share your thoughts!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

18th Century Dentistry!

18th Century Dentistry!

Pietro Longhi (1702–1785), Il cavadenti (The Tooth Extractor)

Whilst brushing my teeth the other day I found myself wondering what dental care would have been like in the 18th century, so with that in mind I thought it might form an interesting blog.  It’s quite surprising how far we have actually progressed and in other ways how little we have learnt.

‘Sugar is bad for you!’ A fact that did not escape the attention of one Thomas Berdmore, dentist to King George III, who was regarded as the leading dentist in England and as early as 1768, in what appears to have been the first English dental textbook ‘A treatise on the disorders and deformities of the teeth and gums: explaining the most rational methods of treating their diseases: illustrated with cases and experiments’, he had proclaimed the use of sugar as being bad for teeth!   He was also ahead of his time with his observation: ‘I am inclined to think that smoking is hurtful to the teeth.‘

Courtesy of Wellcome Images

False teeth, False eye and False hair

Thomas died 7th November 1785, aged a mere 45 years, in Nottingham and in his will he instructed that his epitaph show his fortune had been acquired “by tooth drawing“, but the family had found that too indelicate so here is the substitute at St Mary’s church, Nottingham.

Today we take sugar very much for granted, but we are now very much aware of its harmful effects on the body, less was known of its effects back then and so as it’s usage in the diet increased and with it the risk of tooth decay. Sugar was however, an expensive commodity, there was of course far more chance of decay if you weren’t working class as sugar was mainly an indulgence of the middle/upper classes. The quantity of sugar consumed in Britain increased fourfold[1] from 1700 to 1800, little wonder people needed dentists!

 Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

A dentist wearing a bag wig stands before an elderly woman in a chair as he works on her teeth. Behind him a younger woman looks on with concern and a young black serving boy grins at the viewer.

With today’s technology teeth can be repaired or removed even dentures are not essential with implants now being available to replace those dreaded dentures, all procedures being carried out hygienically and with the aid of anaesthetic – ‘you won’t feel a thing’.

Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

(French dentist showing a specimen of his artificial teeth and false palates)

Go back in time to the 1700’s and the main solution for a painful tooth was extraction … minus the anaesthetic … ouch!  Having your teeth removed really would have been painful as this somewhat earlier painting entitled The Tooth Extractor by Theodor Rombouts demonstrates –

If you were wealthy you could opt for the 18th century equivalent of today’s implants and use a ‘donor’ tooth to replace your removed one in which case the choice was a ‘live’ or a ‘dead’ tooth.  The old tooth was removed and the ‘donor’ tooth substituted.  Hmm, now the question you would have to ask yourself was ‘do I really want someone else’s tooth in my mouth?’ Let’s be honest you really don’t know what medical conditions that person could have had, so you really could end up getting far more than you had bargained for!  But, if that didn’t put you off then you could have your ‘new’ tooth inserted into the empty socket and held in place by silver wire and be returned to your usual glamorous looks quite quickly. Advertisements were placed in newspapers for donors with money being good money being paid for your teeth, so if you were short of money it was always an option!

If that option wasn’t up your street or you couldn’t afford it, then the only solutions were to endure the pain, pull the tooth out yourself or have it removed by a dentist/barber.  The favoured method of extraction was to use a ‘key’, we’ll save you the excruciating description of how this worked, but, if it failed to work properly the tooth would break and have to be removed piece by piece. Very much as today dentist had a vast array of implements from pliers to cleaning aids.

Courtesy of the Science Museum

Dental  Pelican for tooth pulling

If on the other hand your teeth were in good condition you might simply wish to maintain them, again the dentist could help with this. They could provide ‘mouth water’ which ‘cured all manner of toothache and pain in the gums proceeding from rotten, hollow or stumps of teeth or scurvy and likewise take away all ill smells of the breath . Price 2d and 6d a bottle; according to the Evening Post, 30th November 1710.

1790 toothbrush courtesy of Science Museum

Following on from Thomas Berdmore we had  Jacob Hemet (baptised 26th January 1729 at St Paul’s, Covent Garden) was also responsible for the teeth of Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales and Princess Amelia having been appointed to this post in  1766. As well as being a dentist Hemet was also a salesman and patented his dentifrices and travelled around Europe and America to sell his products – quite the entrepreneur.

His uncle, Peter Hemet junior, had also been a dentist with royal connections; he was dentist to the Prince of Wales and to King George II,  until his death in 1754, so very much a case of keeping it in the family. See our blog about Mrs Lessingham to learn more about the Hemet family.

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Courtesy of Fitzwilliam Museum *

 Pharmaceutical port belonging to Peter Hemet

Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer, January 10, 1769

Jacob Hemet, dentist to Her Majesty and Princess Amelia begs leave to recommend to the public his newly discovered Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifrice which he has found to be greatly superior, not only in elegance, but also in efficacy to anything hither to made use of for the complaints of teeth and gums; particularly they will preserve the teeth in a perfect sound state even in old age. They render them white and beautiful without in the least impairing. Fasten such as are loose; keep such as are decayed from becoming worse; perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums and make them grow firm and close to the teeth; they will likewise render the breath delicately sweet and remedy almost all those disorders that are the consequence of scorbutic gums. 

We could not ignore children’s teeth and the London Evening Post of October 28th 1760 carried an advertisement for an ‘anodyne necklace’ it was a remedy to ‘let out children’s teeth without pain’ i.e. a teething necklace. The reality being that it was a necklace containing henbane roots.

We will leave you with one final snippet of information about dentistry courtesy of Pierre Fauchard, who was was regarded as the ‘father of dentistry’ – did you know that Fauchard recommended that human urine be used at the first sign of tooth decay … did it work … we have absolutely no idea, nor to we intend to put it to the test!

Of course as always a blog would not be complete with our usual Lewis Walpole caricatures, so we’ll finish with one. Wonder how many readers will, having read this go and brush their teeth!

 The tooth ache or Torment and torture

This lovely post has been brought to you courtesy Sarah Murden and Joanne Major (

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Red Tapeworm - Edward Forbes

Surprises have a way with life, and the spontaneity that they come up with, yields sometimes so much pleasure as much as the incidence of surprise!

As I was gleaning through a 1934 edition of my much loved English Poet, Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959),  that a small chit of a paper (photo shown further down) fell out.  The contents in the paper consisted of a verse "The Red Tapeworm", written by Edward Forbes (1815-1854).

Edgar A. Guest (

I may not be in a position to link these two poets, but I gather, Edgar Guest may have had admiration and therefore the style of observation, as done by Forbes preceding him.

Edward Forbes - (

The humour is striking and most of Guest's poems and verses is all about life and it's many frailties, in as much as Forbes was about nature and thus was a bio geographer! Forbes's poetry reflected much of what life was at that time and how it blended with nature, and similarities!

The Red Tapeworm

In Downing Street the tapeworms thrive,
In Somerset House they are all alive;
And slimy tracks mark where they fall
In and out along Whitehall

 When I am dead and yield my ghost,
Mark not my grave by a government post;
Let wild earthworms with me play
And keep the tapeworms far away

And if I desire to rise,
To a good place in Paradise;
May my soul kind angels guide
And keep it from the official side.

Edgar Guest was a much loved and admired poet who after initial years in England moved on to settle in America, and most of his latter day poems reflect the American ethos!

One of my favorite poems of Edgar Guest has been - Father to Son

The times have proved my judgement bad,
I've followed foolish hopes in vain,
And as you look upon your dad
You see him commonplace and plain.
No brilliant wisdom I enjoy;
The jests I tell have grown to bore you,
But just remember this, my boy:
'Twas I who chose your mother for you!


A few lines as I sign of....

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bicycles Against Traffic - England 1890!

Cycling in the Victorian Era - England 1890!

I am very pleased to share the following post of my dear friend Will!
Here he shares the tribulations of Cycling as was wont during the Victorian Era!

There were two main groups who cyclists shared the roads with in this period: horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians. Cyclists were by no means impeccable in their conduct with either of these groups. Those cyclists who 'scorched' and cycled in a fast and competitive manner were often criticised in the cycling and the wider press for startling horses and pedestrians. One member of the Hull St. Andrews C.C. commented that,

‘The effect of these scorching propensities is to frighten horses, startle people out of their wits, and cause numerous accidents of more or less consequence. If people wish to cycle for pleasure they adopt a moderate pace and cause injury and annoyance to nobody.’

Cyclist and a horse getting along more happily. Source:
Some cycling clubs looked to ‘uphold the reputation of the pastime’ by making sure their members cycled in an orderly, courteous manner. On ‘club runs’ certain clubs would be led by a captain and sub-captain, who controlled their member’s behaviour with a military-like discipline. Reading the Canterbury Cycling Club’s handbook for members from 1893-94, you might be forgiven for thinking they regularly ventured into dangerous, unknown and hostile lands, not the Kent countryside. A few of the rules stated that:

  1. That in all Club Runs the Captain shall lead, and no-one shall be       allowed to pass him without his permission.  
  2. That the Captain shall have entire control during all runs, and (for the safety of the public) the power of compelling members to slacken speed or dismount when passing horses &c.
  3. The Sub-Captain in all runs shall keep to the rear and look after stragglers, but in the absence of the Captain, shall take his place, nominating his own Sub-Captain for the time being.
  4. Any member desiring to fall out must report himself to the Captain or Sub-Captain.

As well as this, the captain possessed a whistle which he would use to communicate orders to members. The handbook revealed the different instructions indicated by different blasts of the whistle,

One- Mount, also proceed slowly
Two- Dismount
Three- Go-ahead
One long and two short- Single File
The same blown twice- Double File

Members of a Cycling Club from a slightly later period. Source:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some clubs were less strict in controlling the behaviours of their members. One letter into Cycling in 1894 vividly described the transformation of his friend ‘Juggins’ after he went on a Saturday run with his club. The writer explained how ‘Juggins’ is,

‘Something of the city, a very nice, affable fellow of good attainments, well-read, a thoroughly good companion for a walking tour or a cruise, in brief, to all intents and purposes, a gentleman. But when Juggins, shortly after mid-day on Saturday, dons his cycling clothes, he undergoes the transformation so well illustrated in the case of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’ By the time he has ridden five miles, and warmed to the exercise, his thin veneer of civilisation drops off. He harks back to some low ancestor- in a word he becomes little better than a savage.’

‘You, Mr Editor, can meet Juggins on every main road leading out of London every week-end. He, and his club companions, ‘spread-eagle’ the road, and not only insult the pedestrian, but do not spare their fellow cyclist who happens to be in their way, although Juggins always rides on the wrong side. This is not an overdrawn picture.’

Cyclists clearly then were by no means impeccable in their behaviour towards other road users. This was recognised by an article in the Leeds Express, which commented that,

‘Cyclists, as a body, are by no means impeccable, either on the score of manners, consideration for others, or capacity to manage their metal steeds’.

However, the article also argued that, ‘cads are not only on castors’, and explained how,

‘In a narrow part of a road or lane, or at some awkward spot, some drivers, even of large and bulky vehicles, will hold very steadily to the centre of the road, or even incline slightly to the wrong side, with evident glee in the possible embarrassment of the oncoming cyclist, whose margin of safety is thus ill-naturedly reduced. There is almost a tacit plot amongst drivers of a certain disposition and type to ‘bore’ the wheelman to the very side of the road.’

An Omnibus. 

It was whilst in cities that cyclists had most reason to complain about other road users. One letter into Cycling in 1899 asked the editor to,

‘Allow me to call your attention to what I consider the greatest danger to cyclists (especially from the City Westwards), that is the hansom cab. He cares not where he drives, or whom he runs down, so long as he gets along. Plenty of insolence with it also. Omnibuses and four-wheelers and all other vehicles are law abiding and respectful; but the hansom cabs are far worse than scorchers, as they don’t care for the rules of the road or anyone; even the policeman gives them a rest.’

‘They are without doubt the worse phase of road traffic, and the sooner the authorities stop them the better. I myself am constantly through the City and the West End, and am constantly being pushed and crushed out of line by them. I maintain that cyclists are the most correct of any traffic on the roads, and that is why they are not popular with the hansoms.’

A Hansom Cab from 1895. 

A couple of weeks later another letter appeared which responded to the one above, painting a similarly bad picture, but this time of all horse-drawn vehicles who cyclists shared the roads with. The letter’s author explained how,

‘I ride to and from the city every day, through the most crowded parts, and am constantly coming across evidence of the cabby’s selfishness and contempt for cyclists.’

‘I cannot, however, agree with your correspondent when he says that omnibuses and four-wheelers and all other vehicles are law abiding and respectful. There are many cases quite as bad, if not worse than the hansom cab. They go round on the right of trams and other vehicles, taking no notice of cyclists or others who happen to be coming in the opposite direction, on the left of the road. The cyclist must move for the cab, ‘bus, or whatever the law breaking vehicle may happen to be, or else suffer the consequences of a collision, and as the latter is nearly always more or less expensive and painful than getting out of the offending vehicle’s way, the consequence is that cabmen and others know that cyclists will move for them, and they take advantage accordingly.’

There is undoubtedly an air of timelessness in quotes such as the one above. As someone once (sort of) said

‘And so we cycle on, bicycles against the traffic, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

I would be pleased to hear your comments!

Will and his Blog "Victorian Cyclist" can be accessed at

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Address to the Moon - By Robert Orme, written on the Terrace at Madras - 1757

Robert Orme - 1728-1801

Dr. Alexander Orme, father of Robert Orme went out to India in the honourable Company's service as physician and surgeon, and arrived at Bombay about the year 1706.

Robert Orme, the second son, was born on Christmas Day in 1728 at Anjengo in the Travancore country.

Orme was exceedingly fond of Music, of which he was an excellent judge; this led him to be a frequent attendant at the Opera; but he was more especially attached to the sublime compositions of the immortal Handel.

That he was a Poet also of some talent, the following poetry may attest.

Address to the Moon

Written on the Terrace at Madras, 1757.

STAY Silver Moon, nor hasten down the skies,
I seek the bow'r where lovely Chloe lies;

No midnight felon asks thy trembling ray
To guide his footsteps to the dangerous prey;

No murderer lurking for his hated foe,
Asks thy pale light to guide the vengeful blow;

The breast with love possess no furies move,
No violence arms the gentle hand of love;

I meditate no theft; the willing fair
Shall yield her beauties to my well fraught prayers:

Stay Silver Moon, nor hasten down the skies,
I seek the bow'r where lovely Chloe lies

Orme was married, but not even his closest friends knew of his family.  After his death EIC bequeathed his widow with an annuity.

Orme's Mogul Empire 1805
from my collection

Thursday, 19 March 2015

1875 - The loss of HMS Vanguard

This post written very eminently by my dear friend Antione Vanner, writer of Victorian Naval Fiction and author of Britannia's Wolf and Britannia's Reach.

My purpose of putting this in my blog is to let my readers know a bit more of Britain's Naval History, and if I may guess, there would be some information of Indian participation in coming posts, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you!

Do enjoy, and share!

The name HMS Vanguard is associated today with the Royal Navy’s last battleship, scrapped in 1960. An earlier Vanguard was however to meet an even more unpleasant fate, and arguably a wholly avoidable one.

HMS Vanguard

The HMS Vanguard launched in 1870 was one of a class of four ironclads, her sisters being AudaciousInvincible and Iron Duke. The concept of a sea-going ironclad capital ship was only ten years old. HMS Warrior, the first of the type, and which was as revolutionary in her time as HMS Dreadnought four decades later, had become the starting point for a new type of warship. The Vanguard and her sisters represented a second generation of such ships. Their most notable departure from the Warrior configuration was that although Warrior carried her many guns in broadside mountings, as warships had done for centuries, the Vanguard’s armament of much heavier weapons was concentrated in a two-storey armoured box amidships. 

HMS Warrior - obsolescent in 1875 but today totally restored to her former glory at Portsmouth

Vanguard and her sisters (see table) were rated as “second-class”, of moderate dimensions that were well suited for deployment on foreign stations, most likely singly. Iron Duke was to serve as flagship of the China Station for four years form 1871 and was one of the largest ships to transit the Suez Canal up to that time. Her sailing rig made her particularly suitable for operations in areas, such as the Pacific Ocean, where coaling opportunities were limited. All four vessels of the class were described as “good and steady seaboats but slow under sail”.
By 1875 Iron Duke had returned to home waters and was assigned, with her three sisters, with the ironclads Hector, Defence, Penelope and Achilles, and the by-then obsolescent Warrior, to the First Reserve Squadron.  In late August the squadron was based at Kingstown (now Dun Laoihaire) the large artificial harbour on the southern side of Dublin Bay. On the morning of September 1st the Squadron left Kingstown in line, the majority of the vessels headed for Queenstown (now Cobh) further south on the Irish Coast. This enormous force must have been a magnificent sight as they passed, one by one, through the narrow-gap between Kingstown’s projecting mile-long piers.

HMS Vanguard at sea under sail and steam power

Six miles out, off the Kish lightship, the Achilles broke away to head for Liverpool and the remaining ships turned south. The sea was moderate, but a fog came on, its density increasing. The ships had been proceeding at some twelve knots, but speed was reduced to half this as the fog persisted.  By a half-hour after noon the lookouts on Vanguard could not see more than fifty yards ahead, and the officers on her bridge could not see the bowsprit.  It is unlikely that the situation was any better on the other ships.

Contemporary Illustration - Vanguard sinking and Iron Duke's damaged bows (l)

The Vanguard’s watch suddenly reported a sail ahead, and the helm was put over to prevent running it down. The Iron Duke was then following close in the wake of the Vanguard, whose action brought the two vessels closer, presenting Vanguard’s port broadside-on to Iron Duke’s bow. Unaware of any change, and blinded by the fog, the Iron Duke ploughed on. Only at the last moment did her commander, Captain Hickley, who was on the bridge, see Vanguard emerging from the mist. He ordered reversing of his engines, but it was already too late. The Iron Duke’s ram struck the Vanguard below the armour-plates, on the port side, abreast of the engine-room. The dent made was very large—amounting, as the divers afterwards found, to four feet length —and the water poured into the hold in torrents. It was immediately obvious that Vanguard was doomed for this was still an age when compartmentalisation and damage-control of iron vessels were in their infancy.

Boats from both ships rescuing Vanguard's Crew

There was nothing more to be done but to save lives. The Vanguard’s Captain Dawkins ordered abandonment and officers and men behaved calmly. At the risk of his life one of the mechanics returned to the engine-room to blow down the boilers, so preventing an explosion,. The water rose quickly in the after-part, and rushed into the engine and boiler rooms, eventually finding its way into the provision-room flat, through imperfectly fastened “water-tight” doors – which proved anything but. Discipline was superb, the crew standing on deck as if at an inspection and not moving until ordered. Boats were lowered by both Vanguard and Iron Duke and in the process of transfer the only casualty of the disaster was sustained – a finger crushed between a boat’s gunwale and a ships’ hull. The actual transfer to Iron Duke of Vanguard’s entire crew was achieved in twenty minutes and Captain Dawkins was the last man to leave her.

Vanguard keeled gradually over until the whole of her enormous flank and bottom, down to her keel, was above water. Then she sank gradually, righting herself as she went down, stern first, the water being blown from hawser-holes in huge spouts by the force of the air rushing up from below. She disappeared some ninety minutes after the collision.

The Court Martial

The inevitable court-martial was to prove remarkable for the statement by the then First Lord of the Admiralty – the minister responsible for the Navy – that “we ought to be rather satisfied than otherwise with the occurrence”.  Edward Reed, the designer of both ships, and by 1875 a Liberal Member of Parliament, stated that ironclads were in more danger in times of peace than in times of war. In peacetime, he said, they were residences for several hundred men, and many of the water-tight doors could not be kept closed without inconvenience. In wartime however they were fortresses, and the doors would be closed for safety.  Even more remarkably, close station-keeping in a fog was not considered as contributing to the disaster. The Court commented negatively on the conduct of the Iron Duke’s officers and indirectly blamed the admiral in command of the squadron. The Admiralty could find nothing wrong in either case and visited their wrath on the unfortunate lieutenant on deck at the time.

Vanguard still lies, largely intact, in some 150 feet of water off Ireland’s Wicklow coast. She is reachable by experienced air-divers – and reaching her must be a magnificent experience.

And Vanguard’s Captain Dawkins? Well as he behaved after the collision, his career was at an end.

I do hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have! Do share your comments if any!