1740: Test a corpse by stuffing garlic up its nose

Jean-Jacques Winslow was a French-born English physician of the early 18th century. Little is known of Winslow’s medical career but his real interest was death – and, in particular, the prevention of premature burial.

According to Winslow, his interest in this subject was personal: he had been a sickly child who was twice declared dead and once prematurely entombed. In 1740 Doctor Winslow published a lengthy treatise titled The Uncertainty of the Signs of Death and the Danger of Precipitate Internments. In it, he suggested that the only truly reliable sign of death was the onset of putrefaction. He also urged physicians and undertakers to complete a rigorous series of checks on corpses to ensure they were truly dead:

“Irritate his nostrils by instructing into them peppers, snuffs, salts, stimulating liquors, the juice of onions, garlic and horseradish, or the feathered end of a quill, or the point of a pencil. We must also rub his gums frequently and strongly with the same substances… Spirituous liquors ought also to be poured into his mouth, where these cannot be had it is customary to pour warm urine into it… Stimulate his organs of touch with whips and nettles. Irritate his intestines by means of clysters [enemas] of air and smoke. Agitate his limbs by violent extensions… and if possible, shock his ears with hideous shrieks and excessive noises.”

Winslow’s book went on to describe several survivors of premature burial, such as the case of Anne Greene, as well as some victims with less happy endings. No information is available about the date, cause or veracity of Winslow’s own death. But thanks to Winslow’s writings – not to mention some creative input from Edgar Allan Poe and others – the issue of premature burial remained a popular if somewhat macabre fascination, well into the 19th century.

Source: Jean-Jacques Winslow, The Uncertainty of the Signs of Death and the Danger of Precipitate Internments, London, 1740. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

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