1823: Beware shirkers with garlic in their rear end

John Ayrton Paris

John Ayrton Paris (1785-1856) was a British physician and medical researcher. The scion of a medical family, Paris was privately tutored before attending Cambridge, where he earned degrees in science and medicine.

After practicing in London, Paris returned to Cambridge to combine lecturing with research in several areas. Among Paris’ research findings were correlations between workplace conditions and various forms of cancer. He also developed the thaumatrope, a two-sided picture disc spun on a thread which proved the theory that images are briefly retained on the retina.

Paris later became a Fellow of the Royal Society and president of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1823, he collaborated with lawyer Jacques Fonblanque on a three-volume guide to legal issues affecting doctors. The first volume included chapters on forensic medicine, malpractice, public health legislation and the legal status of the physically and mentally ill.

One chapter deals exclusively with individuals who “feign or simulate” disease to:

“..obtain military exemptions and discharges… certain civil disqualifications… derive parochial relief or pecuniary assistance… for procuring release from confinement or exemption from punishment… or the comfortable shelter and retreat of a hospital.”

Paris goes on to offer advice for spotting these fakers. The “feigned maniac never willingly looks his examiner in the face”. Pretend catatonics can be roused to movement by unveiling a cauterising iron. Faux epileptics often present with frothing at the mouth “by chewing soap”. Some have presented with jaundice after colouring their skin yellow with dye.

One woman “swallowed a quantity of bullock’s blood” then “vomited it up in the presence of a physician”. Another vomited up urine, even though “the event is physiologically impossible”. Similarly inventive methods were used to fake a severe fever, including:

“..[presenting] after a night’s debauch… by smoking cumin seeds… whitening the tongue with chalk… and we have heard that a paroxysm of fever may be excited and kept up by the introduction of a clove of garlic into the rectum.”

Source: J. Paris & J. Fonblanque, Medical Jurisprudence, Vol. 1, London, 1823. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.