Category Archives: 18th century

1780: British officer alarmed for his foreskin

In 1780, a British East India Company regiment was defeated at Polilore by troops of the Mysore kingdom. Several hundred British soldiers were captured, held prisoner and forced into slavery. Many were forced to labour until 1784 and a few as late as 1799. Approximately 300 of these prisoners were also forcibly circumcised by their Muslim captors.

One of the British prisoners was Irish-born lieutenant colonel Cromwell Massey, who kept a secret diary during his incarceration at Seringapatam. In November 1780, Massey wrote that he and his men were:

“Terribly alarmed this morning for our foreskins.”

Massey had good cause for concern: he was circumcised shortly after. So too was a junior naval officer, who later wrote:

“I lost with the foreskin of my yard all those benefits of a Christian and Englishman which were and ever shall be my greatest glory.”

Most of these captives were liberated when a much larger British force invaded Mysore in 1799 and toppled its Muslim ruler, Tipu Sultan. Cromwell Massey was among them. He returned to Britain and lived to the age of 103, dying in Ramsgate in 1845.

Source: Various, inc. diary of Cromwell Massey, 1780. 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.

1704: English doctor solves large penis dilemma with a cork

Writing in 1704, English surgeon John Marten claimed that the “bigness of a man’s yard” seldom causes problems – “it very rarely happens that any woman complains of it”. Marten did report one case of marital sexual incompatibility, allegedly brought on by the husband’s excessively large penis:

“I knew a very lusty man that married a very small woman, and by means of yard being of almost the longest size, his wife could not suffer him… without a great deal of pain…”

The unhappy couple had been married for four years without painless intercourse or conception. They had consulted other physicians, who prescribed “styptic and astringent fomentations” to reduce the size of the offending organ, but these treatments had failed. After examining both, Marten concluded that:

“…’twas the length of it that did the mischief… To remedy it I advised him… to make a hole through a piece of cork, lined with cotton on both sides, of about an inch-and-a-half in thickness, and put his yard through the hole, fastening the cork with strings round his waste (sic).”

According to Marten, his device worked perfectly: the couple reported a greatly improved sex life and conceived a child soon after. In 1709, five years after the publication of his book, Marten was prosecuted for producing obscene literature and trying to “corrupt the subjects of Our Lady the Queen”. The charges against him were dismissed.

Source: John Marten, Gonosologium Novum, or a New System of All the Secret Infirmities and Diseases: Natural, Accidental, and Venereal in Men and Women, 1704. 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.

1770: Angry Regulators defecate in judge’s chair

In the late 1760s, hundreds of farmers in North Carolina joined the Regulators, a band of anti-government rebels opposed to high taxes, political corruption and state-friendly courts.

In October 1770, a gang of these Regulators, including “men of considerable property”, went on a rampage through Hillsborough. According to reports, they swore to kill every “clerk or lawyer” they could find. The gang stormed into the local courthouse, forcing the judge to suspend proceedings and flee. The Regulators then detained and beat up every lawyer or court official they could lay hands on.

According to the Virginia Gazette:

“When they had fully glutted their revenge on the lawyers… to show their opinion of the courts of justice they took from his chains a Negro [slave] and placed at the lawyer’s bar, and filled the Judge’s seat with human excrement, in derision and contempt of the characters that fill those respectable places.”

The colonial government of North Carolina responded by assembling a militia that defeated the Regulators at Alamance in May 1771.

Source: Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, October 25th 1770. 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.

1743: Birthing tips from women in Greenland

In 1743, a Flemish explorer and writer published A Natural History of Greenland, having spent time there some years earlier. Hans Egedius begins with an account of Greenland’s climate, terrain, natural resources and fauna. He then turns his attention to its human inhabitants, mentioning their proclivity for wife-swapping:

“They have riotous assemblies in which it is reckoned good breeding when a man lends his wife to a friend…”

Egedius also records a list of bizarre medical treatments allegedly used in Greenland, such as this response to intestinal worms:

“When their children are troubled with worms, the mother puts her tongue up the [child’s] fundament to kill them.”

And their unique approach to childbirth:

“They hold a piss-pot over the women’s heads whilst in labour, thinking it to promote hasty delivery. They seldom [deliver] twins, but often monsters.”

Source: Hans Egedius, A Natural History of Greenland, &c., 1743. 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.

1785: Mrs Errington gropes servants, trims pubic hair

In 1785 the London press became fascinated by the antics of Harriet Errington, uncovered at divorce proceedings instigated by her wealthy businessman husband. Mrs Errington was accused of numerous counts of adultery. Among those listed as her lovers were “Augustus Murray Smith, Captain Buckley, Captain Southby, Thomas Walker, and many others”. In one whimsical account of the testimony, Mrs Errington was visited for dinner by Captain Southby – but according to maidservant Molly Mitchell, the Captain and Mrs Errington abandoned their food and went upstairs:

“We cannot absolutely say how she was engaged while the repast was cooling… The Captain and she, it is supposed, were taking a wet and relish together; or he might probably be instructing her in… the modern methods of attack and defence. She is a woman who thirsted after knowledge and if the Captain had anything new to communicate, she was sure to pump it out of him… Molly Mitchell supposes the Captain discharged his musket, for though she did not hear the report, she smelt the powder…”

Even more shocking to London society was Mrs Errington’s lewd dealings with working class men and servants. Simon Orchard, a teenage footman, testified that while asleep in his bed:

“…he was waked by the bedclothes being stripped off him, and upon looking he observed the said Harriet Errington, in her shift only… and Phebe Lush, a fellow servant, by his bedside. And the said Harriet Errington pulled up his shirt and caught hold of his private parts, and pulled him out of bed by the same, and said she would pull him down the stairs… This deponent struggled a good deal with her to get away.”

Mrs Errington’s approaches continued the following night, when she ordered Simon to hide under the bed of a female servant, in order to spy her undressing. On the third day, Orchard walked in on Mrs Errington trimming her pubic hair, before a small crowd of onlookers:

“As this deponent was going into the kitchen, this deponent saw the said Harriet Errington standing before the fire, with her petticoats as high as her knees… Phebe Lush and Mary Mitchell and her master’s son, a boy about five years old, were with her… Seeing some small pieces of hair laying upon paper, [Orchard] asked what it was, and the little boy told him, that Mrs Errington had been cutting it off under her petticoats…”

The London court granted George Errington a divorce without hesitation. In 1795 George was murdered by one of his own spurned lovers, Miss Ann Broderick, who shot him through the heart. The fate of the former Mrs Errington is unknown.

Source: Various, inc. Randall, The Trial of Mrs Harriet Errington, London, 1785. 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.