Category Archives: 18th century

1786: Danish murderer uses sneaky arsenic method

In the late 18th century a Danish physician, C. M. Mangor, delivered a curious report to Copenhagen’s Royal Society. It concerned a series of “fiendish murders”, carried out by an unnamed farmer living near the capital. According to Mangor, the farmer had gone through three young wives in the space of a few years. Each wife had been in good health but died within a day or two of contracting similar symptoms.

The farmer’s own behaviour also aroused local suspicions. Six weeks after the death of his first wife he married a servant girl – but she lasted but a few years before falling victim to the mystery ailment, allowing the farmer to marry yet another maidservant. Eventually, in 1786, wife number three died from the same malady:

“About three in the afternoon, while enjoying good health, she was suddenly seized with shivering and heat in the vagina… Means were resorted to for saving her life but in vain: she was attacked with acute pain in the stomach and incessant vomiting, then became delirious, and died in 21 hours.”

At this point, Dr Mangor, then serving as Copenhagen’s medical inspector, arrived to investigate. He discovered the farmer had been poisoning his wives by “introducing a mixture of arsenic and flour on the point of his finger into the vagina” after sexual intercourse, a theory supported by Mangor’s postmortem examination:

“Grains of arsenic were found in the vagina, although frequent lotions had been used in the treatment. The labia were swollen and red, the vagina gaping and flaccid, the os uteri gangrenous, the duodenum inflamed, the stomach natural.”

The farmer was arrested and placed on trial. To prepare for his testimony Dr Mangor conducted a number of experiments on cows. “The results clearly showed that when applied to the vagina of these animals”, he wrote, “it produces violent local inflammation and fatal constitutional derangement”. The farmer, as might be expected, was found guilty; his punishment is unrecorded but it seems likely he was executed. The number of cows to die in the name of vaginal-arsenic justice is also not recorded.

Source: Dr C. Mangor, “The history of a woman poisoned by a singular method” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Copenhagen, v.3, 1787; Sir Robert Christison, A Treatise on Poisons &c., London, 1832. 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.

1722: Man murders rival by “breaking the muscles” of his yard

yard
The ‘hanging tree’ at Walworth

In 1723, the mayor of Tenby, Thomas Athoe, and his son, also named Thomas, were apprehended and charged with murdering George Merchant. According to trial records, the two parties had quarrelled over the sale of some cattle. The Athoes also bore a grudge against George Merchant, who had “married a sweetheart of young Athoe’s”.

Seeking revenge, the Athoes tracked Merchant and his brother Thomas to a place called Holloway’s Water. Using “great sticks”, the Athoes knocked the Merchants from their horses and beat them viciously. They then fell into a frenzy of genital grabbing, George Merchant coming off the worst:

“Taking fast hold of [Thomas Merchant’s] privities, [Athoe Senior] pulled and squeezed him to such a violent degree that had he continued so doing a few minutes longer, it had been impossible for the poor man to have survived it. The pain he suffered is past expression, and yet it fell short of what his brother endured. Young Athoe… seized him by the privy members and, his yard being extended, be broke the muscles of it, and tore out one of his testicles, and calling to his father said ‘Now I have done George Merchant’s business!’ This horrible action occasioned a vast effusion of blood.”

As George Merchant lay dying, Athoe Junior caught hold of “the deceased’s nose with his teeth [and] bit it quite off”. Surgeons who examined Merchant’s body post mortem suggested that his wounds were “sufficient to have killed six or seven men”. The Athoes claimed to have acted in self-defence after being attacked by the Merchants, however, they produced no evidence of the aforementioned assault.

The Athoes were found guilty and transported to London. In July 1723, they were dispatched from a ‘hanging tree’ on the Canterbury Road, near present-day Walworth.

Source: Select Trials for Murders, Robberies, &c., Vol. 1, December 1720-October 1723. 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.

1748: Bear babies by broiling buzzard balls

More handy hints from the Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, published in 1748 by Irish priest and naturalist John K’eogh. The Zoologia is essentially an encyclopedia of the animal kingdom, focusing on the medical applications of each particular creature:

“Trout fat is useful to cure chapped lips and the fundament, the grieved parts being anointed therewith…”

“Butterflies reduced into powder and mixed with honey cure the alopecia or baldness, being externally applied. Pulverised and taken in any fit vehicle, they provide urine…”

“Otter liver, pulverised and taken in the quantity of two drams in any popular vehicle, stops haemorrhages and all manner of fluxes. The testicles, made into powder and drank, help to cure the epilepsy… Shoes made of the skin cure pains of the feet and sinews… A cap made thereof helps to cure vertigo and headache…”

“Rat’s dung reduced to powder cures the bloody flux… The ashes of the whole rat… being blown into the eyes, clears the sight… The dung made into powder and mixed with bear’s grease cures the alopecia…”

“The testicles of a buzzard, broiled or roasted [and] eaten with salt… or two scruples of powder of [buzzard testicles] mixed with half a scruple of ant’s eggs, are spermatogenetic, making men and women fruitful.”

Source: John K’eogh, Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748. 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.

1722: Swedish woman solves phantom pregnancy mystery

In 1724, the Royal Society tabled a report written by a Swedish physician, Doctor John Lindelstolpe. Titled “Intestinum Parturiens”, it involved the macabre story of a 41-year-old Swedish woman who suffered two stillborn pregnancies in 18 months – however the first of these pregnancies produced no baby, living or dead:

“[The patient] became pregnant in July 1720 and continued enlarging for seven months… but after the seventh month the enlargement disappeared, a weight only remaining in the right side. She became pregnant again and in December 1721 was delivered of a dead child.”

The mystery of the first pregnancy was not solved until May 1722, when the patient:

“…Went to stool [and] felt so great a pain in the anus that she thought the intestinum rectum had entirely fallen out. On applying her fingers to relieve herself, she brought away part of a cranium, and afterward found in the close stool two ribs. In the course of the fortnight, there came away, by the same exit, the remainder of the bones.”

Dr Lindelstolpe’s theory was that the first pregnancy was ectopic: it had taken root and grown in the Fallopian tube before bursting the tube and descending, “by the formation of an abscess, into the rectum”. Pleasingly, the woman recovered from her horrible experiences in mid-1722. She had since regained her health and carried a pregnancy to term, delivering a surviving child.

Source: John Lindelstolpe M.D., “Intestinum Parturiens, or a very uncommon case wherein the bones of a fetes came away per annum”, Stockholm, 1723. 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.

1748: Cure baldness with cat dung and onion juice

John K’eogh (1680s-1754) was an Irish priest, theologian and naturalist. Born in Strokestown, County Roscommon, K’eogh was the son of a prominent clergyman from Limerick. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin then undertook study in Europe, before returning to Ireland and serving as chaplain to Baron Kingston in his native Roscommon.

Toward the end of his life, K’eogh authored two significant volumes of medical receipts. The first (Botanologia Universalis Hibernicaor, 1735) focused on herbal potions and treatments, while the second (Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748) contained an extensive collection of animal-based remedies.

As might be expected, the second text contains unusual advice, such as the diverse medical uses of house cats. Their grease, when applied as an ointment, is effective at “dissolving tumours” and “prevails against nodes in the skin”, while pulverised cat liver is “good against the gravel [kidney and bladder stones]” and prevents stoppage of urine.”

Other cat-based receipts mentioned by K’eogh include remedies for eyesight problems:

“The ashes of a cat’s head, blown into the eyes, or mixed with honey for a balsam… is good against pearls [cataracts], blindness and dimness of the sight.”

Several uses for cat’s blood:

“[Cat] blood kills worms in the nose and in other parts of the skin… Ten drops of blood taken out of the tail of a bore cat, drank, cures the epilepsy… A few drops of the blood given in any proper vehicle are good to cure convulsion fits.”

For something to soothe those aching piles:

“The flesh, being salted and bruised, draws splinters and thorns out of the flesh and helps to cure the haemorrhoids.”

And finally, an interesting cure for hair loss:

“The dung, pulverised one ounce and mixed with mustard seed in powder [and] juice of onions… cures the alopecia or baldness.”

Source: John K’eogh, Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748. 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.