Category Archives: Drugs and alcohol

1625: English invasion thwarted by booze up

Edward Cecil’s failed Cadiz expedition… well it seemed a good idea at the time.

In 1625 two English military commanders (George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and Sir Edward Cecil) sought royal approval for a war against Spain. A successful campaign, they told Charles I, would weaken the Spanish Empire and revive the glory of 1588 when the English repelled the Armada. Villiers and Cecil also hoped to line their pockets by plundering Spanish ships returning from the Americas laden with cash and cargo. Their plan was backed by Charles I but not parliament, which was unwilling and probably unable to provide financial support. In the summer of 1625, Cecil moved to Devon to assemble his invasion force but he was plagued by a shortage of funds and other difficulties. He secured almost 120 English and Dutch ships but many were poorly maintained. Cecil’s land force consisted of 15,000 men, most of whom were pressed into service in and around Plymouth. Cecil’s expedition was also poorly stocked: he was able to obtain provisions for scarcely a fortnight abroad.

The fleet sailed on October 5th 1625 but returned the following day after striking bad weather. It sailed again two days later but suffered damage in heavy weather off the Spanish coast. The English encountered several Spanish ships filled with cargo but dithering allowed them to escape. The expedition landed near Cadiz on October 24th but Cecil, having noticed the city’s fortifications, abandoned his plans to attack it. Instead, Cecil marched his men in the opposite direction. With night approaching, he allowed his invasion to stop at a village in the wine-producing region of Andalusia. Unfortunately for Cecil, this village housed quite a large quantity of the local product. His ‘army’ quickly fell apart, thanks to:

“…the misgovernment of the soldiers who, by the avarice or negligence of their commanders, were permitted to fill themselves so much with the wine they found in the cellars and other places they plundered, that they became more like beasts than men… if the Spaniards had had good intelligence they might have all been cut off.”

Cecil’s men were so hopelessly drunk that their officers abandoned plans for capturing major cities – or indeed smaller ones. The soldiers were herded back onto the ships. For a time they sailed aimlessly along the Spanish coast, looking for treasure ships to plunder. But poor hygiene and lack of supplies soon took their toll on the men, who began to die, “many each hour”. In mid-November, the expedition was abandoned and the English ships, scattered at sea, began to limp back to their home ports. Cecil was the last to return: his own ship was blown off course and became lost, landing on the south coast of Ireland in mid-December. His return ended one of the most ambitious but worst executed military campaigns in English history.

Source: Sir Richard Baker, A Chronicle of the Kings of England &c., 1684. 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.

1852: Drunk zookeeper dies from cobra bite to the nose

In October 1852 Edward Horatio Girling, an employee at London Zoo, died after being bitten by a five-foot cobra. A post mortem on Girling’s corpse showed the cobra had bitten him five times on the nose. One of these bites had penetrated to the nasal bone and bled profusely. Girling was rushed to hospital by cab, a journey that took 20 minutes. While in the cab his head swelled to “an enormous size” and his face turned black. In the hospital, Girling was given artificial respiration and electrical shocks. Neither was successful and he died 35 minutes after arrival.

A report on the inquest into Barling’s slithery demise

A subsequent inquest investigated how Girling had come to be bitten in such a fashion. Early press reports put it down to a homicidal serpent. One suggested the cobra had bitten its victim him with “murderous intent”, another had it lunging from the shadows while Girling was delivering food to the enclosure. It did not take long, however, for the inquest to learn that Girling was responsible for his own demise. One of Girling’s work colleagues, Edward Stewart the hummingbird keeper, testified at the inquest. He claimed to be passing by the snake enclosure with a basket of larks when he saw Girling inside. Apparently showing off, Girling picked up the ‘Bocco’, a mildly venomous colubrid snake, by its neck. According to Stewart:

“Girling then said ‘Now for the cobra!’ Deceased took the cobra out of the case and put it inside his waistcoat, it crawled round from the right side and came out at the left side… Girling drew it out and was holding the cobra between the head and middle of the body when it made a dart at his face.”

Stewart and other witnesses also testified that Girling had been seen drinking ample quantities of gin at breakfast time. A zookeeper named Baker told the inquest “he believed that the deceased was intoxicated”. It was also noted that Girling had little if any experience with venomous snakes. A supervisor noted that Girling had only recently started working at the zoo after employment with the railways. Unsurprisingly, the coroner found that Girling had died as a “result of his own rashness whilst in a state of intoxication”. The fate of the fatal cobra was not recorded for posterity.

Source: The Daily News, London, October 23rd 1852. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. This content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1888: Week on the booze saves man from snakebite

In May 1888 a young New Jersey stonecutter, William Gore, was bitten by a rattlesnake near Fort Lee. Having spied a rattlesnake ahead, Gore reached down for a large stone with which to kill it – only to be struck on the hand by a second rattler lurking nearby. Gore’s brother took him to the local physician, whose treatment was to keep his patient drunk for several days:

“The first thing Dr Dunning did was to give him a dose of whisky, one ounce and a half. This is about three times as much as an ordinary drink of whisky. Gore was put to bed in hospital… The wound was dressed in ammonia and the arm was bandaged… Whisky has been frequently administered in large doses. The object is to keep him continually drunk. He lies in a stupor nearly all the time. Once in a great while, he is able to talk coherently.”

Newspapers reported that Gore was close to death and had received deathbed visits from family members and a Catholic priest. But according to later reports, Gore made a full recovery:

“William Gore, who was bitten by a rattlesnake at Fort Lee a week ago and has been dosed with whiskey ever since, will be out of the hospital in a few days. Moral: You can be bitten by snakes and cured by whiskey, but you can’t be bitten by whiskey and cured by snakes.”

Sources: The Sun, May 22nd 1888; Fort Worth Daily Gazette, May 28th 1888. 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.

1652: Coffee prevents gout, scury and “miscarryings”


In 1652 Pasqua Rosee, a London coffee house, published what is probably history’s first advertisement for coffee. According to the Rosee’s handbill, coffee is best-taken in the mid-afternoon. The user should also avoid food for an hour before and after. It should be drunk in half-pint servings, “as hot as can possibly be endured” without “fetching the skin off the mouth or raising any blisters”. Among the claims made about the medicinal qualities of coffee:

“It forecloses the orifice of the stomach.. it is very good to help digestion… it quickens the spirits and makes the heart lightsome. It is good against sore eyes… good against the headache… deflexion of rheumas… consumptions and cough of the lungs. It is excellent to prevent and cure the dropsy, gout, and scurvy… It is very good to prevent miscarryings in child-bearing women. It is a most excellent remedy against the spleen, hypochondriac winds or the like. It will prevent drowsiness and make one fit for business… for it will hinder sleep for three or four hours.

Source: Pasqua Rosee handbill, Cornhill, 1652. 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.

1896: Girl, 7, escapes penalty for swearing, drunkenness

In January 1896, a Miss Suider appeared before the Magistrates Court in Albany, Western Australia, charged with using indecent language in public. According to a press report, the defendant said almost nothing during the hearing. On the instruction of her stepfather, she later offered an apology. The stepfather asked for the magistrate’s understanding, advising that the defendant had “made herself drunk” on homemade wine while unsupervised. Miss Suider was only seven years old:

“The language used by the child and heard by several others was said to be filthy in the extreme… His Honour had a wish to convey the child to the reformatory but instead discharged her into the custody of her step-father, who advised the court that he was headed into the bush. The magistrate warned the step-father and mother that it would be they held to account with a large fine, if the child was brought before him again.”

Source: The Australian Advertiser (Albany, WA), February 3rd 1896. 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.