A night with Venus could result in a lifetime with mercury

So, you’ve found yourself a suitable young lady to spend some ‘quality’ time with, courtesy of Harris’s List (the annual directory of prostitutes working in London).

You’ve forgotten to call at Mrs Philips, at the Green Canister on Half-moon Street in the Strand for some cumdums (condoms, as we know them to be today) and you didn’t use the ‘totally effective Paris wash ball’ or Powell and Co’s medicated soap before calling on the young lady.

Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795
Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795

 

Telegraph, Tuesday, October 25, 1796

Oh, well never mind you’ll take a chance, everything should be just fine.

But of course, more often than not it simply wasn’t ‘just fine’ and needless to say the result was that you become ‘frenchified’, in other words you acquired a venereal disease – the pox, Covent Garden/Drury Lane Ague, Clap or, Token (the latter originates from the phrase ‘she tipped him the token’ i.e. she was infected and passed it on to him).

So what was the treatment?

Well, you could pay a visit to the ‘Nimgimmer’, a physician or surgeon who claimed to be able to provide you with a cure for the condition, such as Dr John Leake, of Parliament Street, London, who advertised prolifically in the newspapers throughout the mid to late 1700s that he had developed a ‘cure all’ pill and also the ‘Lisbon Diet Drink’.

Dr Leaks pills

 

Daily Gazetteer, Thursday, June 21, 1744

This ‘cure’ which was more than likely some form of medication containing mercury became extremely popular, to the extent that it was carried on board ships for the sailors to take after a night out! Syphilis was incurable and the best treatment was calomel aka mercury chloride, which had its own problems when used over a long term.

L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Faenza, Ravenna province, Emilia-Romagna, Italy made: 1731-1770 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients.

So, those Georgians believed you simply took a pill and the condition was cured – really? Alternately you could try the Cornelian Tub, which was a sweating tub designed to remove the impurities – surely, that would do the trick or Sir Peter Lalonette’s Fumigation machine (to find out more about option click on the highlighted link).

It wasn’t until the mid-1830s that the medical profession finally agreed that syphilis and gonorrhoea were actually two different conditions, so consequently, until that time there was just one general term for the condition i.e. venereal disease. No matter which condition you had acquired there was no cure for your night for passion!

Courtesy of the British Museum

 

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