When you read through 18th century newspapers it’s quite astonishing the number of adverts there were for health and well-being with many so-called doctors offering cures for every conceivable medical complaint. Today, Advertising Standards, not to mention the police would have a field day with some of the claims made in these! Some of these are truly shocking, so we warn you in advance.
We begin with an advert in E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor of Sunday, December 18, 1803. Ladies – do you suffer from monthly period pains? Are you pregnant? Or are you going through the menopause? – worry no more – Dr. Fothergill’s has the cure! There is absolutely no indication as to what this medicine actually contained, but it worked – really it did – a lady of quality confirmed this!
Dr. Fothergill offers a remedy with his Female Specific Pills, at the low price of 3 shillings and 6 pence! Of the efficacy of these pills too much cannot be aid as the use of them has been the means to restoring thousands to the state of perfect health, when innumerable other medicines have failed. They are particularly beneficial to single young ladies in the prime of their life when any irregularity prevails. They are also of great service to married ladies during the course of pregnancy. They are likewise of high importance to women in the latter period of life, specially about the age of 45 and upwards; as by their use the complaints which frequently prevail at that period will be obviate.
The history of these pills is rather singular and may serve as a recommendation to its more general use: – A lady of Quality was for many years afflicted with dreadful pain in her head and stomach, with various hysterical complaints: Her case was given for consideration to various eminent persons of the faculty, without obtaining any relief. One of these gentlemen, however, advised her to consult the late learned Dr. Fothergill, who was particularly celebrated for his skill in relieving these complaints. Dr. Fothergill gave her a prescription which was prepared by her family apothecary, who charged her five shillings for it. By the use of this medicine for a few days she experienced great relief and before she had finished the box was entirely well. During her life she distributed this medicine to many of her friends and poor neighbours. At length when very old age prevailed (attained perhaps only by the use of this medicine) she gave the recipe to her physician.
It was commonplace to see anecdotes for people ‘cured’ by taking certain medications such as this one in Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800. Did they work? We have no idea, but naturally people would put their trust in products that seemingly had some medical backing.
With this next one from Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800, the mind boggles – Dr. Harvey’s Anti-Venereal Pills and Grand Restorative Drops.
We move on to a couple of truly worrying adverts, when you read the first of these it can surely only be interpreted in one way, this was a service being offered for abortion. Women finding themselves in such dire straits as needing to use this service could do so for around one guinea (around £40 in today’s money).
Morning Post and Gazetteer, Tuesday, November 18, 1800:
Whose situation requires temporary Retirement
Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, offer to accommodate Ladies in an airy and retired situation, with apartments to live in, on terms suited to their circumstances and situation in life; their infants put out to nurse, and humanely taken care of; and as humanity induces him to offer his assistance to alleviate the horrors of concealed pregnancy, he flatters himself Ladies will find, on application to him, the great attention and most profound secrecy. Letters (postpaid) to Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, No. 19 Charlotte Street, Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, will meet the most pointed attention.
Where may be had The PILL-BENEDICTA, at £1, 1 shilling per box, a certain and effectual remedy to remove all obstructions and irregularities, and an excellent medicine after had Lyings-in.
Our last one comes to us courtesy of Courier and Evening Gazette, Wednesday, April 24, 1799. How many people would have bought into this one, we wonder, not many, we hope!
A medical gentleman, of regular education and established credit in London, who, on account of his rank in the profession, has found out an effectual remedy for the above-mentioned destructive disease. Such persons as wish to consult him, are requested to send a particular history of their complaint, mentioning age, sex etc. of the patient and an immediate answer will be returned stating every circumstance relative to the treatment and cure of the disease. Letters of consultation, inclosing a pound note, directed to Mr. T, No. 11 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, will be duly attended to.
An Episode from ‘The Mock Doctor’ or ‘Dumb Lady Cured’ (from Henry Fielding’s adaptation of ‘Le médécin malgré lui’ by Molière, 1732) by Francis Hayman (1708–1776), National Trust, Sizergh Castle.