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!

A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

Samuel Derrick, author of Harris’s List and his demise

1760 - Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer (London, England), May 8, 1760 - May 10, 1760
1760 – Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer (London, England), May 8, 1760 – May 10, 1760

Irish poet, sometime comic actor and most notably the author of Harris’s Ladies of Covent Garden; over the past few weeks we have been reading Harris’s guides to the seedier side of London 1760s – 1790s not really questioning who wrote them until we noticed an article written a few years ago in the Camden New Journal, in which the author of  The Covent Garden Ladies, Hallie Rubenhold, said that she had unearthed the author, but that she was still hoping to find his burial.

So, of course, we were curious now to find out more about Samuel and hopefully provide her with the missing piece of her jigsaw – we simply love a challenge!

As usual, we began by searching the internet and, as anticipated, much has already been written about the poet’s life, with conflicting information about the date of his death. We rapidly found ourselves confused by this man.

Apparently, he died penniless with requests being made to help fund his funeral, then conflicting information saying that he was actually very wealthy when he died.

Harris’s list; or, Cupid’s London directory. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The newspapers contained much information, but the more we read the more confused we became about his death.

The St James’s Chronicle dated the 3rd – 5th March 1768 reported:

Mr Derrick who has laboured under a lingering disorder from which he was supposed to have been nearly recovered was on Tuesday evening seized of a relapse; and now lies very ill at his house in Orange Grove.

By December 1768 he had made a recovery, but in February 1769 it was reported that once again he was very ill whilst at Bath and was being attended by physicians.

an01081194_001_l
C1780. Courtesy of British Museum

A month later the same report was made in The Whitehall Evening Post. By the 11th March, 1769 St James’s Chronicle informed its readers that he had died.  Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 13th March also referred to him as the late Mr Derrick, saying that in his position of Master of ceremonies he earned upwards of 1000l per annum.  We thought that was an end to our search, there it was in black and white – his death! No, they got it wrong!

Four days later, lo and behold he was still alive, although the newspapers said he wouldn’t be for much longer. The Whitehall Evening Post a few days later received a letter from Bath dated the 16th March:

Notwithstanding the newspapers have killed Mr Derrick, Master of Ceremonies sometime ago, yet he is still living but in so wretched a state of health, that he is not at all to be envied…

An advert appeared on the 19th March 1769  in  Pope’s Bath Chronicle about letting his house, perhaps a tad inappropriate given that Samuel was not yet deceased!

 To be Lett, and enter’d on immediately, a house in Bradley’s Building, very convenient, and in excellent repair, now inhabited by Samuel Derrick Esq, master of the Ceremonies of this city. The goods, which are new and in elegant taste, will be sold by private contract on the premises, or otherwise when the house is disposed of. Enquire of Mr. Smith, within two doors of the said tenement on the Horse Parade.

by James Gillray, published by William Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 9 February 1779
by James Gillray, published by William Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 9 February 1779 Courtesy of NPG

 Finally, after much searching we found the confirmation we were looking for – he was dead!  … his death being reported in the St James’s Chronicle dated Saturday 1st April 1769, confirming his death as the previous Tuesday i.e. 28th March 1769. Apparently, at the time of his death he was worth a considerable sum of money which he left to a number of relatives in Ireland.

Believed to be a portrait of Charlotte Hayes

Oh no, a few days later this rumour of wealth was quashed by The London Chronicle, who said he died totally penniless with members of the nobility making donations to help finance him in his dying days. According to Charlotte Hayes, the courtesan and brothel keeper, Samuel bequeathed the profits of the final edition of Harris’s List to her, if that were true then he must have left a will, but no trace of it remains today!

We can finally confirm that Samuel’s burial took place at St Peter and St Paul’s church, Bath on the 2nd April 1769.

Mr Derrick, Master of the Ceremonies at Bath from The Lady's Magazine, 1790.
Mr Derrick, Master of the Ceremonies at Bath from The Lady’s Magazine, 1790.

Shortly after his actual death The London Chronicle (29th April 1769 – 2nd May 1769)  wrote anecdotes of his life in which they confirmed him to be the author of Harris’s Lists, the first edition being written by Derrick whilst confined at  Ferguson’s spunging house ( a place where debtors were held), which he sold to a publisher thereby obtaining his liberty.

Ever attached to the beautiful part of the creation, he devoted his labours to them even in confinement; and whilst he was at Ferguson’s spunging-house, he produced the first edition of Harris’s List, which he sold to a certain Bookseller; and thereby obtained his liberty.

It might be supposed, from this universal partiality of the Ladies to him, that his person was so comely and elegant as to be resistible. This was far from the case. He was of diminutive size, with reddish hair and a vacant countenance; and he required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind.

 

It said that he lived with the celebrated actress Mrs. Jane Lessingham.  It seems likely that Harris simply lent his name to the book and possibly helped in providing some of the information, but Derrick actually wrote it (and wisely left his own name off!).

There was also a not very complimentary physical description given for him:

… of diminutive size, with reddish hair and vacant countenance and required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind … he had a propensity for external gaiety which often induced him to appear in a laced coat, with a very dirty shirt.

Doesn’t that make him sound like a great catch??!

Foote apparently commented:

He was a very impudent fellow to have five embroidered coats and only one shirt.

From Derrick’s Jests there was a comment made by an Irish friend of his on seeing him in his coffin.

Ah poor Sammy, till this time hast been continually amidst a scene of bustle and noise; but, thank God, art now still for once in thy lifetime!

1770 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Saturday, December 29, 1770
1770 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Saturday, December 29, 1770

Hopefully, we have finally managed to lay Samuel Derrick to rest in peace. Find out more about the life and children of his mistress Jane Lessingham.

Public Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 21, 1773
Public Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 21, 1773

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To find out more about the women in Harris’s List we would highly recommend reading Hallie Rubenhold’s fascinating books The Covent Garden Ladies and  The Harlot’s Handbook.

If you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and his ‘fellows’ got up to on their numerous trips to London read this edition of the book they would have certainly carried around…Harris’ “List of Covent Garden Ladies” was a bestseller of the eighteenth century, shifting 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism. An annual ‘guide book’, it detailed the names and ‘specialities’ of the capital’s prostitutes. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris’ “List” was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died by the List’s profits during the Georgian era. Hallie Rubenhold has collected the funniest, ruddiest and most surreal entries penned by Jack Harris, “Pimp-General-of-All-England” into this hilarious book’.