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The First Foot Guards

We are a Revolutionary War reenactment group based in Boston MA,
accurately portraying the royal household regiment that is now known as
The Grenadier Guards

 


Sickness and treatment 
in the 18th century

 

We can get some idea of the medical complaints of the time from:

The London Bills of Mortality.
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Buchan's Domestic Medicine
An exhaustive treatment. 1st ed 1769, 2nd ed 1785. 
Worth reading to see how ineffective the treatments must really have been.
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Keith Wilbur's Revolutionary Medicine
Highly recommended. Very readable, authoritative, thoroughly illustrated, affordable.
Check other titles by Wilbur

Click

 

It may be difficult to imagine the appearance of people in the 17th century. Many of course would be malodorous: even the rich did not often take baths, and it was common for the poor to stitch their children into garments for the duration of winter. The streets of the time were even smellier, with horse manure being trodden underfoot, and draggled on skirts, and refuse and offal being thrown into the kennel (the drainage that ran down the middle of paved streets). Deformities and open sores were common. Most of the population had had smallpox at some time, so their faces would be pock-marked. Teeth did not last, given the lack of oral hygiene, so that many had missing teeth or were toothless. And of course there were those who were crippled by disease, accident, or from having served in the army or navy.


The Bills of Mortality

The Bills of Mortality originated in the early sixteenth century in London, as a sort of early warning against the onset of bubonic plague. The information was collected by the Parish Clerk's Company of London, and was published weekly, monthly and yearly. During the 1700s the lists were republished in The Annual Register, and would be perused by the informed gentlemen of the period.

Over time the detail provided by the bills increased. Originally they contained only burials, but by the 1570s the total number of baptisms was included, and after 1629 the cause of death was given.

The areas covered by the bills also expanded as London grew. Until 1603 the Bills covered only the City within the Walls and its 'Liberties', the area governed by the Lord Mayor of London. The 'out-parishes' [suburbs] were included in 1604, then in 1636, the 'distant' parishes in Westminster, Stepney and South London were included.

The area referred to the London conurbation of the time and the phrase "within the Bills" came to mean what you might call 'greater London'.

 

Some of the names of the illnesses are amusing to the modern ear, but they were serious maladies that could not be cured.

A typical list:

Abortive
Aged
Ague
Apoplexy
Asthma


Bedridden
Bleeding
Bloody-flux
Bursten


Cancer
Canker
Childbed
Chrisom
Cholick (Colic)
Consumption
Convulsion
Cough
Cramp


Diabetes
Dropsy


Evil
Fever
Fistula
Flux
French Pox


Gangrene
Gout
Gravel
Grief
Griping in the Guts


Headmouldshot
Hooping-Cough
Horseshoehead


Jaundice

Imposthume
Itch

Leprosy
Lethargy
Liver-grown
Looseness
Lunatick
Loosness

Malignant-Fever
Measles
Miscarriage
Mortification

Pleurisy

Pain in the Head
Palsy
Planet Struck
Purples

Quinsy

Rash
Rheumatism
Rickets
Rising of the Lights

Rupture

St Anthony's Fire

Scald Head
Scurvy
Small Pox
Sores and Ulcers
Spleen
Spotted Fever
Stilborn
Stone

Stoppage in the Stomach

Strangury
Suddenly
Surfeit
Swelling

Teeth
Thrush
Tissick
Twisting of the Guts
Tympany

Ulcers

Vomiting

Water in the Head
Worms

There was a different list for "Casualties"

Broken Leg
Broken Scull
Bruised
Burnt
Drowned
Excessive Drinking
Executed
Found dead
Frighted
Kill'd by several Accidents
Made away themselves
Murder'd
*Overlaid
Scalded
Shot
Stabb'd

*Overlaid. A mother accidentally rolling over on her baby in bed, and smothering it.


EXPLANATION 
of some of the terms
Consult Buchan for others.

A
Ague: Recurring fever and chills: malaria.

Apoplexy: Stroke.

B

Barrel Fever: Debilitation caused by recurrent drinking. Never a problem in so fine a body as the First Foot Guards?

Bloody flux: Dysentery. 'Flux' referred to any 'flowing' of fluids (in modern medical jargon, the suffix -rrhoea or -rrhea, as in amenorrhea or diarrhea, and you'll find it in logorrhea: enough words, already!). It usually referred to diarrhea. With dysentery the stool contained blood. The combination of loss of water and blood could rapidly cause dehydration and death.

Black Death: Typhus.

Bright's disease: Inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis). When caused by chronic alcoholism, it was accompanied by cirrhosis of the liver.

Bursten: An Anglo-Saxon descriptive term for 'Ruptured'. A common complaint. Recruiting serjeants are specifically enjoined in recruiting regulations not to enlist anyone who has a hernia.

C
Camp fever: Typhus.

Chin Cough: Whooping cough (Pertussis). Highly contagious.

Chrisom: An infant who died before or shortly after baptism. They can often be seen recorded as such in Parish Registers (they died before they received a name).

Consumption: Tuberculosis.

Cramp Colic: Appendicitis, which was untreatable. It often proceeded to a ruptured appendix, which led to enteritis and death.

Croup: Coughing. Membranous Croup: Diphtheria.

D

Diphtheria: A common disease that caused difficulty in breathing, high fever and debilitation.

Dock Fever: The dreaded Yellow Fever that often came to ports via inbound ships.

E

Enteritis: Inflammation of the intestine often with concomitant infection of the body cavity. Could be caused by a puncturing of the abdomen, such as with a bayonet wound.

Erysipelas: A disease of the skin characterized by red blotches, and caused by streptococcal infection of the blood (St Anthony's Fire)

Evil: The King's Evil, or Scrofula. It was called the king's Evil, because it could reputedly be cured by the touch of the sovereign. That might have been moot, because one could hardly imagine a King desiring to touch the scrofulous. Tuberculosis of lymph glands, notably in the neck.

F
Falling sickness: Epilepsy

French pox: Also called Great Pox, to distinguish it from Smallpox (which is entirely different). Venereal disease consisted of gonorrhea and syphilis - the two were not distinguished from each another at this time. Cures were drastic, often using mercury. A common belief at the time was that you could rid yourself of the disease by having sex with an uninfected person.

G

Goiter (Goitre): (Struma). Characterized by a swelling in the front of the neck (sometimes involving the whole neck) as the thyroid gland enlarged to counteract the deficiency of iodine in the diet. Common in hard water areas of the country, where the calcium in the water makes iodine absorption by the body difficult. Often accompanied by exophthalmos, or bulging eyes.

Gout: Imbalance of uric acid metabolism, characterized by painful inflammation of the joints, especially of the feet and hands. More common in men than women, and seemingly more common in the well-to-do (or perhaps the poor just struggled on!) You have seen the old prints of eighteenth century aristos with one foot raised on a stool, swathed in bandages. Sufferers were a butt of humor in contemporary comedies.

Gravel: Urinary deposits.

Gripe/Grippe: Influenza.

H

Headmouldshot & horseshoehead: Inflammation or water on the brain.

Heat Sickness: Overheating, characterized by high body temperature and cessation of sweating, caused by a loss of salt (itself due to sweating). A life-threatening situation, and one suffered, no doubt, by soldiers of the First Foot Guards at Monmouth Courthouse.

Hemiplegy: Palsy or paralysis of one side of the body, as is common in conditions of stroke.

I

Impostume: A cyst or abscess.

J

Jaundice: Yellowness of the skin, the whites of the eyes, caused by obstruction of the bile and consequent bodily retention of anabolic waste products. Accompanied by constipation, weakness, loss of appetite.

L

Liver-grown: Enlarged liver

Looseness: Dysentery

Lues Venera: You guessed it - venereal disease.

Lung Fever: Pneumonia.

Lung Sickness: Tuberculosis.

M

Morsal: Gangrene. A bacterial infection, common in wounds or limbs that have had the blood supply attenuated (possibly by tourniquets). Characterized by a foul smell. The common solution was to amputate the affected limb.

P

Planet struck: Confused, or paralytic.

Pleurisy: Inflammation of the pleura, or lining of the body cavity around the lungs, associated with fever, cough and pain. In war, the result of a bayonet wound to the thorax (if trauma to the lung or lockjaw didn't kill the victim first).

Pox: Syphilis or gonorrhea.

Puerperal Fever/Puerperal Sepsis: (Childbed Fever). Sepsis of the womb or birth canal, caused by unhygienic conditions (which were all too common!) Often resulted in the death of the mother.

Rickets: A deficiency of vitamin D or calcium in the diet. Caused weakening of the bones, and was particularly noticeable in the bones of the legs, which distorted under the weight of the body, causing bow-leggedness. Eliminated in the 20th century by free school milk programs and better dietetics.

Rising of the lights: Lung problems. 'Lights' is an old word for lungs. Into the twentieth century you could purchase 'cat's lights', that is to say bovine lungs as a food for cats. The phrase 'I'll knock yer lights out' refers to the lungs.

Q
Quinsy: Throat inflammation.

S
Scrofula: see Evil.

Scurvy. A vitamin C deficiency, which could be cured by better diet, which included fresh greens or fruit. A common urban complaint, as well as the scourge of seafarers. Scurvy was eliminated on board ships after it was discovered that the juice of citrus fruits could eliminate the complaint. Since lemons or limes were carries aboard Royal Navy vessels, the sailors (then all the British) became known as 'limeys'. Recognizable by a pale, bloated face, bleeding gums with loose teeth.

Ship's Fever: Typhus.

Spotted fever: Sometimes measles

Stone: Gall-stones. This is (amazingly) something that was operated on. Samuel Pepys records in his diary that he was "cutt of the stone".

St Anthony's Fire: Erysipelas, qv.

St. Vitus' Dance: Chorea/The Dancing Madness. An epidemic disease causing convulsions, contortions of the body and dancing.

Strangury: Urinary disease.

T
Thrush: Mouth and throat infection.

Tissick: Tuberculosis, which could also be referred to as phthisis or consumption.

Tympany: Tumors.


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