Australian Medical Pioneers … when Leeches, Enemas & Forks Were the Cure

The History & Genealogy Sydney Expo was held in October 2010. As Gould Genealogy was a part-organiser as well as an exhibitor we were there for the full two days it was on. During that time, I did manage to occassionally slip away from our display on to go an visit the other exhibitors, one of who was Lois Sabine (pictured below) with her new book The Settlers’ Guide, a work by one of Australian medical pioneers.

Dr Bell was born in Ireland in 1815 and studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, prior to arriving in Australia in 1839. Bell practised in Sydney, Parramatta, Windsor, Carcoar, Orange and Sofala and became aware of the great difficulty experienced by the colonists in obtaining medical assistance in outlying areas.

He wrote The Settlers’ Guide in 1849 to enable those in medical need to help themselves or others in times of difficulty. Warming to his task, The Settlers’ Guide eventually contained more that 85,000 words and is in two parts. He advertised it as “soon to be published” but sadly, this did not occur. The manuscript was lost for the next 160 years, until Lois Sabine discovered it at the bottom of a box of papers in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

This is a unique, never before published, comprehensive Australian medical guide for families, settlers, bushmen and invalids in 19th-century Sydney.

His guide covers maladies ranging from ”hysterical habits” to ”scabs from vermin”, ”injuries from gunpowder” to ”itching of the genitals”, and includes amazing case histories. One man was gored by a bull and drank 40 glasses of rum. Another with delirium tremens demanded ”the lord mayor on a pitchfork”. A woman who grew sleepy while praying yawned widely and dislocated her jaw.

Today, many of Bell’s practices seem appalling. He advocated the use of nitric acid in a sore-throat gargle, mended dislocated jaws by inserting forks either side of the mouth, and treated fractured kneebones by strapping the joint and putting the patient in a head-to-toe sling.

The Guide is a must-read for family historians who will wonder at their ancestor’s treatment and at their subsequent survival. Researchers will find the Guide a treasure trove and today’s doctors will also benefit from this sometimes startling refresher course.

The book can be purchased from Irish Wattle or by sending an email to Lois Sabine.

A review of the book by John Huxley in the Sydney Morning Herald gives further insight into what a treasure this book really is.

The photo of Lois was taken at the Sydney Expo, and is used courtesy of Deevar Creations Photography.

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2 thoughts on “Australian Medical Pioneers … when Leeches, Enemas & Forks Were the Cure

  1. Thank you for the great post, good to see someone with a similar interest as myself. I’m from Adelaide and it’s always great to hear stuff like this. Cheers

  2. Amazing story, very interesting that not all Australians were convicts, some actually came here for the adventure.

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