& QUACKERY –but no ducks! Dr Eric Somerville
A good attendance listened to Eric’s illustrated &
light hearted talk on the progress of healing the sick over
The dictionary says that a quack is a ‘scoundrel, a charlatan’,
a person who dishonestly claims to have a special knowledge
in some field, typically medicine. Eric said the origin of the
word possibly came from ‘quacksalver’, meaning a
person who sold potions or nostrums at Fairs and similar gatherings,
claiming they would cure all illnesses!
Nothing was known about Anatomy /Physiology, disease or cures.
People would send for the wise woman or midwife of the village
for any help with illness. Surgery stemmed from the local barber
& later from the military field. Any person could call themselves
doctor & over the years many have offered ‘cures’
for various ailments.
From a long list of quacks Eric showed the ‘special ‘treatments
– quackery – of each ‘Dr.’
ranged from hot & cold - bathing, manipulation of the spine,
phrenology, poultices. sitting in blue light & the administrations
of various nostrums such as arsenic, mercury & herbs. It
was known that druggists made radium water for people to drink.
& some religious groups believe that lust & libido was
the cause of illness & had to be suppressed ! Several old
recipes are still available today especially in the USA. Herbal
remedies were written down by monks who would care for the sick.
Nothing was known of infection & many died from shock &
It has to be said that most of the potions caused vomiting &
purging. The ‘cure’ was often more deadly than the
disease. The Greeks were known to use enemas to cure disease.
In the time of Leonardo da Vinci the Pope allowed dissection
of the dead & the artistic skills of da Vinci displayed
the most accurate details of the body, from which the understanding
of Anatomy & Physiology comes. It is said that they match
the accuracy of MRI scans today.
It was not until 1858 that any recognised medical training was
available at Oxford & Cambridge Edinburgh. & Doctors
were registered & took the Oath of Hippocrates.
In the 17c Culpepper’s treatments were herbal & astrological
& Cocaine, Opium & Alcohol were used. Some quacks trained
to be an Apothecary leading to the registered chemist &
pharmacist of today.
Infection was being understood & medical practise moved
to what it is today.
So we must be thankful for the modern Doctors & drugs. We
can only wonder what the future will hold It is already understood
that in the not too distant future a patients treatment &
drugs will be ‘tailored ‘ specifically for him only.
Questions followed a very interesting talk.
The April meeting is by Brian Jones, the last he will give as
he is retiring. His talk will be Me & My Family Tree.