Monthly Archives: July 2012

History Blogs – time to go exploring

With the publication of A Parcel of Ribbons finally completed, I am looking forward to having time to read some of the many history blogs out on the web.

I was delighted to be approached by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog to do an interview about the book. That and a very kind nomination by the Rebel Hand blog for an Illuminating Blogger award made me realise how much I have been missing by not having time to read many of these wonderful sites.

You may have noticed that I have a link on the left hand side of this page to the Geneabloggers website which is an amazing compendium of hints and tips together with Blog resources and a genealogy blog listing. They list over 2,500 blogs and family history websites and also provide a listing by type which makes it easy to find, say, blogs relating to a particular American state or a subject such as graveyards. Well worth exploring.

One of my favourites (strictly a website rather than a blog) is the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice which is devoted to pre-anaesthetic surgery and medicine, such as was available in eighteenth century Jamaica. You do need a strong stomach for some of the details!

A blog that provided me with inspiration and information early in my researches in relation to Georgian London is by Lucy Inglis who is also blogger in residence for the Museum of London.

From time to time I intend to include a post listing other blogs I have found useful or entertaining. Do let me know of your favourites.

And finally a reminder link for the book, available at the special discount price of £13.49 (plus postage).

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Perfect bound paperback 6″ x 9″ – 374 pages with illustrations.

ISBN: 9781105809743

A Parcel of Ribbons – The Book – Now available

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Available in perfect bound paperback 6″ x 9″ – 374 pages with illustrations.

ISBN: 9781105809743

When I set up this website it was with the aim of sharing material I had come across during research into my family history. In particular I was looking for the origin of the story that in my mother’s family there had been an ‘Indian Princess’.

It may seem a long way from an Indian Princess to Jamaica but the trail that led me there was illuminated by the discovery of a wonderful collection of family letters.

I can now share these and the story of the remarkable Lee family with you. I do hope you enjoy their story as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

The Apothecary, the Butcher and the Physicians


The Rose family were among the earliest colonist of Jamaica. Dr Fulke Rose and his brothers Thomas and Francis were patenting land from the early 1670s onwards, and the family plantations and name persisted throughout the following century. After the death of Fulke Rose, his widow married Sir Hans Sloane among whose many claims to fame was his wonderful book on the natural history of Jamaica, the result of a short visit he made in the 1680s. Another brother John Rose was a London merchant who traded with Jamaica and who carried convicts and indentured labourers there in his ships.

Less well known, in connection with Jamaica, was their brother William who was an apothecary in London and who seems to have acted in some capacity as family banker. Fulke Rose’s Will mentions that William was paying a family annuity to their aunt Margaret Tudor, and that he was holding £1500 on behalf of his brother Fulke (equivalent to about £2.8m today relative to average earnings – source:

The trade of an apothecary is one we no longer have, and to some extent this results from a court case involving William Rose.

Generally speaking there were three providers of medical services at the time, not counting midwives who were generally women. There were some men midwives, who were not doctors, as childbirth had not yet become medicalised.

Surgeons performed basic surgery, without of course benefit of anaesthetics or antiseptics. So they worked fast to reduce shock and blood loss, amputating crushed limbs, setting broken bones, bleeding patients and generally dealing with the mechanics of the human body. They would learn their trade by apprenticeship to another surgeon.

Physicians were the top of the medical tree, and might be university trained, for example Dr Rose Fuller, Fulke Rose’s grandson, trained at Leiden in the Netherlands. They diagnosed ailments and dealt with a wide variety of illnesses and conditions – inevitably with varying degrees of success. A good bedside manner was worth money and the fees they charged related as much to this as to actual treatment success rates. They would prescribe bleeding, cupping  and blistering, and would write prescriptions for medicines containing things such as scorpions and crushed woodlice, as well as the opiates mentioned in last week’s posting here. Those medicines would be made up for the patient by the local apothecary.

Unlike today’s dispensing chemist however the eighteenth century apothecary also provided medical services to patients in his area, who would consult him because he was cheaper than a physician. The physicians however jealously guarded what they regarded as their monopoly over the right to diagnose and prescribe.

This came to a head in 1701 when John Seale, a butcher from Hungerford Market, came to consult William Rose who was practising in the parish of St Martin in the Fields in London. Seale was probably suffering from a sexually transmitted disease and over a period of months William tried various remedies without success. Eventually he presented Seale with a bill for £50, a considerable sum, possibly designed to try to get rid of a troublesome customer! Troublesome he certainly was.

Seale went to the Royal College of Physicians to complain and William was prosecuted before the Court of the Queens Bench for practising illegally as a physician. The case was debated over a considerable period of time and eventually judgement was given in favour of the Physicians. However William’s case was taken up by the Society of Apothecaries who applied for a Writ Of Error and they argued that ‘… selling a few Lozenges, or a small Electuary to any asking for a remedy for a cold, or in other ordinary or common cases, or where the medicine has known and certain effects, may not be deemed unlawful or practising as a physician, where no fee is taken or demanded for the same. Furthermore the physicians, by straining an act made so long ago, may not be enabled to monopolise all manner of Physick solely to themselves and be an oppression to the poorer families not able to go to the charge of a fee’.

The argument was as much about money as it was about medical practice. The physicians feared that the apothecaries would poach their business and they would lose fees. However the apothecaries argued that there were not enough physicians to supply the medical needs of Londoners, whereas the many apothecaries living among their clientele could be on hand day or night.

William won his case on appeal in 1704, and the physicians went on to undercut the apothecaries by setting up free dispensaries for the poor!

However, the ruling is now regarded as marking the beginning of the establishment of General Practice in England, and William is remembered in the Rose Prize of the Royal College of General Practitioners – ‘For original work in the history of general practice in the British Isles’.


The picture above, by Pietro Longhi (1702-1785), from Wikimedia Commons, shows an eighteenth century apothecary examining a patient. The seated figure is perhaps the physician writing his prescription. The large plant on the floor looks like an aloe vera which is still used today, and is common in Jamaica where its uses in herbal medicine have long been known.




Sugar and Medicine

Papaver somniferum, Opium Poppy – By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen via Wikimedia Commons

Sugar, which was so crucial to the development of Jamaica in the eighteenth century, is now something we take completely for granted. It is easy to forget that it was originally such a luxury that it was only available to the very rich, and that apart from flavouring food and conspicuous consumption in medieval sugar sculptures, it was also used as medicine.

There is a long tradition in believing that if something tastes nasty it must be doing you good! Equally it was often the case that if something did taste nasty or bitter it could be made more palatable by being sweetened with honey or sugar.

I came across one reference which highlighted this use of sugar in the Lee family letters, where Frances, who suffered from severe abdominal pain throughout her (long) life, wrote that she found relief by taking ‘Black Drop’ on the advice of the royal doctor Sir Richard Jebb.

Variously known as Kendal Black Drop (and also Lancaster and Armstrong’s Black Drop, and Quaker’s or Toustall’s Black Drop after a certain Dr Toustall of Durham who was said to have invented it) it was made from opium and flavoured with sugar and spices.

Here is a recipe from Henriette Kress’s website   – to be followed by qualified herbalists only!

BLACK DROP.—Black, or Quaker’s drop, is variously made; the Edinburgh formula is: Take of opium, 4 ounces; distilled vinegar, 16 fluid ounces. Cut the opium into small fragments, triturate it into a pulp with a little of the vinegar, add the rest of the vinegar, macerate in a closed vessel for 7 days, and agitate occasionally. Then strain and express strongly, and filter.” The aromatics added in some formulae are unnecessary (see also Acetum Opii).

Another popular recipe requiring sugar was Syrup of Poppies used for pain control and as a sedative.

SYRUP OF POPPIES.—A syrup of poppies may be made by depriving of their seeds, poppy-heads, 9 ounces; reduce them to a coarse powder, moisten them thoroughly with diluted alcohol and digest for 48 hours; then transfer the whole to a percolator, and gradually pour upon it diluted alcohol until 2 pints of the filtered liquor are obtained; then evaporate by means of a water-bath to 8 fluid ounces, filter, add sugar, 15 ounces; proceed in the manner directed for simple syrup. When cool, add best French brandy, 2 fluid ounces, and mix (C. W. Epting). (See also Syrupus Papaveris.)

Many medicines were made up in the form of syrups, and pills could be rolled in powdered sugar to make them more palatable. By the nineteenth century when sugar was plentiful doctors would sometimes simply sell sugar pills. Given that a placebo may be effective in about one third of ailments this is not as callous as it may sound, although such a deception is now regarded as unethical.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 Image:Wikimedia Commons

It is entirely down to my own ignorance that until I began researching Jamaica in the eighteenth century I had no idea that the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning had any connection with the island. My image of her and her family was conditioned by the 1934 Film The Barretts of Wimpole Street, starring Charles Laughton as the domineering father who forced her to remain indoors and threatened to kill her dog Flush when he heard she had eloped. The truth, of course was rather different and has been much discussed since.

The Barrett family wealth derived from their Jamaican estates. The first Barrett in Jamaica was Hercie Barrett who arrived with the 1655 expedition of conquest, and at first he may have lived in Spanish Town. The first patent to a Barrett was granted in 1663 for footland in St Catherine, a house and yard in St Jago de la Vega (though it is not certain if this was Hercie Barrett). Five patents were granted to Hercie Barrett between 1665 and 1670. His eldest son’s descendants seem to have adopted the spelling Barritt, and the line that would lead to Elizabeth Barrett Browning derived from Hercie’s youngest son Samuel. Samuel’s son, another Samuel, had fifteen children and his third son Edward born in 1734 married Judith Goodin. They were the great-grandparents of Elizabeth.

Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth married Charles Moulton, a merchant from Madeira, and their son Edward later changed his name so he became Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett. His daughter Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall in Durham, since by then her family had become largely absentee landlords of  the more than 2600 acres of Jamaican plantations developed by Samuel Barrett. Prominent among these was Cinnamon Hill where the great house was protected against hurricanes by a ‘cutwind’ buttress. Edward Barrett also built a substantial town house in Falmouth, sadly now derelict with its upper storeys gone.

On Edward Barrett’s death in 1798, Charles Moulton’s brother Robert wrote ‘It has pleased Providence to deprive us of our Friend Edwd. Barrett…The bulk of his immense fortune has devolved on my Brothers two Boys.’  The signing of this Will just three days before Edward’s death channeled the fortune in a quite different direction from what would have happened if he had made no Will. The ramifications of the Barrett family in Jamaica and the management of the plantations by relations and attorneys led to endless disputes down through the nineteenth century.

At the turn of the nineteenth century the estates were at their most profitable and between 1799 and 1804 the Cinnamon Hill, Cornwall, Cambridge and Oxford estates shipped 5255 hogsheads and 1038 tierces of sugar and 2037 puncheons of rum. (A hogshead was about 16 hundredweight of muscovado, a tierce one-third of that, and a barrel of rum would have contained about 110 gallons). If we contrast this wealth with the mere £300 a year that Robert Browning’s father earned we can understand why Elizabeth’s father might have seen him as a fortune hunter! Indeed Elizabeth had some independent fortune of her own as she had been left shares in the ship the David Lyon by her uncle Samuel Moulton Barrett, and this meant she need not be dependent on her father.

Elizabeth’s mother Mary died in 1828, leaving her rigid and uncommunicative father with eleven children to bring up (a twelfth child, Mary, had died young). In due course he sent his fifth child, Samuel, to Jamaica where in February 1840 he died of yellow fever. Hardly had the news arrived in England than Elizabeth’s brother Edward, only a year younger than she was, drowned that July while out sailing in Babbacombe Bay in Devon.

This series of disasters, combined with ill health and her father’s obsessive behaviour sent Elizabeth into the deep depression from which she was eventually aroused by meeting and falling in love with Robert Browning.

After the death of Edward Moulton Barrett in 1857 five of his eleven surviving children were left £10,950 each – Arabel, George, Henry, Septimus and Octavius. Charles John inherited the Jamaican estates. Among themselves they agreed that Alfred, Henrietta and Elizabeth who had all been disinherited when they married should each receive about £5000.

Charles John and Septimus both made their homes in Jamaica, Charles was buried at Retreat Pen in 1905 aged ninety-one. Septimus (Sette) died in 1870 at Cinnamon Hill. After Sette’s death Charles John began the gradual sale of  Barrett lands to pay off the huge debts incurred by Septimus, amounting according to his daughter to £30,000.

Although the huge wealth of the Barrett family was not to last, the descendants of Hercie Barrett had left an indelible mark on the landscape and history of Jamaica.