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Remedies in the 19th Century

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Berkeley, Lord Bishop of Cloyne, “active in many fields but remembered chiefly as a philosopher,” who, in 1744 started the European vogue of tar-water as a general medicine claimed to be successful in the treatment of over 150 different ailments, wrote to the London Magazine in 1747: “If I can but induce the general use of tar-water for this murrain, which is in truth a fever, I flatter myself this may pave the way for its general use in all fevers whatever.” He thought that although people might be loath to experiment on themselves, they would willingly attempt so inexpensive a remedy on their cattle (Berkeley, 1747). Many had turned to tar-water in 1746 when T. Prior of Dublin, an admirer of the Bishop’s method, quoted a source:

Let the sick beast have poured down its throat a quart of warm Tar-water, made stronger than usual by stirring each gallon eight or ten minutes, and this to be repeated every hour or two for the first day, while the beast is awake. On the second, let one half of the former quantity be given; and on the third day, half of that which was given on the second: which last quantity is to be continued ‘till the cure is perfected; during which time, the beast should be housed and lie warm.

He added, “I have no experience of the success of this method, as there is no infection of that kind in this kingdom,” having prefaced his remarks with the statement that the disease now prevailed in some parts of England. He also suggested that it might be advisable to daub the nostrils, ears, etc. of all the cattle, whether infected or not, to prevent catching or communicating the infection by air, “And also to make the beast swallow one egg-shell full, or two of crude Tar” (Prior, 1746).


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  1. A chopin-bottle was an English quart (1.1 L).

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  2. A prayer against the human plague epidemic, to be read on a day of “General FAST and Humiliation” in December 1720, read “Preserve us from the evil we are afraid of, and suffer not the contagion of it to come near our Borders” (Anon., 1720b).

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  3. In March 2001, a correspondent wrote to the The Oxford Times: Sir—A notice in our church porch informs us that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Oxford wish a bell to be tolled at 12 noon every Sunday during the present foot-and-mouth crisis in the farming community. These two headline-grabbing, urban clerics say that then the farmers will hear what the Church of England is thinking about them.... It would be much better for our “top” urban, unthinking clerics to stick to prayer—gimmicky gestures are no use. Prayer can achieve a great deal and we are praying for the farming community already in this parish. (Serjeant, 2001) In a Lords debate on April 4, 2001, the Bishop of Oxford queried the FMD slaughter policy, stating: “The current crisis suggests that something has gone fundamentally wrong in our whole understanding of the relationship between human beings and our fellow creatures on this planet.” The controversy over slaughter as a means of control of epizootic disease still continues after almost 300 years.

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Spinage, C.A. (2003). Remedies in the 19th Century. In: Cattle Plague. Springer, Boston, MA.

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