The trials of Thomas Turner (1754-65), cont'd

Part 2: At the mercy of Stone and Snelling

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The artery lying deep, the operation was obliged to be performed with a dissecting knife. The first cut did not hurt greatly, but the incision not being big enough at the 1st cut, he was obliged to cut a second time, which hurt me very much.

In the last Histories, I introduced the 18th century rural English diarist Thomas Turner and followed the ups and downs of his marital life. It was clear that his wife was plagued with illness (and indeed she died young – there were even cruel rumours that Turner helped her on her way); Turner himself was prone to various maladies, as anyone might be, especially in an age before a proper understanding of infection. In the course of poking about in these diaries I noticed two medical men cropping up regularly, and I think it’s interesting to have this personal account of someone’s consultations with such, and some of the treatments given. So forgive me this week as we follow the health problems of T. Turner! And best of all, he gives us his own prescription for good health, which is really quite sensible.

The first of his prescribers is Richard Stone, local apothecary and surgeon, not immune to the joys of a drink or two, as we’ll see. And when out of his depth, he would turn to John Snelling, a doctor from the nearby village of Alfriston and later godfather to one of Turner’s sons. The majority of visits from Stone are to ‘bleed’ either Turner or his wife. This was in an era when bloodletting – withdrawing blood either by scalpel or through the application of leeches, a practice inherited from an earlier age when physicians focused on balancing the ‘four humours’ in the body – was a frequent treatment for all manner of ills. (Today this practice is only undertaken in very specific circumstances.)


Mon. 22 Sept. Doctor Snelling called on me and ordered a poultice of conserve of roses, and about 6 gr. of champhire in each poultice, to be laid to my eye, with purging twice a week with sal. glabuler and manna.

Fri. 5 Dec. At home all day. Dr. Stone cut me an issue1 on my back and drawed a tooth for my wife.

Weds. 10 Dec. About 3 o’clock went down to Mr. French’s and borrowed his little horse to go to Lewes upon for wine for Dame Reeve’s funeral, having sent for some but it did not come as I expected. I rode him up home to put on my greatcoat etc., and accordingly got up at the block, but by accident, either by touching him with the spur or his taking fright of the dog, he fell a-kicking and running etc. and threw me down near the corner of Mr. Virgoe’s stone wall, and hurt my side very much. I sent Tho. Davy for the doctor in the even but he did not come.

Thurs. 11 Dec. At home all day; my side very bad. Dr. Stone came in the morn to see me and examined my side, but said I had no ribs broken.

Fri. 12 Dec. At home all day; my side very bad … This morning I had a cerecloth2 laid on my side.

[Here Thomas confides some private opinions about Dr Snelling…]

Sun. 28 Dec. Just as we was drinking tea, Dr. Snelling came in… Dr. Snelling cut me a seton3 and stayed all night.

Mon. 29 Dec. Dr. Snelling went away after breakfast. I paid him half a crown for cutting my seton… Oh, could it have been imagined that he could have took anything of me, considering that I paid him £39 for curing my wife, great part of which I paid him before he had it due, and all of it within 5 months after he had performed the cure. I always do and ever did use him after the best manner I was capable of when he was at our house. He was that man that never gave my servants anything, no, not even the meanest trifle that could be. Notwithstanding they always waited on him like as if they were his own servants. Oh, thou blackest of fiends, ingratitude, what an odious colour and appearance dost thou make!

[In the next entry Thomas gives a brilliant list of health-based rules to follow.]


Sun. 8 Feb. As I by experience find how much more conducive it is to my health, as well as pleasantness and serenity to my mind, to live in a low, moderate rate of diet, and as I know I shall never be able to comply therewith in so strict a manner as I should choose (by the unstable and over easiness of my temper), I think it therefore [right] (as it’s a matter of so great importance to my health etc.) to draw up rules of proper regimen, which I do in manner and form following, and which, at all times when I am in health, I hope I shall always have the strictest regard to follow, as I think they are not inconsistent with either religion or morality:

  • First, be it either in the summer or winter, to rise as early as I possibly can; that is, always to allow myself between 7 and 8 hours’ sleep, or full 8, unless prevented on any particular or emergent occasion.

  • 2ndly, to go to breakfast between the hours of 7 and 8 from Lady Day [25th March] to St. Michael [29th September], and from St. Michael to Lady Day between the hours of 8 and 9.

  • 3rdly, my breakfast to be always tea or coffee and never to exceed 4 dishes. If neither of those, half a pint of water or water gruel; and for eatables bread and cheese, bread and butter, light biscuit, buttered toast, or dry bread, and one morn in every week, dry bread only.

  • 4thly, nothing more before dinner, and always to dine between the hours of 12 and 1 o’clock if at home.

  • 5thly, my dinner to be meat, pudding, or any other thing of the like nature, but always to have regard, if there is nothing but salt provision, to eat sparingly; and to eat plenty of any sort of garden stuff there is at table, together with plenty of bread and acids, if any, at table; and always to have the greatest regard to give white or fresh meats and pudding the preference before any sort of highly seasoned, salt, or very strong meat; and always one day in every respective week to eat no meat.

  • 6thly, my drink at dinner to be always boiled water with a toast in it, or small beer, but water if I can have it, and never to drink anything stronger until after dinner.

  • 7thly, if I drink tea at home or abroad, to be small, green tea and not more than 4 dishes; and if I eat anything, not more than two ounces.

  • 8thly, my supper never to be meat but weak broth, water gruel, milk pottage, bread and cheese, bread and butter, apple-pie or some other sort of fruit pie, or some such light diet; my drink, water or small beer, and one night at the least in every week to go to bed without any supper.

  • 9thly, never to drink any sort of drams or spirituous liquors of what name or kind soever.

  • 10thly, if I am at home, in company, or abroad, if there is nothing but strong beer, never to drink more than 4 glasses, one to toast the king’s health, the 2nd to the royal family, the 3rd to all friends and the 4th to the pleasure of the company; if there is either wine or punch etc., never, upon any terms or persuasions whatever, to drink more than 8 glasses, nor each glass to hold or contain more than half a quarter of a pint, nor even so much if possibly to be avoided.

  • 11thly, if I am constrained by extreme drought to drink between meals, that to be toast and water, small beer, or very small wine and water; to wit, ¼ pint of red or white wine to one pint of water.

  • 12thly, never to drink any small or strong beer, winter or summer, without being warmed if possible.

  • And lastly always to go to bed at or before ten o’clock when it can be done.

Sun. 10 Oct. In the morn Dr. Snelling came and ate some breakfast with us and afterwards opened one of the capillary arteries of my temple for the benefit of my eyes. I asked several people to assist Mr. Snelling in doing it, but could get none till I asked Dame Durrant, who assisted in doing it. The artery lying deep, the operation was obliged to be performed with a dissecting knife. The first cut did not hurt greatly, but the incision not being big enough at the 1st cut, he was obliged to cut a second time, which hurt me very much. Mr. Snelling did not stay, but went away very soon.

Mon. 11 Oct. After breakfast borrowed a horse of Joseph Fuller to ride to Lewes upon to have my temple dressed. I got there about 12 o’clock, where I found Mr. John Snelling in bed, who arose and dressed my temple with a pea in the same nature as an issue, and did, in a manner, ask me to dine with him, but his behaviour was such as gave my imperious temper disgust, so I did not dine with him, but went and spent an hour or two at The White Horse with Mr. Tucker. I came home about 6 o’clock, and, with eating nothing all day and drinking but little, yet I was somewhat in liquor…


Fri. 22 Apr. We… set out for our road home about 7.20, both very much in liquor, and lost ourselves in the Broyle where we walked some time, though not without disputing whose fault it was that was the occasion of our mistaking the way. But we at last found our way to Will. Dicker’s, where we found Dr. Stone and Richd. Savage, both very drunk; and we then fell out very much insomuch that I think Dr. Stone and I was a-going to fighting, but I cannot recollect on what account unless it must be that we were both drunk and fools…

Fri. 1 July. Mr. Snelling ordered my brother to be entirely debarred from beer, brandy (or any kind of spirits), and meat, and to drink the following for his constant drink, viz., take 1 ounce of cream of tartar, ½ lb of lump sugar, the peel of a lemon; pour a gallon of boiling water on them and let it stand all night, then strain it off and bottle it for use. He also ordered him the cold bath, and blisters behind the ears to be perpetual, notwithstanding he has an issue both in the temple and arm.

Sun. 11 Dec. After churchtime Mr. Stone paid a visit to my wife and assured us the ulcer on her leg was a scurvy…


Tues. 6 June. In the morn sent Tho. Davy to Hartfield to know how my wife’s sister did. Also sent for Dr. Stone to visit my wife… In the even Mr. Stone paid my wife a visit and declared his opinion of her illness that it was a rheumatic disorder with the gravel in her kidneys.

Weds. 7 June. Mr. Stone paid my wife another visit today and let her blood…


Tues. 24 Apr. In the forenoon Mr. Stone came and made me an issue upon my back by eating it in with caustic, and then scarifying it …

Sat. 9 June. I… spent some time with Dr. Snelling, for whose opinion I went; that is, to know if he could help me to any salve to dress the issue upon my back with that was more adhesive than that I had already, or if I could have a bandage to keep on the dressings with… Spent nothing today, only 6d. which I paid Dr. Snelling for some salve.


Sun. 20 Apr. In the forenoon Mr. Stone paid me a visit and bleeded me… At home all day. My side bad, and I am fearful whether I shall ever get the better of it.

Was that side pain still from his fall five years beforehand? It’s not clear – but it’s hard not to be grateful for modern medicine. Next week we’ll pay one last brief visit to the world of Thomas Turner, although he is not really the protagonist this time.


Another term for bloodletting.


A waxed cloth normally used for wrapping a corpse!


A piece of cloth used to help with draining fluid.