Bermuda Samples

Almost hidden away on the top shelf of the Bermuda reference section of the library is a small book that one might easily overlook – just 5 inches tall in mid-blue cloth-covered hardboard with various stamps inside indicating it once occupied a shelf in Somerset Library and was for 14 day loan only. Sadly it is now never borrowed and possibly rarely read, “Bermuda Samples” by William Zuill sits between a volume of island-inspired poetry on one side and a large “Bermuda Development Plan for 2000” on the other.

William Zuill put this book together in 1937, selecting extracts from the Gazette (was Bermuda, now Royal) between 1815 and 1845.  His choice suggests an eclectic mind and definitely a sense of humour:

  • From November,1816 a warning to women wearing low-cut dresses that an “elderly gentleman of venerable appearance and correct manners” was imprinting their bare shoulders or backs with a “stain similar to that from lunar caustic” the words NAKED BUT NOT ASHAMED; washing would not remove it so the ladies were forced to cover it up with more respectable clothes.  [Lunar caustic is silver nitrate, used in the past to treat warts and in photographic developing, it darkens on exposure to light. My thoughts on reading that were that the elderly gent was not so correct in his manners.]
  • From June 1818, a letter to the editor bemoans latecomers to church services, for lying in bed on Sundays was “un-Christian-like“. The writer continues to comment on lowering of standards that permitted “ladies at the breakfast table in night or dressing gown” and “men with chins like a pigs back”.  [which I took to mean unshaven but was less clear as to whether this was lamentable at breakfast time or in church]

The selections that caught my eye were cures or remedies for various illnesses.

  • March 31, 1829, Cure for Consumption:  In the month of May gather flowers from the thorn bush and boil two bunches of blossoms in half a pint of milk. Let it stand until it is about as warm as milk from a cow. Drink it first thing in the morning and take a walk immediately afterwards, if the weather is favourable, and a cure will soon be effected. [Maythorn or hawthorn has its main effects on the heart and is unlikely to do much to help TB, but it might be beneficial to cholesterol levels] 
  • July 19, 1823, To remove pins and bones: Any person who may swallow a pin or the bone of a fish will find almost instant relief by taking four grains of tartar emetic dissolved in warm water and immediately afterwards the white of six eggs. So effectual is this remedy, that it has been known to remove no less than twenty-four pins at once. [who would swallow 24 pins?] [tartar emetic is antimony potassium tartrate, nasty stuff once used for treating alcohol intoxication, known as an emetic since the middle ages. The egg white protein would protect the patient to a degree from poisoning by binding with the antimony. ]
  • July 3, 1832, Recipe for Cholera: 1oz of cinnamon water, 35 drops of tincture of opium, 1 drachm spirits of lavender, 2 drachms tincture of rhubarb.  [1 drachm or dram = ⅛ fluid ounce or approximately one teaspoonful.  If it is a solid measure then 1 drachm = 3 scruples or 60 grains, almost 4grams. I rather suspect the opium might slow the diarrhoea but the rest is just to make it taste pleasant. ]
  • April 1, 1834, Simple Cure for Consumption: this distressing complaint which carries of so many of our valuable young men annually has been cured by a very simple remedy, viz:- the inhaling of the gaseous perfume of chloride of lime. [ Consumption = TB. Chloride of lime is calcium hypochlorite and was used then to bleach laundry, now for swimming pools; the gas given off would be chlorine but is not going to cure TB] 
  • April 21, 1835, Cure for the whooping cough: Take one fourth of a pint of sweet or olive oil, the same quantity of common leeks, cut them fine and simmer them moderately two or three hours; add honey to make it palatable; half a teaspoon full a portion for an adult if taken four or fibre times, it will in a few days remove this distressing disorder. [Cabbage water was also a well-known remedy for coughs] 

The final sample that caught my attention was a report from December 1840 documenting the occurrence of ice “a full quarter inch thick” on the low lying ground in the central parishes of Bermuda. Unbelievable?

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