1. JGHunter
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    JGHunter Member

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    Victorian Life: a few holes to fill

    Discussion in 'Research' started by JGHunter, Oct 22, 2011.

    I've a few glaring issues that will look real hairy if the accuracy isn't sorted. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Maybe nobody will know, but if you know someone who does, could you put me in contact with them? This relates to Britain specifically, obviously.

    1) At what point and to what extent did people start keeping pets (what classes, and when I say pet I mean merely as a pet, not as a rat catcher or something) and what sort of names would have been used?

    2) If a pet passed away, how would they have disposed of a dead pet?

    3) Who else would have been at the site of a death in unusual circumstances? Such as, if someone had died of a disease that had, until that point, never existed, who would possibly have been there? Presumable police and some sort of doctors...

    4) What sort of drugs were administered as pain relief and to fight fits and spasms?

    5) Would a doctor have had an assistant? And how did they work? I'm guessing it was nothing like popping down to your GP as it is today...

    Q 1) and 2) relate to aristocratic classes, really.

    Again, any help is great and once I can get these issues fixed, I can really get on with my novel!
     
  2. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    The history of pets is complicated. But you can assume that some city dwelling Victorians would have had cats, not as pets but mousers. In the rural areas dogs were also kept, but for hunting and so forth. Chickens were also possible and Dickens talks about a character of his having a pet rat. In general animals would have had to fulfil two roles, one of service and one of companionship.

    Disposing of bodies in the country would likely have involved burial. In the city, chucking the bodies into the sewers or directly into the Thames.

    Who would have attended a death - If there were suspicious circumstances in Victorian England, the police for certain and maybe a doctor in their employ. If it looked natural, no one in the case of the poor, they would have simply called out an undertaker assuming that they could even afford that, and in the case of the rich, the family doctor.

    Pain relief would likely have involved opiates, ether and some alcoholic preparations, and I don't think there were any genuine antispasmodics. Likely they would have used sleeping drafts of some sort, which again would likely be an opium based drug. The main therapy would have been holding people down until the fit passed, and then rest. But if the fit were accompanied with fever as is often the case in children, cooling cloths and aspirin / salicilate in a willow bark preparation form. The Victorians as I recall were very fond of what were called salts and tonics, which were drinks with any number of strange ingrediants added to them. Often salts of lead and silver were popular, as well as various herbal concoctions.

    Hope that helps. I'd suggest googling something like Victorian medicine for more information.

    Cheers.
     
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  3. W.Locke
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    W.Locke Member

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  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) At what point and to what extent did people start keeping pets (what classes, and when I say pet I mean merely as a pet, not as a rat catcher or something) and what sort of names would have been used?

    People have kept pets since time immemorial. Burial mounds have turned up people buried with dogs wearing collars, which indicates they were pets.

    You have heard of the King Charles Cavalier spaniel? King Charles II kept them as pets in the 17th century. Even in 14th century portraits of nobility in Europe, you can see they often have pets shown with them, such as songbirds, dogs, cats and unusual fish. Leonardo da Vinci painted Lady with an Ermine at the end of the 15th century. All this is apart from the hunting birds, cats (mousers), guard dogs and gundogs which any landowner kept in their country home. Also, people who could afford it kept children’s riding ponies which were more like pets, or used to teach children to ride, than for travel or transport purposes. Even people who were less well off kept animals for work or company.

    If you look at old Victorian novels you can get an idea of the names they gave pets. They weren’t all that creative, using the same names again and again. In my family they always had a cocker spaniel called ‘Flossie’ from about 1890 to 1950!

    2) If a pet passed away, how would they have disposed of a dead pet?

    Many old houses in England have a pet’s cemetery where they buried their pets and marked the grave with a headstone carrying the name. Horses, by the way, always go to the knacker’s yard or are butchered to feed the hounds from whichever hunt the owner was a member of. No sentimentality there, although a hoof was often kept and mounted as an ornament. Other animals were sometimes just dumped as refuse, especially when people had no garden or money to dispose of them. The dust (rubbish) carts came around to collect them. I live in a country where this still happens.

    3) Who else would have been at the site of a death in unusual circumstances? Such as, if someone had died of a disease that had, until that point, never existed, who would possibly have been there? Presumable police and some sort of doctors...

    You’re talking about people now? Police were not necessarily involved unless foul play was suspected. My grandfather was signing death certificates in the 1970s without calling in any other doctors or having to notify police. Unless there was an epidemic or some kind or panic or public outcry, it was just another death. It would only provoke interest if the doctor himself wanted to take things further.

    4) What sort of drugs were administered as pain relief and to fight fits and spasms?

    Hardly anything was available until the 1920s. Herbal remedies, such as camomile, were used but they weren’t particularly effective. Aspirin, cocaine drops and other opiates were used. Laudanum and chloroform was used by the late 19th century. The most popular pain relief was alcohol, particularly brandy. Babies were given Gripe Water, which was originally about 4 per cent alcohol. A lot of ‘treatments’ consisted of physical restraint, sensory deprivation and for women, manual stimulation to release the perceived ‘hysteria’, or vibrators!

    5) Would a doctor have had an assistant? And how did they work? I'm guessing it was nothing like popping down to your GP as it is today...

    My great-great grandfather was a GP, and the family practice passed from him to my great-grandfather, my grandfather and his brother, and my uncle. My other uncle opened up a separate practice, and his son and grandson are continuing there. This is why I have an interest in the history of medicine. In all these cases, the ‘assistant’ was the junior practitioner, i.e. the son. There were also the usual house servants for cleaning, etc. This was very common. Of course, there would be periods where there was no one around because the son was away studying, for example. The GPs made up all their own pills (with little pill-pressing devices) and measured out their powders and prescriptions for their patients themselves (on tiny scales, like jeweller’s scale). My grandfather mostly ordered his drugs from a supplier by post (I have order books from about 1902-1917 following this practice). He didn’t go personally to a supplier. There were famous ointments and patent medicines that could be ordered directly from the doctor or company specialising in the product.

    The GP had set ‘consulting hours’ at his practice during the morning (anyone in the neighbourhood could come, for a fee, but the doctors usually agreed to take people from the immediate area and referred people to other GPs if they fell outside it) then he went on house visits to patients on his patient list, then had evening consulting hours. He was on call 24/7. At the turn of the century until the 1960s, even fairly major operations like appendectomies were carried out in the consulting room, and women came for deliveries, also. Often the doctor worked from a set of rooms which were part of the house he and his family lived in.

    GPs could also visit workhouses etc. My family were attached to Devonport Dockyards and were called to accidents there, or to deal with quarantine cases just arrived by ship. My grandfather often waived his fee for the very poor families living in that area.
     
  5. JGHunter
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    Wow guys, thanks so much! That's all been really helpful! I can crack on now (after I've done my drafting work for uni *sigh*)

    These have been real eye openers!
     
  6. JGHunter
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    JGHunter Member

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    Would this junior practitioner have had the Dr. title? Or does it depend how long he has been one?
     

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