Jun 6, 2011
by Emily May
So, it's winter in Regency London, the Thames has frozen over, and you've gone ice-skating. Horror! You fall through the ice and are dragged out apparently dead. How do you think you would be revived?
Well, let's start by saying that Regency methods of reviving drowning victims were very different from modern methods! Tobacco smoke would probably have been involved. If you were lucky it would have been puffed into your lungs; if you were unlucky it would have been puffed into your...er...rectum.
That's right. One method for reviving drowning victims was a tobacco smoke enema. Here is a picture of one of the devices designed for this purpose.
Enough to put you off ice-skating, isn't it?!
Back in the Regency, 'apparent death' was treated by warmth and stimulation, and tobacco smoke, being a 'stimulating vapour', was a popular cure for drowning. (Tobacco was also used to cure many other ailments, including headaches, stomach cramps, intestinal worms, gout, and -- ironically -- cancer.)
In 1774, two London physicians founded the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, later renamed the Royal Humane Society. (I much prefer the earlier name!) The society provided a number of tobacco smoke resuscitation kits in strategic locations along the River Thames, for the revival of drowning victims.
So, knowing that if you fell through the ice and drowned, you'd be resuscitated by having tobacco smoke puffed into a place tobacco smoke should never be puffed, do you think you'd have gone ice-skating on the Thames ... or not?
Personally, the tobacco smoke enema is something I would have wanted to avoid -- but the skating looks so much more fun than merely watching from the shore! Would you have risked it, or not?