Tag Archives: victorian-era

Victorian Surgery — Beware of Content Ahead!!! Seriously!

Victorian Surgery — Beware of Content Ahead!!! Seriously!

LTIPL000076748f.jpgYesterday I posted this photo of an unknown Lanark County gal and June Pitry on the LCGS thought she had lost a leg but Beck Baxter from Tales of Carleton Place said:



Becky Baxter Definitely her other shoe…



I said to myself, “Thank God!”

Tons of people hate going to the doctor, and hate the possibility of going into surgery even more. People often ask “What if it hurts?” or “What if I wake up while I’m under?” These are common fears that we have when we’re most vulnerable, despite the fact that doctors and surgeons are highly trained professionals. Hospitals are, for the most part, incredibly clean institutions, or at least cleaner than they’ve ever been.

However, this wasn’t true back in Victorian times. Though Victorians saw introductions to modern surgical advances like aesthetics and the concept of germs, surgery was a bleak and unforgiving practice before these developments. Unfortunately, many patients died from these “advancements.”

Not all medicines were safe! Amputation was prevalent during periods of war. Three of every four operations were amputations. When an amputation was performed, the patient was given wine to drink so that the pain would be reduced. The doctor also soaked a rag with chloroform and applied it to the patient’s mouth and nose.

He would, however, need to periodically remove the rag to avoid chloroform poisoning from occurring. The surgeon first used a tourniquet to tie off the blood flow. Many patients died of shock or terrible pain after the surgeries.

Joseph Townend was born into an impoverished Methodist family in Yorkshire in 1806. When he was a young child, he attempted to lift a kettle from its “reekon” (the pot-hook) when his apron caught fire. He remembered “being laid upon the floor” and having his wounds “saturated with treacle, in order to extract the fire”. His burns were extensive and, when they healed, his right arm was fused to his side. Years later, when he was working in a cotton mill, he decided to go to the Manchester Infirmary to have his arm separated.

Once at the hospital, a male attendant wound a thick bandage over his eyes, then led him up an alley to the operating theatre, which was packed with medical students. A surgeon gruffly warned: “Now, young man, I tell you, if when you feel the knife you should jerk, or even stir – you will do it at the hazard of your life.” Anaesthetics such as chloroform would not be invented for another 23 years and no analgesic (such as whiskey or laudanum) was offered. All Townend could hope for was a well-sharpened knife and the surgeon’s experienced hands.

I’m convinced that if needed to undergo surgery back then, I would have rather actively denied that I had a broken limb and just live my life in pain. Could you imagine getting a leg amputated for a fracture?


Things you Didn’t Know About Surgery in the 1800s

Barbers often carried out basic surgical tasks, especially during war.

The earliest surgical anaesthetic was called Ether. It put the patient under, but also induced vomiting and was quite flammable. This was tricky, as operating rooms were lit by candlelight.

Only the poor stayed in hospitals. The wealthy would pay a doctor to attend to them at home.

Any limb with a fracture that pierced the skin had to be amputated.

Many surgeons took pride in wearing their frock coats, still coated with blood.

Surgery was not even considered medicine. Physicians were seen as high class. Surgeons were on par with butchers.


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte


Hey Even Journalists Can be Sick! Influenza 1918

More Family Names– Death by Influenza

Death by Influenza 1918- Any Names you Recognize?

They Lived and Died in Lanark County

What was Puking Fever? Child Bed Fever?

Think the Smallpox issue on Outlander was far fetched?

Smallpox in Carleton Place — Did You Know?

The Great White Plague

Spanish Influenza in Lanark County from the Perth Courier — Names Names

Born in the Wrong Era? McMakeup and McMansions

Born in the Wrong Era? McMakeup and McMansions



I don’t really care for the bright warm sunshine, and I seem to be the happiest at the sign of a gloomy cool day.  I also love my dark Gothic home and the thick huge curtains that keep out the sunshine.  There’s no better way to learn about your favourite era than by hearing about it from someone who lived then and realize you’ve been poppin’ vintage clothing since high school. Unfortunately, there is no one around from the Victorian age anymore- not that I know of.:)

No matter how many times my Grandmother shooed me outside to play when I was a child I would find some cubby hole to hide in and read. I can count the fingers on one hand the times I have had a burn tan. I have been told my skin is so white I literally glow in the dark. They would be 100% correct! Some have told me I was born in the wrong era– and they were probably right!

The Victorians were my kind of folks, and they loved pale skin. It was a sign of nobility and it meant women were well-off, and could afford not to spend hours working outdoors in the gardens or fields, which would inevitably result in a burn tan.


Woman with Parasol in front of the Baptist Church Bridge Street Carleton Place


The Victorians painted their faces with zinc oxide, a white mineral powder. It was much safer, and whitened skin well  and those who didn’t like Zinc, simply avoided the sun and fresh hair. When they ventured outdoors, they’d carry parasols to protect their skin from the sun and some even drank vinegar. Apparently, they thought that, somehow, it’d prevent a tan and they wanted their skin to be so pale that it was “translucent,” as in you could see the veins in their faces. Victorians had an obsession with death and actually thought that it was attractive for women to look sickly or dead. They would even paint some very fine blue lines on their skin to make it look more translucent, as if the veins underneath were showing.

What I found interesting was poisonous belladonna was also dropped into the eyes causing the pupils to dilate, creating a luminous glow, but clouding vision. People with cataracts were prescribed belladonna. People were prescribed belladonna in small amounts as medicine, sometimes mixed with opium. I couldn’t find a clear record but it’s probably safe to surmise many died of overdoses. Coroners generally labelled this as death by misadventure. A woman could have easily self administered a fatal dose from her cosmetics kit and, as long as no suicide note surfaced, no one would have known why she died and there would still be interment on holy ground. Then, with the Burial Act of 1823, even known suicides had the right to lie in consecrated ground as long as the body was interred between nine o’clock in the evening and midnight, and with no performance of rites.


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None so pervades and dominates the haunted visual Victorian landscape as their homes house that seemed to go along hand and hand with their make up and clothing. Victorian architecture wasn’t considered particularly sinister until around the 1930s, when popular magazines began to present this style of building as something to be hated. There was a most intense fear and loathing of the Victorian style during that period. In the 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, that was the McMansion, and it came to be identified with vulgar, excessive, conspicuous consumption.

It made sense that people began associating ornate Victorian houses, where perhaps their grandparents had lived, as old, decaying, spiderweb-filled messes. Plus, before the advent of disposable Ikea furniture, Victorian homes could be dark places–people used heavy curtains to protect their rugs and furniture from being bleached by the sun.

My, we have come so far……


My study…



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Postmortem Photos– Family Economic Sacrifice?

Postmortem Photos– Family Economic Sacrifice?


Image result for post mortem


In the Victorian era families often took photos of dead loved ones posed to look alive, sometimes next to them and/or standing thanks to the use of support stands and straps. Variants include the painting of eyelids to appear open, hidden mothers holding dead children, the dead made to appear to stand. The post mortem photograph is a relic of a past that has been erased by modernity, and in that lost world, people had more direct and less mediated experiences with body fluids and less mediated (less medicated) experiences of death, with a lot more suffering.”

Photographers often tried to create portraits of the dead and the images to represent who they were alive, not dead, and so tried to make them appear alive. Some, especially children, were made to appear to be sleeping. Others were sat up, sometimes with eyes open. Some feature parents cradling their infant. During most of the Victorian period, photographs were not so prohibitively expensive that most people could only afford them once in a lifetime.

As a specialty item, a postmortem photograph was more expensive than an ordinary portrait. In part, this had to do with the unusual requirements of its making, as the photographer had to come to the subject rather than the other way around. However, this by itself could not have justified the high price of a postmortem picture. Photographers would charge extraordinary fees for a product which was desired with extraordinary fervour by their customers. Whatever the reason for the high fees, the commissioning of a postmortem photograph often involved an economic sacrifice.

The Ashford Zone blog said that you can tell death by blurred eyes and the visibility of a posing stand.  Some still argue against the idea that photographers  did not accomplish this with a small stand, but the exception sometimes proves the rule. The dead were sometimes made to stand and to look alive and conscious. However, this was done by forensic photographers, not memorial portrait makers.


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If you look closely you can see a base behind the girls feet in the photo above and a post would go up from that with clamps at the waist and neck and the clothing would be open at the back. The arms would have stiff wires running at the back to hold them in place. Also notice the strange placement of the hands. The pupils are painted on the closed eyelids.

The fact is, postmortem photographs like this were taken more than any other kind of photograph in the Victorian era –and in many cases these carefully arranged, meticulously staged pictures were the only ones ever taken of their subjects.


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (US




Dead Ringers –To Live and Die in Morbid Times

Does Photography Remove Your Soul?


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After All I’m Only Sleeping….



It’s 2:10 am and I cannot sleep. Sometimes a writer’s brain never stops. Sleep is crucial to our health and that is why it is necessary that your bedroom is built for sleep. Is my bedroom not built for sleep– is this the problem?

In years gone by the bedroom was a place for sleep, sex, and childbirth. I know that for a fact as one day when I was a child I overheard my Grandmother whisper to her friends that one should only have sex for procreation. Since I did not know what sex was I kept that word in the backburner of my mind for years.

Live-in servants did not always have a bedroom at all. Cooks and housemaids might sleep in the kitchen, while the butler or footman made do with the pantry or scullery. Even when given a bedroom, a servant might be expected to share it with any other servants in the house. My Grandmother had live in help and her name was Gladys. Gladys was a chain smoker and she ended up dying in the back bedroom where my Grandmother made me sleep after Gladys’s passing. I can tell you truthfully I hightailed it under the covers at night so I would not have visions of a dead Gladys blowing cigarette circles in my face.

A brass and iron bedstead furnished with the spring mattress, nice hair mattress and bolster, an four pillows if a double, two if a single ,bedstead, is the beau-ideal of a sleeping place for health,” Mrs. Panton wrote, “and should furthermore be provided with two under-blankets — one in use, one in store in case of illness — and two good pairs of nice Witney blankets.” She also recommends an eider-down quilt for winter, furnished with an extra covering fashioned with buttons so that it could easily be removed and washed. Three pairs of sheets are the least that can be allowed to each bed; the top sheet of each pair should be frilled … four plain pillowcases for each pillow, and two or three frilled and embroidered ones for the top pillows. Pilllows, yes pillows, somehow my pillows have deflated and I think this is my biggest problem in getting to sleep at night. Steve suggested exchanging my pillows with others in different bedrooms– but they all have nice pillow shams on them– have to evaluate the situation tomorrow.

With all of these organic materials, it is little wonder that bedbugs were a great problem. By the 1880’s, homemakers reported that fleas were not expected in “decent bedrooms,” although “at any minute one may bring a stray parent in from cab, omnibus, or train.” Constant vigilance had to be maintained, and the bed itself examined regularly for infestation or any sort. Years ago we once had a dog that grew his own colonies of fleas and somehow they made it up to my son’s bedroom on the third floor. I also wrote about that and I called the story “Gone With the Fleas!”

The popularity of iron and brass bedsteads did away with a good deal of the problem — one typical method of dealing with vermin was to have a carpenter take the bed apart; then take the pieces of the bed, along with all the bedding, into an empty room or outside, wash the bed frame with chloride of lime and water, sprinkle Keating’s powder (a pyrethrum-based insecticide) everywhere, then wait and repeat daily for as long as necessary before putting everything back together again. If the infestation was totally out of control, the bed and mattress were left in an empty room that was sealed airtight, and then sulfur was burned to disinfect the bed and surrounding area, to prevent the spread of the problem to the walls and floors. Wish I would have known about this when we had the flea issue years ago. All I know is a good sprinkling of Borax continually vacuumed does the job and for the love of God leave the house before you use those Raid Flea Bombs.

Sheets should be washed every fortnight or once a month, noted that pillowcases needed changing “rather oftener, chiefly because people (especially servants) allow their hair to become so dusty, that it spoils the cases very soon.”  Maybe I should have washed my hair today– maybe that’s it!

A single candle, brought upstairs at bedtime, was the recommended lighting. More prosperous homes had candlesticks upon the mantel and dressing table, “with a box of safety matches in a known position, where they can be found in a moment,” Many household books “worry away” at the location of matches — in the days before electricity, it was essential to be able to find a match in the dark. Heck, I can’t even strike a match let alone find one.

My eyelids are heavy but my thoughts are heavier. I want to sleep, but my brain won’t stop talking to itself. Let’s download the top 100 songs from the 80s and listen to them all while writing about the past. Maybe I should just watch an entire season of American Horror Story ( no then I really won’t sleep)– or should I rearrange my bedroom? No, Steve is sleeping and would not appreciate that at 2:36 am. I think Mr. Sandman lost my address. I live on the corner of Sleepless Road and Insomnia Street- just look for the bleary-eyed crazy person in the middle of the road. Due to tonight’s lack of sleep- tomorrow has been cancelled. Maybe it’s really because I am awake in someone else’ s dream.

Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling…
Please, don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away
And after all I’m only sleeping


Author’s Note– I get excited by the mere mention of the word “old photos”. This is no joke-you have no idea. Crystal-Ann de la Mare is going to share her family’s Cowansville, Quebec pictures which are priceless. Linda gets all excited at 11pm=no sleep LOL.


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun


Did Bad Nutrition Begin with Importing Onions?




Commercial building owned in Almonte by R. H Pounder–Public Archives


New  Importation: A car load of onions arrived at the depot last week all the way from Vermont. Mr. D. Davis from Almonte purchased the whole quantity and is now retailing them out again. What do our farmers think of onions being brought from such a distance, into their market, and sold at a much lower price than they usually ask.– Almonte Gazette 1871


The mid-Victorian period is usually defined as the years between 1850 and 1870, but in nutritional terms we have identified a slightly longer period, lasting until around 1880. During these 30 years, we argue here, a generation grew up with probably the best standards of health ever enjoyed by a modern state.

Improved agricultural output and a political climate dedicated to ensuring cheap food led to a dramatic increase in the production of affordable foodstuffs; but it was the development of the railway network that actually brought the fruits of the agricultural and political changes into the towns and cities and made them available.



Bridge Street looking East to the theatre-Almonte= Public Archives


The imported canned meats were fatty and usually corned’ or salted. Cheaper sugar promoted a huge increase in sugar consumption in confectionery, now mass-produced for the first time, and in the new processed foods such as sugar-laden condensed milk, and canned fruits bathed in heavy syrup. The increased sugar consumption caused such damage to the nation’s teeth that by 1900 it was commonly noted that people could no longer chew tough foods and were unable to eat many vegetables, fruits and nuts.

But the generation of 1849 was not burdened by the counsels of professional dietitians. They made do with their mothers’ judgement…Among foods ‘discovered’ were common fare during the 1840s:  broccoli and artichokes. Other vegetables, of which there are numerous off-handed recipes in the cookbooks and references in the market reports were asparagus, lima beans, haricot or string beans, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, okra, rutabagas, and spinach, as well as tomatoes.

It is true that our forebears were inclined to cook their vegetables into a sodden mess, but eating greens and other vegetables raw seems not to have been uncommon. Commercially preserved foods were making their appearance in 1849. By 1855, the Mills B. Espy Company of Philadelphia was annually canning twenty thousand pounds of cherries, ten thousands pounds of strawberries, and four thousand bushels of pears, tomatoes, and peaches.

In the nutritional standards between 1880 and 1900 was so marked that the generations were visibly and progressively shrinking. In 1883 the infantry were forced to lower the minimum height for recruits from 5ft 6 inches to 5ft 3 inches.

 middle-class home meals: 1853
In the days before home freezers and rapid transit, suggested family menus were grouped by season and presented for each day. Breakfast would have been served between 8-9AM. Dinner would have been the main meal of the day, served sometime between noon and three. Tea would have been a light meal (at that time this meal was often called supper) before retiring.

“Bill of Fare. Winter.Monday.
Breakfast. Corn bread, cold bread, stew, boiled eggs.
Dinner. Soup, cold joint, calves’ head, vegetables.
Dessert. Puddings, &c.
Tea. Cold bread, milk toast, stewed fruit.

Breakast. Hot cakes,cold bread, sausages, fried potatoes.
Dinner. Soup, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, boiled ham, vegetables.
Dessert. Pie &c.
Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, stewed oysters.

Breakfast. Hot bread, cold bread, chops, omelet.
Dinner. Boiled mutton, stewed liver, vegetables.
Dessert. Pudding, &c.
Tea. Hot light bread, cold bread, fish, stewed fruit.

Breakfast. Hot cakes, cold bread, sausages, fried potatoes.
Dinner. Soup, poultry, cutlets, vegetables.
Dessert. Custards and stewed fruit.
Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, frizzled beef, stewed fruits, or soused calves’ feet.

Breakfast. Hot bread, cold bread, chops, omelet.
Dinner. Soup, fish, roast mutton and currant jelly, vegetables.
Dessert. Pudding, &c.
Tea. Hot light bread, cold bread, stewed fruit.

Breakfast., Hot bread, a nice hash, fried potatoes.
Dinner. Soup, roast veal, steaks, oyster pie, vegetables.
Dessert. Custards.
Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, stewed oysters.

Breakfast. Cold bread, croquets, omelet.
Dinner. Roast pig, apple sauce, steaks, vegetables.
Dessert. Pie, jelly.
Tea. Cold bread, stewed fruit, light cake.”
Cookery As It Should Be: A New Manual of the Dining Room and Kitchen, by A Practical Housekeeper and Pupil of Mrs. Goodfellow [Philadelphia:Willis P. Hazard] 1853 (p. 310)

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

I just Wanted Someone to Love Me- 1868



Almonte Gazette October 1868–The Almonte Gazette archive

A local poet sends us the following  verses for publication…


Someone to love me; the world is so dreary;

Lonely and sad I am wandering hours, looking in vain at the faces to meet

To see one that I in affection may greet.

Some one to love me, who’ll ever be true,

Even though the clouds hide the sunshine from view ;

Some one around whom my sad heart may twine, and cling like ivy surrounding the pine.

Some one to love me and for me to care.

In whose affections and love I may share;

Some one to listen to the sound of my feet, and who in glad welcome my presence will greet.

Some one to love me, from all to protect— In this lone pathway my steps to direct;

Some one to love from a heart that is pure ,

Who’ll ever be faithful while life shall endure.


A few weeks later a response was in the editorial section


Local Poet Receives His Just Due

Sir. — There was a time when your addresses would have flattered and pleased me, but that time has long since passed away. Your conduct during the last two years has been made known to me, and, viewing you in the light of a dangerous man, I do not desire anymore intimate acquaintance. I could not reasonably expect happiness from a union with an individual who has destroyed the mental quiet of more than one young person.


Lanark County Genealogical Society Website

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News


Most Women Were Housewives




In the Victorian Era, most women were housewives. These women stayed at home and tended to the house and family, but there were a small percentage of women that had other occupations.

About 3% of all white women during the Victorian era and 25% of all black women were part of the working force and worked for wages. Most of these women were either a maid, nurse, laundress, teacher, psychiatrist, or social worker. Since there were so few women who worked at these jobs, only 9 out of every 10 homes had domestic help (maid, nurse, or laundress). Besides these jobs there is also another way that some wives stayed at home and earned money. This was by farming; some farm wives earned money from selling butter, milk, and other farm products that they produced on their farm.

Women had very little choice in those days and one only has to read the article that was in the Perth Courier in 1880.

Perth Courier, September 10, 1880
Child Desertion—Port Elmsley—On Monday evening, at about 10:00, Mrs. McNab and family, living on the Smith’s Falls Road about two miles from this place, were aroused by a knock at the door.

On going out, a man presented himself saying he had a parcel for Miss McNab, who lives across the road.  Mrs. McNab kindly requested that the parcel be left with her to be delivered in the morning.  The stranger handed Mrs. McNab a letter and started away as if to get the parcel but to their surprise there was a woman sitting in the buggy holding the horse on the road and he stepped in and the pair drove off.

They went to see which way they were going and found a basket which they supposed contained the parcel but upon examination it was found to contain a baby girl about five months old and also a considerable amount of clothing.  On opening the letter the mystery was revealed.  It was headed “Kingston” and said that they were man and wife but their marriage was a secret one and they were forced to part with their darling and asking that the child be cared for and brought up as one of their own.

The mother of the child repented of the rash act and returned two days later saying she could not live without the child and begging them to let her have her child and allow her to return home.  She gave them her name as Smith and said that she was from Montreal.  The mother was brought before the Council and it was decided after hearing the entire story that if the woman was willing to take her child and promised to care for it in the future, it was best to return it to her.