Charles Dickens hosts a chat show looking at 19th-century topics. In this episode, he is joined by Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale to discuss Victorian health.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
live from the 19th century at the heart of Her Majesty's Empire
in the city of London, it's The Charles Dickens Show!
Thank you, thank you
and welcome back to another edition of The Charles Dickens Show.
Thank you, thank you.
Now today, we're going to be looking at a subject which is very dear
to all our Victorian hearts.
I'm talking, of course, about health.
We're none of us getting any younger. HE CLEARS HIS THROAT
When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was just sick.
It seems we're all of us living longer. Now how about this.
The average life expectancy in Okehampton, Devon
is an amazing 57 years old! APPLAUSE
Isn't that fantastic, ladies and gentlemen?
But in some areas of the country, it's still woefully low.
Liverpool - 26.
CROWD GASPS It's terrible.
But is it any surprise, really,
when we're still being ravaged by disease?
So are things getting any better?
What's being done to rid our streets of these terrible diseases
and improve the nation's health?
Is there a doctor in the house? Ho ho, yes, we have aplenty.
We have the cream of British medical talent with us.
To begin with, we'll be joining Drs Guffquat and Lister
at The Charles Dickens Show surgery.
They're here to answer your letters and quell your concerns.
And then we'll be hearing from Dr John Snow
who's been hard at work trying to wrestle deadly cholera to its knees.
Today in the studio,
two nurses who've travelled the world and torn up the rulebooks.
Don't worry, ladies and gentlemen, they've rewritten them too.
Miss Florence Nightingale and Mrs Mary Seacole.
-Are you all right there, ladies?
-Yes, thank you.
-We'll be joining you later on.
But first up, let's go over to the surgery
and meet the esteemed military medicine man, Dr Guffquat
who's joined by a young maverick, Dr Joseph Lister.
Dr Lister has been rocking some boats in the medical world
by insisting that his surgeons...wash their hands.
Now, let's see how they can help you at home.
Hello and welcome to our new feature,
Ask The Doctor in which my colleague, Dr Guffquat...
And I, Joseph Lister,
will attempt to answer all your medical quirks and queries.
-So, Guffquat, old fellow, what's top of the pile?
Oh, well, I prescribe a dose of blue pill and black draught.
-No, no, what does the top letter say?
-Oh, yes. Ha ha ha!
Er, "Dear doctors, I wonder if you can assist.
"When crossing the road after luncheon at the club yesterday afternoon,
"I was struck down by an out-of-control hansom cab
"whose wheel passed over my leg breaking it really rather badly.
"What would you advise?"
Well, Mr Collins, what I'd suggest is that you speak to a good surgeon
and have him clean the wound very thoroughly
with a solution of carbolic acid. He'll then be able to reset the bone
-and have you on your feet in no time.
Now, look here, Collins. Lister's talking through his hat.
Cleanliness is the key.
If you'd come to me, I'd have whipped it off in no time.
I'd probably use a good rusty old... Er, trusty old saw
like this one. That'd do the job.
We'll have you hobbling about, or dead, in no time.
And you could try a dose of blue pill and black draught too
-if you're having any trouble with constipation.
-GUFFQUAT FARTS LOUDLY
"Dear Doctor, yesterday I suffered from pains in my body
"which overnight spread with alarming rapidity to the right-hand side.
"I've gone off my food. Without being indelicate, I'm suffering a certain congestion of the bowels.
"Any thoughts?" Well, um...
Ah, now, you're in luck. My specialist subject.
What you're suffering from is appendicitis.
-And it's serious. It's a real killer. So, here's the drill.
Get yourself some of these. Leeches. And pop them on the skin
as soon as you can so they can get to work, like this.
Come on, Lister.
Well, if you can't get your hand on any leeches, don't worry,
-ask a friend to bleed you. Just a bit...
-If I may interject,
what I advise is immediate surgery.
If it's left unattended, there's a chance it will burst.
Cleanliness of the implements is important
as is cleanliness of the surgeon's clothes and his clean hands.
You could try a dose of blue pill and black draught.
No, don't do that. Get yourself to a surgeon quick-sharp.
-I say, Lister, were you having a pop at my coat?
-No, of course not.
Though I wouldn't allow one of those in my operating theatre.
What's wrong with it, man? It's got memories. Full of memories. Covered from head to toe.
-That's the problem. When did you last wash it?
That'd be unlucky. Look, see here. Captain Jennings.
You see? Had his arm off at the elbow after an altercation with a cannonball during the mutiny.
And up here, the late Lord Wilmore. Had a run-in with a stag.
Oh.... No, beg your pardon. That would be lunch yesterday.
Jolly good gravy too.
It's disgusting, it's massively unhygienic and it reeks!
Ah, yes. Good surgical stink.
You see, keeps the diseases away.
-"My seven-year-old son, James..."
Dangerous thing, smallpox.
I once knew a man, caught it just from LOOKING at someone.
-No, he didn't.
-Yes, he did.
-No, he didn't.
-Yes, he did, it was his brother.
He'd been nursing him for days and then looked at him and thought, "I feel a bit queer myself."
Next thing, he was dead within a week.
Still, moving on. "Dear Docs,
"I've been eating salted beef and biscuits for the past three weeks
"and am now feeling exceedingly dicey and rather blocked up.
"What would you prescribe?" Tricky one, this. Eh, Lister?
-Blue pill and black draught.
Well, some differences of opinion there.
And, viewers, I do hope you'll let us know how you're getting on
and keep those letters coming in.
Now, most of you watching will remember
London's terrible cholera epidemic of 1853 to 1854
in which 11,000 people died.
11,000 from one disease and in such a short space of time.
Now, imagine, in this picture,
the pile on the left is the number of people living in London.
The pile on the right is the number of people
who died of cholera during this one epidemic.
Nothing short of dreadful.
Well, next up, we're going to be hearing from Dr John Snow.
Dr Snow is a fearless physician who has declared war
on contagious disease and has pledged to put cholera to the sword.
Let's take a look.
I'm John Snow, I'm a physician.
And, as a medical man, two things really get me excited.
Anaesthesia. That's putting people to sleep.
And I don't mean listening to Mr Dickens reading one of his stories.
Just kidding, Charlie.
I'm talking about stopping people feeling pain
when they're having an operation.
I've anaesthetised royalty on several occasions,
so, believe me, I know what I'm talking about.
I'm interested in public health.
Especially when nasty diseases are concerned.
It may be my bread and butter, but I hate the taste of epidemics.
One of the most dangerous diseases we Victorians are facing is cholera.
I'm sure we all know somebody who's kicked the bucket because of it.
You know how it is. One day, you're fit as a flea,
but the next, you're feeling sick and dizzy.
'Then the vomiting begins. Poo turns to grey liquid.
'Cramps set in and your thirst is unquenchable.'
You might be in this place by sundown.
But what was cholera?
Where was it coming from? Why did it spread so swiftly?
Seems we didn't know very much about this killer disease.
I'd have to start with what we did know.
Welcome to my world.
Back in 1828, before our imperial majesty Queen Victoria
was on the throne, there was a cholera outbreak
that threatened to devastate the entire country.
India is one of the world's central trading points.
And the disease spread rapidly abroad.
Russia, China, Europe.
And even to America.
Here, in Great Britain, the population of towns rocketed
and that was just what cholera wanted,
lots and lots and lots of people
living in cramped, squalid conditions.
Everyone thought the disease was caused by bad smells.
So, people tried to ward it off with smelling salts.
'No, I had a hunch that this didn't make sense.
'So, I started looking into one terrible outbreak.
'Here, in the heart of London.
'There had been over 500 fatal cases in only ten days.
'First, I marked all the deaths on a map.'
Then, I started talking to local people
and what I found out amazed me.
Cholera had taken lives willy-nilly.
Men, women, children, no-one was spared.
Except for the men who were working...
here, at the Broad Street Brewery.
Not one of the 38 people working in this brewery
had fallen ill from cholera. Why?
What had kept them safe from its clutches?
'I went back to the map.
'And, suddenly, on Broad Street,
'in the very centre of the outbreak, I saw it.
'The answer had been staring me in the face.
'A water pump!'
Everyone who had died must have drunk from that one pump.
What had saved the workers in the brewery here
was what they were making.
All day, every day, instead of drinking water,
these men were drinking beer.
And when I investigated further,
I discovered that the well which fed the pump
was next to an enormous, leaky cesspit, full of raw sewage.
But five deaths threatened to demolish my theory.
These five people lived much closer to a completely different pump,
but they had still lost their lives to cholera.
It didn't add up.
What did these five victims have in common?
I was determined to get the bottom of the mystery.
My persistence paid off.
One by one, as I spoke to their relatives,
pieces of the puzzle began falling into place until, finally,
I cracked the cholera riddle.
These five people, although they lived closer to another pump,
always went out of their way to fetch their water
from Broad Street. Why?
Because they liked the flavour.
Now, that's what I call bad taste.
So, next time you have a nice glass of water,
just be thankful it doesn't have the distinctive flavour
of the Broad Street pump.
And say a little thank you to Victorian science.
Wow. Terrific work there, John, well done.
Now, did you know that in the 1850s,
over 400,000 tonnes of sewage were flushed into the Thames every day?
Can you imagine that?
No? Well, picture this.
We worked out that this, Mr Barnum's Big Top circus tent, here,
is 700,000 cubic feet.
So, each day, we're currently tipping
a whopping 15 whole Barnum and Bailey's Big Top's worth of poo
into our capital's main waterway. Eurgh.
Is it any wonder that people are getting sick?
Now, thankfully, even as we speak, our great Victorian engineers,
such as Joseph Bazalgette, are building new sewers all over London.
And, as Dr John Snow was saying just there,
keeping sewage out of our lovely drinking water
is a great start in the battle against infectious disease.
Now, next up on my show,
I want to introduce you to two truly remarkable ladies.
They have turned the male-dominated world of nursing on its head.
They can count the commonest soldier
and our own exulted Queen as their friends.
Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Now, Mary, I hear you have your autobiography out.
Here it is. LAUGHTER
Oh, goodness me. It's one of mine.
How on earth did that get in there?
Ah, yes, here it is.
The Wonderful Adventures Of Mrs Mary Seacole In Many Lands.
How's that doing for you?
Well, Charles, I am pleased to be able to say
that it's causing a bit of a stir in the bestseller charts.
Good for you, that's great news.
Oh, watch out, Mr Charles Dickens, I am coming for you.
(I don't think so.)
Now, Florence, any books out this week?
I do have books coming out all the time,
but mine are practical handbooks for the nursing profession.
They're not written with a view to topping the bestseller charts.
Heaven forbid a person would seek to do that.
Now, as we know, you both came to fame during the Crimean War.
Of course, you both went out there with the same objective,
to care for sick and wounded soldiers.
But your approaches to nursing are very different, aren't they, Mary?
You know, Charles, I think you're right.
I think it's fair to say
that I'm much more of a hands-on sort of nurse.
Not only did I raise the money to finance my travel
and the food and medicine which I provided for our fighting men,
but I also, literally,
nursed the wounded where they fell on the field of battle.
Whereas you, Florence,
were operating a little further away from the action.
That's right. I was setting up and running
an enormous military hospital in Scutari.
I was establishing a system
that would give better care to all the soldiers.
I'd like to talk, firstly, a little about your backgrounds.
Mary, what was it that made you want to go into nursing?
Ah, well, Charles, it's in the blood.
My mother was a doctress in Jamaica.
I like to combine what my mother taught me
with what I've learned of modern medicine and surgery.
From the slums of my father's native Scotland,
to the swamps of the Panama Canal.
Military campaigns, epidemics, toothache.
-You name it, I've nursed it.
Florence, how about you?
A history of care. Was it a family business for you too?
No, far from it.
My family were completely against my nursing
and I had to, effectively, teach myself.
I toured hospitals throughout Europe and I read all I could.
Then, you can't have had much hands-on experience
before going out to the Crimea?
That's right. I had hardly any experience at all.
And yet, you organised a whole party of nurses
to travel out to Constantinople. That's very impressive.
Tell me, though, given that most of these nurses, presumably,
had little experience,
wouldn't it have been useful to have had someone like Mary along with you?
Mrs Seacole would have been a wonderful asset.
But, Mary, as I understand it, you actually asked to join
Florence's nursing party, but you were turned down.
Is that right?
Yes, Charles, there was a deal of shilly-shallying that went on
and I never received an answer.
You know, Mary, I'm very glad to have this opportunity
to tell you face-to-face that I knew nothing of your application.
I'd already sailed for Constantinople
by the time your request was made.
Well, that's very comforting to hear, Florence.
In the end, I just packed my bags and went anyway.
So, Mary, you ended up travelling alone
and you appeared on the battlefield with two donkeys, I understand.
One carrying medicine, and the other loaded with food and wine.
Well, when you have faced great danger,
you become very hungry and very thirsty too.
-Tell us about your hotel.
-No, no, no. It was not a hotel.
It was a rest home for recovering soldiers.
I gave them good food and a clean, dry place to sleep.
Now, I am not from a wealthy family.
I have always had to earn my own living.
But I am proud to say
that I have never overcharged a soldier in my life.
Now, Florence, this hospital in Scutari, by all accounts,
it was a bit of a mess when you got there.
-Oh, it was filthy, yes.
-You cleaned it up, presumably?
-We certainly did.
Although, things weren't helped
by the fact that the hospital was built on top of a sewer.
-And the sewer was blocked.
The conditions there made me realise
-that drastic improvements were needed.
Now, just before we finish, what have been the major advances,
do you think, in medical science recently?
Well, I would have to say, clean hands, clean implements,
clean hospitals are going to save hundreds of thousands of lives
in the future and really help in our fight against disease.
I would certainly have to agree with Florence, there.
And add that the encouragement of all those who have medical skills
to contribute to health care, be they men or women,
white or black, is, of course, real progress.
-Yes. Real progress.
Absolutely. Well, I'm afraid that's all we've got time for.
It's time to say goodbye and thank all our doctors.
Dr Guffquat, Dr Lister,
Dr Snow and, of course,
the lovely Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
We hope you'll be joining us in fine fettle next time.
Until then, I'd like to leave you with this thought
from my American counterpart Mark Twain.
AMERICAN ACCENT: "The only way to keep your health
"is to eat what you don't want,
"drink what you don't like and do what you'd rather not."
See you next time. Thank you.
Good night, everybody.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Live from the 19th century, Charles Dickens hosts a chat show. His famous Victorian guests include Doctor Barnardo, Mary Seacole and Queen Victoria.
He was vain, quick-witted, and a terrific performer. Here in the 21st century, Charles Dickens would have been the supreme chat show host - which is exactly what he becomes in the Learning Zone's contribution to the 200th anniversary of his birth. With a nod to popular magazine programmes like The One Show - and recorded in its London studio - The Charles Dickens Show sees the celebrated author interview A-list guests of the Victorian era like reformers Lord Shaftesbury and Dr Thomas Barnardo, nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, and even Queen Victoria herself.
What was life really like for Victorians? The Charles Dickens Show bursts with shocks, laughs and fascinating facts. Dickens, his roving reporter Nelly and a string of famous guests telly-port us back into a world that's dirty, dangerous and often deeply strange. Special reports include a video diary shot undercover by an orphan in a workhouse; interviews with mudlarks and purefinders on London's mean streets; Ask The Doctors, where Joseph Lister takes on the traditionalists; and Mrs Beeton's guide to Christmas Day. In this episode Dickens is joined by Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale to discuss Victorian health. With a report on cholera from Doctor John Snow, and 'Ask The Doctors', in which upstart Doctor Joseph Lister takes on the medical establishment.