Staunch with Sugar

Malcolm Gaskill

  • Accidents and Violent Death in Early Modern London, 1650-1750 by Craig Spence
    Boydell, 273 pp, £65.00, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 78327 135 1

On 15 August 1737 Samuel Wood was working in a windmill on the Isle of Dogs, when a rope tied around his wrist became caught in the gear wheels. The gigantic brake-wheel pulled him into the mechanism, tearing off his right arm. Wood staggered a short distance before collapsing. Bystanders staunched the wound with sugar, which was known to have antiseptic and healing properties, while they waited for help to arrive. A surgeon patched Wood up, and sent him to St Thomas’s Hospital where to everyone’s surprise he made a full recovery within two months. This minor miracle – doctors were baffled by the lack of arterial bleeding – was celebrated in an engraving in which a lank-haired, classically draped Wood stares pensively at us over his scarred shoulder. A vignette of the accident occupies one corner of the composition, and in the foreground is the severed arm.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in