1661: Ease swollen testes with butter-fried horse dung


Johann Jacob Wecker was a Swiss physician, naturalist and alchemist of the mid-16th century. Wecker authored several popular tracts on alchemy and medicine. He is perhaps best known for his account of genital malformations, including the first documented case of a double penis, discovered on a corpse in Bologna. In the mid 1600s an English physician named Read collated Wecker’s medical and surgical receipts into an eighteen-book collection, Secrets of Art and Nature. The 1661 edition contained hundreds of suggested medical treatments for all manner of complaints – including several cures for “pains of the belly”:

 
“The heart of a lark bound to the thigh… and some have eaten it raw with very good success.”
 
“I know one who drank dry ox dung in broth and it presently cured him of the colic… Some do not drink the dung but the juice pressed from it, which is far better.”
 
“Any bone of a man hanged, so that it may touch the flesh [may] cure pains of the belly.”
 
“Apply a living duck to your belly, the disease will pass into the duck.”
 

For excessive bleeding, Wecker suggests a trip to the pigpen:

 
“To staunch blood… Blood running immoderately out of any part of the body will be presently stopped if hog’s dung [still] hot be wrapped up in fine thin cotton linen and put into the nostrils, women’s privities or any other place that runs with blood. I write this for country people rather than for courtiers, being a remedy fit for their turn…”
 

1661swollentestes

Wecker also provides handy beauty tips. He offers recipes for dying the hair numerous colours, including silver, yellow, red, green and several shades of black. There are also remedies for encouraging hair growth and removing unwanted hair, both of which involve rodent excreta:

 
“To diminish the hair… cat’s dung dried and powdered and mingled to a pap with strong vinegar will do it. With this you must rub the hairy place often in a day, and in a short time it will grow bald… The piss of mice or rats will [also] make a hairy part bald.”
 
“That hair may grow again quickly, the ashes of burnt bees [mixed] with mice dung, if you anoint this with oil of roses, will make hair grow in the palm of your hand.”
 

Lastly, for “swollen codds [testicles], Wecker suggests breaking out the frypan:

 
“Take new horse dung, mix the same with vinegar and fresh butter, fry it in a pan and, as hot as the patient may endure, lay it to the grieved place.”
 

Source: Johann Wecker and Dr R. Read, Secrets of Art and Nature, 1661 ed.


1763: Bengali tax defaulters forced to wear cat pants


Mir Jafar (1691-1765) was the nawab of Bengal from 1757 until his death in 1765. Mir Jafar was a long serving and effective Bengali military leader, rising to become commander in chief under the popular nawab Siraj ul-Daulah. But by the 1750s Jafar had become paranoid, inconsistent and power hungry, possibly a by-product of his worsening opium addiction. In 1757 Siraj ul-Daulah was threatened and besieged by British East India Company troops. Mir Jafar double crossed the nawab by holding back his own army and signing a secret agreement with Robert Clive. Siraj ul-Daulah was defeated, captured and executed and Mir Jafar was installed as nawab. But Mir Jafar quickly learned that Clive’s backing came with a heavy price. Faced with constant demands of money from the British, Mir Jafar sought to extract it from the local population. By 1760 tax collection in Bengal could be a brutal affair, both for officials and civilians. Non-payers were starved, denied water, stripped naked and flogged. Tax collectors who failed to fill quotas were strung up by the ankles, to have the soles of their feet rubbed raw with a brick. One of Mir Jafar’s advisors developed his own particularly nasty methods, described in a 1763 Persian account:

Mir Jafar, India's own Benedict Arnold, sells out to the British in 1757.

Mir Jafar, India’s own Benedict Arnold, sells out to the British. A disgruntled elephant looks on disapprovingly.

 
“The dewan [bureaucrat] Syed Rezee Khan, whom Jafar appointed to collect government revenues, exceeded his master in cruelty. He ordered a pit to be dug about the height of a man, which was filled with human excrement, in such a state of putrefaction as to be full of worms. The stench was so offensive that it almost suffocated whoever came near it… Syed Rezee Khan, in contempt of the Hindus, called this infernal pit Bickoont [Hindu for 'paradise']… Those who failed in their payments, after undergoing the severities before described, were ducked in this pit.
 

And if that wasn’t bad enough…

 
“He also obliged them to wear long leather drawers filled with live cats. He would force them to drink buffalo’s milk mixed with salt, till it brought them to death’s door by a diarrhoea. By these means he used to collect the revenues…”
 

Unsurprisingly, Mir Jafar is still a despised figure on the subcontinent. Most consider him the man who sold out Bengal and opened up the rest of India for British colonisation. The word “mirjafar” is a Bengali insult meaning ‘traitor’. The fate of Mir Jafar’s inventive tax collector, Syed Rezee Khan, is unrecorded.

Source: Francis Gladwin (transl.), A Narrative of the Transactions in Bengal &c., London, 1788.