James Ainslie – and Georgian medicine

Georgian medicine wasn’t so much ‘kill or cure’ as ‘kill or do very little’. With nothing resembling quality control, or advertising standards, you could peddle any old concoction as a ‘cure’ for multiple ills.

Including those brought on by reading novels!

‘Errors in Female Education’ – some cautionary advice on the perils of allowing girls and women to read fiction

Suffering from scurvy or a hective affection? Better put down that novel right now! Well, according to this advice from an advertisement for one Georgian medicine.

But fear not, concerned readers, there is a tonic, if not a cure. Or at least there was in 1807, when the following piece appeared.

‘The perusal of Tales and Novels, which induce a sedentary habit, want of proper exercise, food containing little nourishment, sudden depression of spirits, permanent anxiety and grief; superstitions that occasion despondence and a gloomy, sorrowful disposition are the sources of various Female Debilities, Scorbutic Tumors and Obstructions, Convulsive Coughs, Intermittents, and all the train of Hective and Hypochondriacal Affections.

These seem to be relieved for a time by Mercurials and Opiates, but the Complaints return with redoubled force and the unfortunate subject is generally a Patient for life.

The Proprietor of the VEGETABLE SYRUP of Dr VELNOS is daily lessening the number of these amiable, but unfortunate victims.

His medicine, mild, nutritive, and powerful, calls into action the resources of Nature and wonderfully restores those whom erroneous habits and erroneous practice, have long menaced with the symptoms of ruined constitutions.

The genuine medicine is prepared and sold by the proprietor, Mr Swainson, no 21 Frith-street, London, at 18s per bottle; and by all the respectable medicine Venders in Town and Country; but Pill &c. assuming its name or properties, are fraudulent and dangerous impositions.’

Velnos’ Vegetable Syrup

Velnos’ Vegetable Syrup was promoted by Isaac Swainson (1746-1812) and was supposed to cure everything from leprosy to cancer. 

You can read a LOT more about it here with an account of cures here.

Given that a lot of the other ‘cures’ at the time seem to have had hemlock or mercury as key ingredients, Velnos’ Vegetable Syrup at least spared thousands of sick people from being dosed or dosing themselves with toxins.

Isaac Swainson

Isaac Swainson was the son of John Swainson (d1750), yeoman, of High House, Hawkshead, by his second wife Lydia Park (source here).

Hawkshead was then in Lancashire, so Isaac isn’t really a Cumbrian Character.

In the second book. Isaac Swainson lists a number of doctors who have sent patients to him, including a ‘Dr Ainsley’ (sic) of Kendal.

Georgian medicine – Dr James Ainslie of Kendal

Dr James Ainslie was born in Jedburgh on 13 April 1732. He practised in Carlisle from 1754, and in Kendal from 1765. You can see a portrait of James Ainslie and of his  wife Margaret Farrer here.

It seems he was a Dissenter (ie non-Church of England) and pivotal in establishing Kendal’s Dispensary, which opened in 1783, to provide medical attention and medicines to people who could not otherwise afford them.

And his son Henry Ainslie

Isaac Swainson’s book also refers to ‘Dr Ainslie the late professor of chemistry at Cambridge’. Which would very likely be Henry Ainslie. Henry Ainslie (1760-1834) was also from Hawkshead. He was the second son of James Ainslie. Henry was born in Carlisle.

There’s a biography for Henry Ainslie here echoed here.

And potted biographies of various (male) members of the Ainslie family here.

  • You can read a Cumbrian Characters post on Victorian ‘cures’ here.
  • And a post about Georgian home remedies here.
The main image is courtesy of the Wellcome Collection:

'Isaac Swainson promoting his 'Velnos syrup', facing an onsla' by Thomas Rowlandson. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY