Monday, 25 November 2013

Surgery and Medical Treatment by a Royalist Surgeon at the Battle of Worcester 1651

In 1676 Serjeant-Chirurgeon Richard Wiseman published his Severall Chirurgicall Treatises. Richard Wiseman was a surgeon who served in the Royalist army during the English Civil War, then as a Navy surgeon, and after the Restoration, acted as one of Charles II’s surgeons. His book covers such topics as a treatise on tumours, a treatise on ulcers, haemorrhoids, the King’s Evill, a treatise on wounds, gun-shot wounds, fractures, and venereal disease. In this week blog we look at just a few of the cases which he encountered.

The battle of Worcester 1651. Photograph by David Morrison. Reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)




Just before the Battle of Worcester, Wiseman was treating soldiers wounded in skirmishes. One man had a musket ball lodged on the right side of his head. Wiseman’s servant assistant William Clarke, whilst dressing the wound, felt the musket ball in the skull. He called over Wiseman who noticed the man could not speak. They made a circular incision, allowing the trapped blood to escape. Having cleaned the wound with a sponge dipped in vinegar they filled the gap with lint. When the bleeding had stopped some time later, they tried unsuccessfully to get the bullet out. Using an instrument called a Trepan; they cut away another hole nearby, which again released more trapped blood. This enabled them to pull out the bullet and the depressed bone fragments. They now saw that there was a large wound in the Dura Mater (one of the outer layers surrounding the brain). Nevertheless they dressed the wounds in the skull and bandaged the head. Whilst they did this, the man suddenly regained consciousness, and asked where he was. He survived the operation, but after the chaos of the ensuing battle Wiseman never saw him again.    


An eighteenth century depiction of the battle of Worcester 1651. Photograph by David Morrison. Reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

During the battle, a royalist garrison held Fort-Royal just outside the city. The next case is of a soldier in the fort, who during the fighting was using his bonnet to carry a fresh supply of gunpowder to his fellows on the ramparts. He was just refilling his bandoliers (ammunition pouches to hold the powder), when a fellow soldier fired his musket too close to him. A spark from the musket ignited the powder and both men were horribly burned. Wiseman and his assistants dressed the wounds as best they could, covering the burns with some sort of oil and egg white mixture. William Clark, managed to cure the first soldier, and the latter was bandaged enough to allow him to escape the city.

In a case of a musket ball entering a soldier through one side of his chest, which passed out between two ribs on the other side of his body, they cleaned the wounds, and kept the hole between the ribs open to allow discharge of any matter. The wound was later cleaned, and the patient attended to after the battle by Wiseman’s assistant William Clarke, who later lived in Bridgenorth. The soldier was concealed in the city until he could make his escape.


Richard Wiseman's book on surgery. Photograph by David Morrison. Reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

During the battle, a soldier came to where Surgeon Wiseman was working. The soldier was still clutching his broken sword and was covered in wounds, particularly around the head. Wiseman saw that the hairy scalp of one side of his head was hanging down his neck, and calling over his colleague William Clarke, they cleaned the wound with a sponge. They noticed many fissures, and some fractures on the head caused by various weapons. They freed the scalp of some bone fragments, and dressed the wound, applying liniment. At this point the Parliamentarians broke into Worcester. Wiseman decided it was time to leave in the middle of treating the soldier. However his young assistant and servant William Clarke remained and carried on treating the wounded even after the fighting was over. He later wrote to Wiseman and told him about the case. Three days after treating him, the soldier seemed in good spirits, but the head wounds were causing discomfort, and Clarke loosened two of the stitches to vent the wounds. He dressed penetrating wounds, and discarded damaged bone fragments. The soldier eventually recovered, traveled to the Indies and then served in the Tower of London.

A 1616 book on anatomy Wiseman might have seen. Photograph by David Morrison. Reproduced by permossion of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Meanwhile, Captain Smith, leading a Company of Dragoons, was pursuing Wiseman and the defeated Royalist soldiers as they fled from the battle.  In the ensuing skirmish Smith was wounded across the right Temporal Muscle (on the side of the head) and was bleeding to death. He was brought to surgeon Wiseman’s quarters. Wiseman stitched his wound and, lacking enough medicines, dressed it with a little wheat-flower and the white of an egg, applying over it a compress which he described as being pressed out of vinegar, and secured with a bandage. Three days later Wiseman took off the bandages and found the wound to be healing. By this time, he had managed to get medical supplies from an Apothecary and sprinkled the lips of the wound with these. Two days afterwards he cut the stitches and applied “epuloticks” and after a couple more sets of fresh dressings the man recovered.

David Morrison

2 comments:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    ReplyDelete