A therapeutic revolution

Mark Harrison

in Medicine in an age of Commerce and Empire

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199577736
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595196 | DOI:
A therapeutic revolution

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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In the early years of the nineteenth century, medical practice in Britain's colonies changed radically. Having been marginalized in tropical therapeutics since the 1750s, bleeding now began to replace the mercurial therapies that had dominated the previous half‐century. Starting in the West Indies, under the influence of Robert Jackson, and continuing in India under the direction of James Johnson, among others, bloodletting, often combined with ‘stimulant’ practices such as cold bathing, made a remarkable come‐back. The revival of bloodletting depended largely upon the growing acceptance of nervous physiology and the decline of notions of putrefaction. However, it was accompanied by growing interest in the practices of the radical Edinburgh practitioner John Brown which harmonized with the reformist worldview of many practitioners in the tropics, including the turbulent ‘demagogue’ Charles Maclean. In their practices, there remained a role for mercury as a nervous stimulant, together with other substances such as opium.

Keywords: bloodletting; Brunonianism; Robert Jackson; James Johnson; Charles MacLean; mercury; nervous system; tropics

Chapter.  15932 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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