Regency-Era Electrical Resuscitation

Jane Austen’s Character Falls at Lyme Regis

During the Regency era, electrical shock was beginning to be used at various times to revive persons knocked unconscious from blows to the head. I’m not sure this would have benefited Louisa Musgrove, but it brings up interesting notions about the advances of resuscitation in the late Georgian era.

“…but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” — Persuasion, Jane Austen

Persuasion’s Anne Elliot is my favorite of all Jane Austen’s characters–mostly because she is quite useful in an emergency. When calm is required, she remains practical and wholly free from the hysterical outbursts that characterize her sister’s behavior. Such excellent qualities are demonstrated not only when her young nephew suffers a fall from a tree, but after Louisa Musgrove’s dreadful fall, as she is knocked out cold.

Dr. James Curry notes that falls often stun the victim into a state of apparent lifelessness. The heart stops and does not restart until the brain is roused sufficiently so as to direct it to begin beating again. Many times this occurs without intervention; however, stimulation must be employed when the victim does not rouse on her own:

Stimulants of every kind have this tendency in a greater or less degree, but none so much as Electricity.”

Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Hanging, Suffocation: &c. by James Curry, MD (1815)

Dr. Curry cites two examples of children rendered unconscious from falls down steps. Fortunately, in both cases, neighbors with the right apparatus were able to apply electricity to the chests of each boy, with the happy result of reviving both. Apparently assembling a machine to generate mild electric shocks was something that could be done with readily available materials, but only by knowledgeable persons:

“..jar of twenty-four inches, or thirty inches coated surface, and the discharging electrometer placed about one-third or one-half of an inch from the knob of the jar, or from the prime conductor; accordingly as it is applied from one to the other, in the machine used.”

Dr. Curry goes on to relate that from this machine discharging rods may be connected (and he goes into some detail about their assembly) which when applied to the body can be made to pass electricity through it.

The effect of reading Persuasion is much the same–electrifying the heart with such simple stimulation.

Collecting fossils at Lyme Regis, a subject visited previously in this blog, regarding those Paleontologists to the Regency – photo by John Cummings via Wikicommons


Paleontologist to the Regency – Part Three

“Really, my love, I’m not at all feeling the thing.”

William stepped close to Mary, cupping her heart-shaped face in his hand. “Adam is with Willie and Eva, Sweetheart. He’s at peace.”

Dr. Buckland and his wife had just laid their nine-year-old son’s body in the Christ Church crypt, alongside those of their two older children.

“Darling,” he pleaded. “I’ve news to cheer you. Miss Anning has found a possible explanation for the bezoar stones–”

“Which are nothing more to me than the other dead things in my life.”

Mary gestured to the side table, groaning beneath the weight of fossils stacked upon each other in layers like they had lain in the earth before being dug up. The whole was lit by candles stuck in various vertebrae. “They are all wretched, reminding me of my beloved son.”

A beach near Lyme - licensed under GNU Free Documentation 1.2

A beach near Lyme – licensed for use under GNU Free Documentation 1.2

“Then let us begone from here,” her husband declared. “Let’s go to Lyme.”

“To see more dead things?”

“To see Miss Anning. She always cheers you.”

But once arrived at Lyme, Mary could only sit on a little rise, above the beach that was a “vast charnel house of the bones of the monsters that had once lived.”

Far below, she could see her husband picking through the sand. With him was a fellow geologist and well-known Lyme resident, Sir Henry de la Beche. He was a former military man whose illustrations made Miss Anning’s fossil collection famous.

“Mrs. Buckland, are you just going to sit up here, useless to us all?”

Mary looked up at Miss Anning’s approach. She was not troubled in the least by the other’s brusque manner. Indeed, she expected it from a woman who had struggled all her life. After all, Miss Anning had the distinction of being struck by lightning at the age of fifteen.

“I daresay I have been useless,” Mary answered. “You are fortunate, Miss Anning, in that you’ve no children of your own.”

The other shrugged and settled herself on the ground nearby, her thick walking boots sticking out unceremoniously from beneath her skirt.

Mary looked away once more to the beach below. “Sir Henry is devoted to you. Why do you not marry him?”

Miss Anning snorted. “I’m the daughter of a carpenter and a Dissenter, Mrs. Buckland. Our union would ruin us both and that would never do. Besides, we deal very well together without being married. He brings credit to my work that would otherwise go unnoticed.” Henry de la Beche - Awful Changes

Nevertheless, Mary saw how Miss Anning looked down at her skirt, at hands unfashionably browned from the weather. Hands that twisted against each other and them fumbled for something concealed within the folds of the drab fabric.

Miss Anning drew out three brown rocks and handed them to Mary. “My bezoar stones.”

“More dead things?” Mary asked.

“Oh, my dear, have you not been attending? Your husband believes these are actually fossilized feces.” Miss Anning paused, her face beaming. “Those are not dead things. They are the leftovers of the living!”

“Upon my word,” Mary said, turning the stones over in her hands.

It was a new discovery. In its joy, Mary found reason to laugh again.