Monday, 3 October 2016

The Baltic Triangle's Quack Doctor

A quack doctor who gave medicine to a patient who later died was spared further punishment after being found guilty of manslaughter.

On 30th October 1828 William Birkett, a twenty one year old seaman was discharged from the Liverpool Infirmary and took up lodgings in Jordan Street. Three days later he was found by his landlady vomiting severely and called a local surgeon, Dr Wynn.

Jordan Street in 2016
Birkett told the doctor he had bought what he believed to be a mixture of water and white vitriol from a woman named Nancy Simpson who lived in a court off the adjacent Brick Street. He said a nurse from the infirmary had told him to see her so she could give him something to 'take the Mercury from his bones.' 

Forty Eight hours later Birkettt died and a postmortem was carried out on the instruction of the Coroner. Parts of his stomach were found to be inflamed and dissolved, while the rest of the organs were healthy. One of the two surgeons who examined the stomach believed that rather than vitriol, Birkett had instead been given a corrosive sublimate. 

On hearing of Birkett's death Simpson had disappeared but she was apprehended the following day by two constables in Toxteth Park. Without even being told what they were taking her in for, Simpson said that she had bought the stuff from a woman who came off an Irish boat.

When fifty six year old Simpson's cellar was searched a number of powders, herbs and oils were found, as well as a book called 'Practice of Physic.' Enquiries with local druggists also established she had regularly tried to buy corrosive sublimates but was refused as she had no prescription. An inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter and Simpson was committed to Lancaster Castle on a coroner's warrant to await trial. 

On 14th March he following year Simpson, whose husband was away at sea, appeared at the Lancaster assizes charged with 'killing and slaying'. A surgeon gave evidence that there was not the slightest evidence that corrosive sublimate could remove mercury from the bones, with the judge interjecting that the public must be fully made aware of this.

Simpson was found guilty but Mr Justice Bayley imposed no further sentence, acknowledging that she thought she was acting in Birkett's best interests.  He warned Simpson though that if she were to be caught selling medicine again, the sentence would be severe.

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