Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Symptoms and Treatments of Maltese Plague


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 88 x 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXV 1

Catalogue entry

The page is taken up with the following notes by Turner:
<Matese> Maltese Plague
1 Symptoms. Sickness debility shivering [apparently overwriting a first attempt at the same word] heat thirst | Headach – | 2 Delirium | 3 Darkspots. Ulcers
Emetic 10 Grains of Epicacuina | Purge 5 Grains of Calomel 10 of Jalap | Tea spoonfull of Sal Mandereri [‘e’ inserted above the ‘a’] Evry 2 hours | Common drink Lemonade – Head shaved | Vinegar and Water applied with a sponge | to the Head and Body
There was a major outbreak of plague on the British-controlled Mediterranean island of Malta in 1813. Turner’s notes appear to be taken from the later part of a memorandum of 7 May 1813 issued by Ralph Green, head of the British military medical department there. This was reported and transcribed in William John Monson (later 6th Baron Monson)’s Extracts from a Journal (London 1820), pages 156–7, from which the complete text is transcribed below. Turner’s notes correlate with the seventh point onwards:
1st, That one individual only, from each healthy and unsuspected family, be appointed to go to market, and to avoid contact with others as much as possible. 2nd, That the number and names of each family be written and affixed to the outer door, and the members composing the same to show themselves when required so to do, as this measure will lead to the earliest detection of the disease. 3rd, That no animal food or vegetables should be received at market, unless in a vessel with water in it, mixed with salt or vinegar. 4th, That all excesses and indulgences tending to debilitate the body or mind should be avoided, and the greatest attention paid to personal cleanliness. 5th, The introduction of papers and parcels to be avoided; but, if introduced, to be fumigated. 6th, If an individual feels himself indisposed, to report the same without delay. 7th, The symptoms by which to detect the disease: 1st stage, Debility, sickness at stomach, shivering, followed by great heat and thirst, violent pains in the head, with giddiness and delirium: 2nd stage, Dark-coloured spots, and sometimes boils in different parts of the body, with swellings at or below the groins, in the armpits, neck, or side of the face, and not unfrequently small foul sores at the extremities. These last are the most certain symptoms of plague. The medicines recommended are, an emetic of 15 or 20 grains of ipecacuanha for an adult; 10 for a child: purgative, 5 grains of calomel, 10 of jalop, for an adult; the half for a child; and, after its operation, a sudorific; a table-spoonful of the spiritus mindereri every two hours in a weak liquid. Lemonade is recommended as a drink in the 1st stage, and shaving the head, and applying cloths moistened in vinegar and water, as well as to the whole body.
Thornbury 1862, I, p.359; see also close variation in Thornbury 1897, p.475.
See Hamilton 1997, p.156, and 2001, p.137, quoting Farington’s diary.
Gage 1969, p.226 note 13.
For transcriptions of these and others see ‘Appendix 2: Turner’s Medical Recipes’ in Hamilton 1997, pp.339–41; the present entry is paraphrased in Imms 2011, p.5.

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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