Dr Bullock’s Annals

Vernon Coleman

My new novel, just published on Amazon, is called Dr Bullock’s Annals and is subtitled A Revealing and Sometimes Shocking Account of a Year in the Life of a Young Victorian Doctor.

Everything in Dr Bullock’s Annals is historically accurate and I must warn you that by today’s antiseptic and rather puritanical standards, the book is a lifetime beyond politically incorrect. And it is, perhaps, worthwhile remembering that the mid-19th century was a time of staggering inequality. While Lord Durham reckoned that £40,000 a year was a moderate income, 'such as a man might jog along with’ skilled shirt-makers were lucky to be paid 2s 6d for 70 hours work. Remember, please, that the 1850s were rollicking, rude and frequently barbarous times!

Dr Bullock’s Annals is the diary of a young doctor and contains his experiences in 1853. Dr Bullock’s adventures with a pot of leeches and a strong bone saw may leave you relieved that you are living now and not then.

But all was not gloomy for Dr Bullock. His career thrived in a most unexpected way and he found true love in an unlooked for place.

Here, below, is a taste of Dr Bullock’s Annals:

January 1st 1853
Yesterday, on the last day of the Year of Our Lord 1852, I completed my five years Apprenticeship with Dr Hildebrand Challot, Apothecary, Barber Surgeon and until today the only professional medical man in the village of Muckleberry Peverell.

This morning, at 6.00 am I awoke Dr Challot to remind him that my Apprentice ship has been completed. He awakened for just long enough to confirm that I am now a fully licensed practitioner, Surgeon and Apothecary and entitled to call myself Doctor John Bullocks.

I am, in consequence of my having completed my full Apprenticeship in all the healing arts, as dignified under the terms of our agreement, legally entitled to perform all those activities associated with the noble profession of Medicine. I am licensed to dispense medicaments, operate on the sick (or, indeed, the well), remove gangrenous limbs, extract teeth, shave away unwanted hair on the scalp, face or other body parts and facilitate extreme Purgings of the bowel. I am allowed to do all these things without supervision and, most vitally, am entitled to charge a fee for my services as a Surgeon-Barber and for what medicaments I might consider essential.

I have, however, been running the Practice pretty much by myself since Dr Challot first succumbed to the gout, the dropsy and a deeply troubled liver and prescribed for himself more or less permanent bed rest with six meals a day, unlimited supplies of porter and mead and the constant attentions of two nurses who are permanently by his bedside or, more often within the bed, warming the cockles of his heart and, no doubt, other parts.

After confirming my elevation in professional status, Dr Challot kindly presented me with my own Leech pot containing what he claims are 24 fine river Leeches. He took the pot from the cupboard beside his and handed it to me, with all the pride and delicacy that might be afforded by the Archbishop of Canterbury handling the Royal Crown, to celebrate the conclusion of my indentureship.

The pot and contents stank something fearful and at first I thought he had used it in lieu of his chamber pot (which as is usual had not been emptied for several days) but on examination I could see that it was the foul looking Leeches which were responsible for the unpleasant stink. I suspect that the Leeches were brought in by Osbert Gibbon, a pot boy from the Peacock Inn who, I know for a fact, collects the Leeches he sells to us from the stagnant pond adjacent to the cess pit at the Everard Blossom’s stinky farm. Osbert is a professional liar, a Thief and a rascal on his good days and although he is but fourteen years old he already has signs of the pox, caught I have no doubt from one of the Barmaids at the Peacock.

On close examination of my graduation gift I could see that at least four of the Leeches were dead and putrefying and it is not my intention to begin my work as a fully qualified Doctor by using putrefying Leeches so I fed them to the cat which did not seem to mind the putrefaction and ate them with relish, smacking his lips with apparent delight.

As an Apprentice, I received free board and lodging. My board consisted of a small room in the attic, which I shared with a large and ever expanding family of rodents, and my keep, shared with the cat, was a barely edible diet of Turnip soup and stale bread. I once worked out that in five years I drank 1,478 bowls of Turnip soup.

Half an hour after eating the putrefying Leeches the cat was violently sick on the carpet in the consulting room. Fortunately, the pool of vomit was nicely contained in one area and it was easy to step over it.

Dr Bullock’s Annals is available as an eBook and a paperback on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman January 2020