The fantastically named Dr John St. John Long was one of the most noted physicians in early nineteenth-century England. He moved to London from Ireland in 1827 and within a few years had built a highly profitable medical practice that catered to the needs of the city’s wealthiest residents. Long claimed that his success was based on the development of radical new treatments for diseases caused by the ‘acrid humours’ that pervaded the crowded and dirty streets of the metropolis. These diseases typically started with symptoms similar to those of a common cold, or flu, but could rapidly escalate to include a violent skin rash, sores, vomiting and acute stomach pain. However after several weeks of treatment, consisting of the application of ointments and tonics of Long’s own design, his patients always made a miraculous recovery. His reputation grew and by 1830 it was reckoned that he enjoyed an annual income of some £12,000 a year.
In fact, Long was a complete and utter fraud. He had never studied medicine and possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy which he’d gleaned from life drawing and the study of anatomical charts. John St John Long had been born John O’Driscoll, the son of an itinerant basket-weaver of Cork. He had moved to London in 1822 to pursue a career as an artist and had studied for a time in the studio of the painter and engraver John Martin. One of his paintings, a large oil on board landscape after Martin, entitled The Temptation in the Wilderness (1824) can still be found in the Tate Britain collection today. When he eventually found that he could no longer make a living from his paintings, Long drifted through a series of menial posts in London’s publishing trade and printshops. It was later said that one of these jobs included a spell spent colouring medical charts, and that his had provided him with the opportunity to acquire the knowledge he needed to pass himself off as a doctor.
By 1827 Long had hit upon the idea of making money from a simple, if extremely dangerous, scam. He would set himself up as a doctor and after providing his patients with an initial consultation, would declare that whatever symptoms they presented with were the result of an underlying condition caused by exposure to ‘acrid humours’. He would then proscribe medication in the form of tonic and ointment which the patient was advised to take or apply regularly for several days. These concoctions were in fact a form of mild poison that acted as an irritant, resulting in vomiting, stomach cramps and severe blistering to the skin. Long would continue dosing his victim for days or weeks at a time before finally substituting the poison for a placebo. The patient would recover from their illness, and Long would step forward to take the credit and to present a hefty bill to their relieved family.
Long’s only real problem was that his scam was too successful; as word of the miracles being worked by the marvelous Dr Long spread across London, he came under greater scrutiny and found it much more difficult to keep up the pretense that he was a serious medical practitioner. The first cracks in his scheme began to appear in January 1830, when the Lancet denounced him as “the king of humbugs” and printed testimony from a former patient who claimed that his treatments were useless. Then, in June, Long accidentally administered such a large dose of irritant to the skin of one of his patients that she died from an infection caused by the gigantic sores that appeared on her legs. In August of 1830 the outraged family of the young lady, a Miss Cashin of Hampstead, brought a charge of manslaughter against Long. A corner’s jury found him guilty and the case was immediately referred to the Old Bailey. Despite the evidence of several members of the victim’s family and a range of respectable doctors in the trial that followed, a sympathetic judge allowed him to escape by paying a substantial fine.
The verdict caused anger across London, not least because it was rumoured that the verdict had been heavily influenced by the appearance of several noted aristocrats who had come forward to speak on Long’s behalf. Consequently, the chorus of voices denouncing the doctor as a fraud began to grow louder, as the story was now picked up by newspapers, pamphleteers and printsellers all over town. One might have assumed that Long would have taken this opportunity to gather up his wealth and head off into a discreet retirement, however such a sensible move would have been totally against his nature. Showing both a grim determination to hang onto the profitable income he had accrued from his sham medical practice, and the undoubted chutzpah of someone who had successfully passed themselves off as an eminent doctor for the last three years, Long carried on regardless. It may be that the outcome of the trial and the way in which so many of his wealthy and well-connected patients rallied around him, had convinced him that he was now impervious to further serious legal challenge and that the gossiping of the gutter presses would eventually die down.
Long’s determination to carry on as he had before eventually resulted in the same grim conclusion – On 6th October 1830, a Mrs Campbell-Lloyd, the middle-aged wife of a retired Royal Navy captain, called at his surgery to seek treatment for a persistent cough. Long diagnosed the cough as the symptom of an attack of acrid humours and prescribed a tincture which was to be applied to the lady’s neck and chest twice a day. Within a few days, Mrs Campbell-Loyd had developed a painful rash all over her upper torso. The rash spread and eventually developed into severe blistering and open sores. A fortnight after visiting Doctor Long’s surgery for the first time, she lay bed-bound and in extreme discomfort. Two weeks later, she was dead, having succumbed to an infection caused by the suppurating wounds on her chest.
Once again, a coroner was called and lost no time in declaring that Long was guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of gross ignorance. The case was referred to the high court, but when the trial eventually took place in February 1831, the outcome was even less satisfactory than that of the previous year. Despite the testimony of the victim’s family and an array of medical men who came forward to denounce Long’s phony remedies, the judge and jury were once again swayed by its deference to the opinions of the clique of well-bred fools who dutifully came forward to speak in their doctor’s defence. The jury delivered a not guilty verdict and the case was dismissed without further ado.
Although Long had evaded justice at the hands of the court, he could not escape the judgement of his follow Londoners. After the second trial he could not set foot on the streets without being abused and taunted by crowds who saw him not only as a killer and a fraud, but as a very visible reminder of the inequities of the British justice system. His practice also fell into decline, as patients who had read the extensive coverage of the trail in the press voted with their feet and began to seek medical advice elsewhere. Long eventually retreated from public view, spending his remaining years confined to the company of a small clique of followers whose loyalty he continued to repay with periodic doses of poison and blistering lotions. When he died in 1834, they paid to have a monument erected over his tomb which still stands in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery today.
The print shown above is one of a number of caricatures on the Dr Long affair that were produced in 1830 and 1831. It was published by George Humphrey on 8th September 1830, shortly after Long’s first appearance in court. It has been signed with the initials JDR in the lower left-hand corner below the title, but carries no other marks which would help us identify either artist or engraver. The initials are not familiar and do not seem to appear on any other prints published by Humphrey at this time. The most likely explanation is therefore that they belong to an amateur artist who was responsible for submitting the idea for the print to Humphrey for consideration. This would then have been worked up be a professional artist-engraver who may have made further changes to the original concept before it was printed and put on sale. The style of the engraving is similar to that used on a number of other plates published by Humphrey around 1830, which were signed only with an elaborate X, or possibly a double C in which the first of the letters has been inverted.
The picture itself combines images of death with symbols associated with the sideshow trickster. Long is thus presented in the black garb of an undertaker’s mute but one who is surrounded by a series of garishly decorated sandwich-boards that advertise his services and make punning references to the recent tragedy in which he was embroiled. The image of shabby hucksterism is further reinforced by the presence of a speech bubble that allows Long to address the viewer in the manner of a street hawker: “Come, Dilly, Dilly, come and be killed!!!”. Long is also surrounded by a gaggle of ducks who pointedly emit the words “quack” and “cruel quack” in his direction. These humorous visual devices had been cleverly employed to reduce the risk of attracting a charge of libel, while still leaving the viewer in little doubt as to the print’s true meaning.