Being Buried Alive Was So Common in the Victorian Era That Doctors Used these 10 Methods to Prevent It

Smoke enemas were common practice in the Victorian Era. Wikimedia.

Smoke Enemas

“Blowing smoke up someone’s arse” was not always a simple figure of speech indicating someone was being an insincere flatterer. Tobacco smoke enemas became a mainstream practice in the 1700s, treating many common ailments such as headaches, respiratory illnesses, and the resuscitation of drowning victims. The practice was thought to provide two essential elements: warming the person’s body and stimulating respiration. Richard Mead was the first known Westerner to suggest tobacco smoke enemas as an effective treatment for resuscitation in 1745.

Smoke enemas used in resuscitation became such a common practice, the enema kits were found alongside waterways, similar to the availability of today’s defibrillator. By 1774, Doctors William Hawes and Thomas Cogan, founders of The Institution for Affording Immediate Relief to Persons Apparently Dead From Drowning, published a rhyme to help the public successfully perform the procedure:

Tobacco glyster, breathe and bleed.
Keep warm and rub till you succeed.
And spare no pains for what you do;
May one day be repaid to you.

The kits comprised of a tube, a fumigator, and bellows. The tube connected to the fumigator and bellows while the other end of the tube was inserted into the victim. Compressed smoke was then forced into the rectum. However, the aid of bellows was not always available, and other less sophisticated methods were used. One documented case in 1746 came from the resuscitation of a man’s wife who was revived by using a tobacco pipe. The stem was shoved into his wife’s rectum while he covered the other end of the pipe with his mouth and blew.

There were repercussions of using objects other than a tube a bellows. Those who used pipes would regularly be faced with the respiration of fecal matter, further exacerbating health concerns of the age. Infectious diseases, particularly cholera, were rampant during the Victorian Era.