Henry Larratt,1781

"Henry Larratt — trainee surgeon of the 18th Century — part two
Surgeon's dresser, 1781"

by

Eunice Shanahan

"Henry Larratt, Surgeon's dresser, 1781"

This continues from my article about this man, in a previous edition of Stamp News Australasia. These two letters follow on, and give an amazing picture of life for a single man training to be a doctor in London at that time.
The first is also addressed to his father, "For Mr Larratt Surgeon Uppingham Rutland" It has two postal markings, (Fig.1)

address panel

(Fig.1) click here for larger image
The first a circular Bishop Mark 18mm diameter, showing the date 16 over JA, which is the date on the inside of the letter. This was the first type of British postmark and it was introduced in 1661, at the London Chief Office, when Henry Bishop was Postmaster General (June 1660 to April 1663.)

To counteract charges of delays in the post, he published the announcement of the "Bishop Mark" in the Mercurius Publicus:- "A stamp is invented, that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the moneth that every letter comes to this office, so that no letter Carryer may dare to detayne a letter from post to post ; which, before, was usual."

The Bishop Marks varied in size and in lettering, and they remained in general use until 1787 with survivals into 1788.

The second is a manuscript charge mark of '4' signifying four pence. This is inexplicable as the other three letters are charged '3' — the rate at that time for a distance of under 80 miles from London. However the rate was 4d for a single page letter, going over 80 miles and Uppingham is listed as 89 miles from London by Alan Robertson, based on the John Cary measurements of 1802.

So now to the letter, which contains information which will interest his father, who is a surgeon in his home town.


"London Jan 16th
Dear Father
I can with pleasure inform you that I have spent an Evening or two with Mr Blyth & by him received a very agreeable present. It really came in good time. I am now dresser to Mr Martin to whom I paid, including the money before, 40 guineas. It is to be sure a great deal of money but I never Paid Money with greater pleasure."
(Fig.2)

part of letter

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(Note: although the date has no year, I have confirmed that it was written in 1781 as the records held by Kings College Library archives show that :-
"Henry Larratt first enrolled in St Thomas's Hospital Medical School as a 'Surgeon's Pupil' for a period of 6 months on 13 November 1780. On 13th January 1781, Henry switched to become a [Surgeon's] dresser to Mr George Martin, still for a period of 6 months.")

"Yesterday for the first Time I put on my apron, Sleeves &c & have now taken the Post Dresser's Patients which are 29 or 30 in Number but my taking in Week will be in about 3 weeks when I suppose I shall have a great number of Patients & the dresser that takes in that week, takes care of all Fractures that happen in his week. I shall now be very full of Business."
(Note: at that time, the students had to 'walk the wards', learning the latest medical techniques from their tutors — in this case the surgeon George Martin — to prepare for the exams of the College of Physicians, College of Surgeons or Apothecaries Hall. Students would have taken their College of Surgeons or College of Physician examinations around June. Henry had already done six months as a pupil. This does not sound very long when compared with present-day standards.)

"I shall write again very soon when will inform you further of my proceedings, the next letter will be to thank a certain Person for that I received from Mr. Blyth: I am very glad to hear by Mr Blyth by a Letter which he has received that Mr Nevison is better
I must conclude with best Respects to my Mother, Miss Fox, Mr Nevison & all Friends Your Affectionate son
Henry Larratt.
Pray let me hear from some of you soon — don't fail writing — tell Mr N -Mr. Blyth would be glad if you would acquaint Mrs French he has received twenty pounds."
Then on the back of the letter he has included this sentence:

"Old Cave has given up the business to his sons, he could not go on with it any longer"

That is very frustrating, as I do not know if Mr Cave is in London or what the 'business' is that he has given up. I would think it would have to be London, and possibly something to do with the medical profession, perhaps he was an apothecary.


The last letter is dated Jan 31, and has an 18mm circular Bishop Mark of 1 over FE, showing that it was put into the post the day after it was written — in 1781 the 31st was a Wednesday and 1st Feb was a Thursday. It also has a '3' charge mark, and a Receiver's mark of 'J' in a circle. (Fig.3)

Receiver's mark
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(Note: There is no record of this in Willcocks & Jay London catalogue, although there are a few possibilities in the list of London General Post Office receivers in 1780-81 :-John Jackson of King Street, Soho; Thomas Jones of Theobolds Row; Richard Jones at The Temple; Robert Jenkins of Jermyn Street, and John and Sarah Jenkinson of Charles Street, Soho. I have not been able to nail it to any of these five Receivers.)

The letter begins with questions about life in Uppingham, showing how men of leisure spent their time in the country.

"London Jan 31
Dear Father
In your last Letter it gave me great pleasure to hear Mr N. was quite stout again, hope he will continue in that state & be able to give me an Account how & what sport he has had in shooting and Coursing &c, & whether he thinks dutchess will be able to see what way a Greyhound goes; please to remind him he is a Letter in my debt, shall be glad to have the Pleasure of perusing a line or two from him soon." He then goes on to give a description of an evening's entertainment which the trainee surgeons had with one of their tutors.

"I must now give you a short account of our evening Entertainment Last Monday — a Motion being made to subscribe 2=6 each to have a supper & to ask Mr Sheldon to it — having finished his first Anatomical Winter Lecture was agreed on (nem. con) 49 subscribd amounting to the sum of 7=15=0"

(Note: his sums are wrong as 2=6 is a half crown, and there are 8 half crowns to a pound so 49 half crowns comes to 6.2.6.)

According to the Kings College London Archives, the Mr Sheldon mentioned was John Sheldon: 1752-1808; who ran a private anatomical school in Great Queen Street, London, 1777-1788; Professor of Anatomy to the Royal Academy, 1782; Fellow of the Royal Society, 1784; surgeon to Westminster Hospital, 1786; and surprisingly, reputed to be the first Englishman to make a balloon ascent. It seems many of these lectures would have taken the form of Dissection on display for the public which led to stories of the more gruesome aspects such as corpse theft!

Henry then continues to describe the supper that they enjoyed, and the spelling is not standard — Turberts for Turbots, Soals, for Soles, and the amount of food and drink they consumed is just amazing.

"We ordered a Supper at the Free Masons Tavern Gt Queens St as Elegant a one as could be for that Money — It consisted of almost Everything in the Light Way — 3 Turberts Salmon & Soals, Fowls, Wild Ducks, Turkey boiled & roast & all kinds of Light Things & I can assure you Miss Fox would have been highly entertained at the sight of the Ladys Trifles which was grand indeed — but First Order after supper was partly over 2 doz of Port 2 doz of Maderia & a Doz of Rum & Brandy with Fruit of all sorts."
(Fig.4 )

part of letter

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He then went on to explain how they toasted their Surgeon by filling 'Bumpers', which are drinking glasses, how long it continued, and how much it all cost.

"We had an Excellent President in the Chair at Top and a very good Vice President at the Bottom. As soon as the Cloth could be taken away we had orders from the President to fill Bumpers — - (Success to Sheldon;) After which Mr Sheldon rose & in a very Polite speech addressed us nearly as follows —

"Gentlen. the very high honour you have done me in entreating me to meet you at the Free Masons Tavern this Evening; gives me a great pleasure in the satisfaction of thinking that you all entertain that opinion of my having done my Duty as I am Confident in my own mind I have & ever will to My students who do me the Honour of attending my Lectures."

Our Company all parted at half after Six in the Morning very happy.
The Bill amounted to 21 pounds 7 shillings so with the addition of about 4=6 or 5 sh finished the whole Expence" (these figures are incorrect too!)

The next paragraph is about his medical situation and explaining to his father how he is going to carry out his duties. The first part of the sentence does not lead me to have much confidence in the work done by the surgeons — particularly if they have had a good celebration the previous night!

"We have plenty of Butchering Business going Forwards here — Next Thursday 3 weeks is my taking in week, when I suppose shall be very much taken up because the Method of proceeding here is one of the Surgeons takes in fresh patients Every Thursday and one of his dressers has the Care of all the patients his Surgeon takes that week. Likewise the Management of accidents as come in from Thursday to Thursday."
(Fig.5)

another part of letter

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This is such a great description of how the hospitals functioned more than 200 years ago. He then returns to home news, with yet another request for them to write to him.

"We have no news here worth sending of any kind whatever so shall be glad to hear some from Rutland as I expect a great deal & that soon from My friend Mr. N
I am Dr Father you Affectionate Son Henry Larratt
Best Respects await on you all — Will in a small space of time do myself the Pleasure of writing a line or two to Miss Fox.
Pray let me hear of you soon."

So that is the last of the letters, and I have given copies of them to the Rutland Shire Archivist, and the Kings College Library in London, for their records. Emily Barwell from Rutland found much information about the people mentioned in the letters, including the fact that Henry obviously returned to Uppingham after his training in London, as the local trades directory shows him as an apothecary. He was also a Churchwarden, and had a bastardy case brought against him. His father died about 6 years after these letters were written.

Emily's comment on receiving her copies was this:- "To be honest, I'm amazed we've managed to glean this much information about him, I don't think it is usual to be able to get so much about an 'ordinary' citizen from relatively few sources so we've been extremely lucky with this one. It been an absolutely fascinating bit of research for me — I don't usually get to see things so in depth and with original (and new) sources too, so it's been a eye-opener for me — I'm going to have to make up a special folder for him. Thank you as well for sending the photocopies, I just got them in my in-tray this morning, it's brilliant to see them in the original handwriting."

That of course is part of the fascination of collecting postal history.

Acknowledgements : British County Catalogue London, Willcocks and Jay
Rutland Shire Archivist — Extended Services Librarian
'St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, King's College Archives, King's College London'
"Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839" Alan W Robertson.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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