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Pewter syringe

Date: 18th Century
Overall: 127 (closed) x 25 x 25 mm, 79.84 g
Medium: Pewter
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Syringe
Object No: 00046918

User Terms

    Syringes such as this small pewter example were used to treat sexually transmitted diseases such as Gonorrhea during the 18th century. Mercury was commonly used, administered as a pill, oitment or injection - giving rise to the saying - "A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury".
    SignificanceThe health of sailors had a direct impact on the efficient handling of ships and was an important consideration, particularly during long voyages of exploration. While this pewter syringe is particularly associated with sexually transmitted disease, it is representative of an evolution of health at sea through greater understanding of the importance of diet, exercise, hygiene and the general development of better treatments for debilitating diseases.
    HistoryHistorically, gonorrhea and syphilis were long understood to be associated with sexual transmission and a common form of treatment involved urethral irrigation using injections of various astringent solutions. In the 18th century, seamen who complained of 'scalding pain when making water' were often injected with solutions of mercury. During the 19th century when the dangers of mercury were better understood, zinc was used. This in turn gave way to arsenic treatment in the early 20th century until the introduction of antibiotics during the Second World War.

    Until 1805 sailors in the Royal Navy were charged 15 shillings for venereal treatments with the result that many infected men attempted to avoid treatment - relying instead on various cheap 'quack' treatments available on shore.

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