A Cure for Dypsomania – and a Victorian Poisoning

On last week’s BBC TV series, A House Through Time, David Olusoga and his team revealed that one of the Edwardian inhabitants of 10 Guinea Street, Bristol, had been involved in underhand medicinal practices, including dealing in supposed ‘cures’ for unwanted pregnancies.  Through placing a series of advertisements in the press (for ‘female remedies’), and using the pseudonym ‘Mrs Watson’, one James Stewart carried out his dubious business in plain sight.

Such ‘cures’ for various medical conditions were a staple of the Victorian press.  For example, throughout the 1870s, in newspapers throughout the country, a series of identical advertisements appeared.  They promoted a cure for dypsomania, now more commonly known as alcoholism.  For 4s. 6d, a packet of ‘Dr Heyman’s Remedy’ would be sent to the lucky recipient for a cure ‘more efficacious than signing the pledge or attending temperance lectures.’

CaptureManchester Times, 18 March 1876 (www.findmypast.co.uk)

Upon further investigation, like Mrs Watson four decades later, Dr Heyman was not Dr Heyman at all, but rather the Paris-born Dr Gustave Ponsford de Raymond.  In 1875, de Raymond was living with his wife, Lydia, at Beenland House, Tor Square, Torquay.  It appears that a cure for dypsomania was not de Raymond’s only speciality, as an advertisement in the East and South Devon Advertiser from 1876 shows that he claimed to be a ‘skilful dentist and oculist’.  He certainly branched out, as in 1854 he had a surgery in Hill Street, Poole, specialising in dentistry only.[1]

This provincial dentist/oculist/chemist also involved himself in one of the most celebrated poisoning cases of the Victorian era.  In 1876, a London lawyer, Charles Bravo, was fatally poisoned at his home in Balham.  It was concluded that Bravo had been poisoned with antimony but no one was ever charged with his death.  However, a reward of £500 was offered to anyone who could prove how Bravo had come by the poison.  It is here that de Raymond emerges on the scene, as he claimed, a month after the reward was posted, that he had supplied the antimony to Bravo.  The lawyer, it was reported, had purchased six packets of de Raymond’s ‘cure for dypsomania’ for the sum of twenty-seven shillings.  De Raymond made up the powders himself, which he admitted contained antimony.[2]

The reporting of de Raymond’s supposed involvement is curious, as these events only came to light in the early months of 1879 and it is not apparent whether de Raymond did indeed supply the powders, or whether he received the reward.  Considering his various business practices, it is tempting to believe that de Raymond had an eye for the main chance and may have been inclined to ‘bend’ the truth.


Charles Bravo (public domain)

De Raymond’s foray into curing dypsomania appears to have ended by the close of the decade.  By 1881, he had moved to an address in Tavistock and ‘Dr Heyman’s Remedy’ no longer appeared in the pages of the Victorian press.



[1] Poole and Dorset Herald, 30 March 1854 (www.findmypast.co.uk).

[2] Birmingham Daily Post, 27 January 1879 (www.findmypast.co.uk)

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