Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Whale well

A strange local custom grew up in 19th c. Australia which is documented in a special exhibit on whales at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Strangely enough, it is said to have started with a drunk man stumbling into the carcass of a whale in the southern whaling town of Eden. When he sobered up and emerged, he no longer suffered from rheumatism. Soon, others demanded the "cure" for their own aches and pains and the head of one of them is shown peeking out a hole in the middle of the whale in the photo above. The incident and the practice that arose were reported in an 1896 addition of the Pall Mall Gazette: "The whalers dig a sort of narrow grave in the body and in this the patient lies for two hours, as in a Turkish bath, the decomposing blubber of the whale closing round his body, and acting as a huge poultice." It was believed that the heat and gases created by putrefaction created a pain-relieving environment, and that the longer one stayed in the whale the longer the cure would last. But the unlikely folk remedy doesn't seem to have spread too far. Curator Michelle Linder offers, "I don't know there was scientific evidence per se but there was hearsay at the time that they felt better after being in the whale. It was done elsewhere but I don't think it was a really popular thing to do. It would have been an isolated thing to do.''

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