The Expulsion of “Lewis”

During fall of 1848, a practitioner imposed himself upon the inhabitants of Newcastle-on-Tyne, announcing himself as “Mr. Yearsley” and distributing posting-bills around the area. Sporting a mustache on the upper lip and an imperial on the nether lip, and a cherished crop and carefully-nourished tuft of hair, he strutted himself peddling his wares. Urging the inhabitants to make use of his services on “all diseases of the ear,” he assumed authorship of numerous books that were favorably reviewed in popular periodicals and boasted of his successes in relieving maladies of the ear. He loudly and widely proclaimed himself as “the curer of deafness.”

“A quack doctor selling his remedies on the streets of London – despite objections.” Wood engraving by E.L. Sambourne, 1893.

Charles Robert Larkin, a respectable surgeon of Newcastle, wondered about the individual. Upon investigating, he realized the man was supposedly called “Lewis,” hailed from London, and made a fraudulent living impersonating the aural surgeon James Yearsley. Revealing the quack, Larkin and the Mayor of Newcastle–and probably a few other angry men and women–drove “Lewis” out of town. Further, Larkin printed 300 large bills and placarded them wherever the advertising bills were posted around Newcastle, announcing the truth of the impudent impostor. Similar bills were placarded in North and South Shields; Larkin was about to send a man to Sunderland to post more bills, until he was told the impostor had fled. To convey the message even further, Larkin employed a man to wear a placard revealing the fraud, and paraded him before the “villain’s door.”

James Yearsley received word of these events from Larkin’s letters. Writing to the Mayor of Newscastle about the situation, Yearsley asked whether the Mayor had any means of redress, to which the Mayor replied: “We have no by-law to punish the party, and the only remedy you have is to indict him, and bring and action for damages.” But alas, the impostor had fled, no doubt to Larkin’s vigorous exertions of exposure.

Yearsley might have salvaged his reputation, but the lack of public spirit captured by the local press did not sit right with Larkin, who wrote to the editor of The Lancet (9 Dec 1848):

“In this affair, nothing could exceed the injustice of the newspapers. They refused to notice Mr. Yearsley’s letter of remonstrance; would insert nothing but as a charged advertisement; and though the imposture had been made notorious to the whole neighborhood, yet, out of mingled mercenary motives, and mean submission to the quacks, they have not made the slightest allusion to the affair. Na, they positively refused to insert either Mr. Yearsley’s caution, or my notice to the public, without such a mitigation of the language as would have taken away all the point and emphasis of both productions, and without a deposit of £40 as a security against any legal expenses that they might be exposed to, should at any time this miserable quack and impostor institute an action against them…The papers which refused my application were the Newcastle Courant and the Newcastle Chronicle.”

Latest Comments

  1. H Stiles (@HStiles1) says:

    Reminds me of the MMR ‘scare’ that some newspapers used to deter people from having their children vaccinated…


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