I recently attended a conference where a paper was given on the idea of the Victorian Water Cure and discovered the below illustrations. In the Victorian era, water became a big concern when it came to health. This was especially true at the mid-century when the cause of cholera (i.e. diseased water) was discovered and as sanitation improved (the Great Stink of 1858 was enough to make anyone desire clean water).
Air pollution and the toxicity of dyes in fashionable wallpaper and cloth also lead to the mistaken assumption that sea air was just better for people, when in reality they were just getting away from an unhealthy environment for a while and perhaps bathing more frequently.
Whatever the myriad reasons, Victorians were obsessed with the purity of water and a great deal of their health fads and beauty regimes and spa treatments revolved around it. Much like today, some of these treatments were more akin to torture and seemed ridiculous to contemporaries.
Enter illustrator Thomas Onwhyn. At some point in the late 1850s or early 1860s (if someone has a more specific date, please let me know–I’ve seen 1858 and 1860 both listed), he gave us a very clear idea of what he thought about the “water cure” with his production of 12 illustrations entitled Pleasures Of The Water Cure: By A Patient Who Has Been Well Drench’d And Wrench’d And Restored To Health. They are as follows:
Image 1: “First morning at Water Cure. Bathman brings the Wetsheet. ‘But I am sure I shall get my death of cold.'”
Image 2: “Sitz [?] Bath & Wet sheet. 6 o’clock winter’s morn! ‘This is delightful. ‘Very!””
Image 3: “THE ASCENDING DOUCHE. Now, Sir, please to take a seat here.”
I cannot stop laughing at that one. “The ascending douche.” Give me a moment to collect myself.
Image 4: “THE FOOT BATH. Doing penance in the Stocks for past transgressions.”
Image 5: “Costume of the Establishment. ‘Doing Penance’ in the Wet Sheet”.
Image 6: “Preparing for the packing. ‘Why my nearest and dearest friends wouldn’t know me. I’m a perfect mummy.'”
Image 7: “THE RAIN BATH. ‘You must be shut in for 15 minutes, Sir.'”
Image 8: “The Douche. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!!!!!!!!!!”
In fairness, a douche was just when something sprayed water on you, including showers and bidets and (possibly?) taps. It didn’t necessarily have the same vaginal connotations that it does today.
Image 9: “THE PACKING. ‘Now this is what I call being jolly.”
Image 10: “THE PACKING. ‘Don’t I look very like a Mummy.”
Image 11: “The Shallow Bath. ‘Ah! this and the water can is the best Doctor after all.'”
Image 12: “A patient at the Water Cure, getting drench’d, wrench’d, and restored to health.”
I don’t know about you guys, but I read every one of these picture titles in the voice of the Monty Python chapter title reader.