Tales From The Dark Side III: Mr Birch's Electrical Laboratory at The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret

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Electrical medical treatment has been applied since ancient times, a live electric fish or eel would have been applied to the body as a Tens machine is today. However, when Benjamin Franklin in 1746 radically theorised that 'electrical fluids' could be captured from the sky and redirected for use, a bright new science was born. The application of the 'electrical fluid' as electro-therapy was quickly taken up and applied by practitioners within the London Hospitals and by the late eighteenth century Mr John Birch of St Thomas' Hospital was actively and carefully applying the newly found healing energy to ease patients' physical complaints. The fascinating dynamic powers of electricity were being simultaneously illustrated by Galvani and Volta who dramatically sought to explain and demonstrate its effects on both live and dead bodies. The potential life giving power of electrical re-animation of the dead was set at the heart of Mary Shelly's novel Frankenstein and perhaps some of the more experimental visualisations led to the too early end of the successful physical applications of electrical fluids as used within Mr Birch's Electrical Laboratory. Set within the context of the 'new age' of electrical discoveries, the lecture will introduce Mr Birch's 'electrical table' and the therapeutic methods he used to overcome great suffering, as seen via his Hospital patients' case histories. Via these newly found papers, we can see how Mr Birch's practice drew to the Hospital many otherwise thought to be 'incurable' patients, how he attracted referrals of the more famous practitioners such as John Hunter and how this work even inspired art works to be made. Join Karen Howell, Senior Curator at the Old Operating Theatre Museum, for the third and final talk of Tales from the Dark Side Series. Doors will open at 6:30 PM. *Access: The Museum is only accessible through a 52-step spiral staircase.

Venue Details & Map

Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret

9A St Thomas' Street
+44 (0)20 7188 2679
Public transport:
Turn right when leaving the station. From the bus station follow the sign to the footbridge. Look to the right to see the red brick tower with green line around the top.

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