Scotney Castle’s hidden collection can often bring to light many unusual objects. In particular, an item that we have on display as part of our winter exhibition is one that can make some visitors squirm. At first glance, its sparkling brass exterior could suggest its use as a flask or even a small fire extinguisher. Upon closer inspection, this rather peculiar item, is in fact an enema.
The word ‘enema’ derives from the seventeenth-century Greek word ‘I inject’ and has been used throughout the centuries. Less sophisticated versions of the modern enema were made of a simple pig’s bladder. The liquid would have been squeezed out of the pig’s bladder and through a short tube. King Henry VIII often had this form of enema administered by the Groom of the Stool (a seemingly unenviable position by modern standards, but a highly desirable status in the Tudor Court).
Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin (Groom of the Stool to George II)
Ancient Egyptians regularly used the practice of enemas, believing it to be beneficial for the body. A typical doctor in ancient Egyptian times would have specialised in one area of the body, such as the eyes or mouth. The Pharaoh would have consulted many different doctors and one that would have been particularly important was the ‘Keeper of the Royal Rectum’. The creation of the enema in Ancient Egyptian times was accredited to the God of Thoth, who was also believed to be the founder of science, philosophy, magic and religion. The Ancient Egyptian ‘Herodotus’ wrote that people ‘purge[d] themselves, for their health’s sake with emetics and clysters’ and the process seems to be one that was widely practised.
Rather bizarrely, tobacco enemas were used during the 17th and 18th centuries and were referred to as ‘resuscitation kits’. It was believed that through the act of insufflation, a person who had drowned could be resuscitated back to life. It was believed that the heat provided by the tobacco smoke would warm the patient up and restore them back to full health. Dotted along the edge of the Thames were such kits (provided by the Royal Humane Society) ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
A sketch of a tobacco enema (taken apart)
Indeed, the strange case of Anne Green suggests that the tobacco enema could be used for other reasons. In 1651 Anne was condemned to hang having been found guilty of infanticide and hiding the body in her employer’s house. She was hung and given over to two doctors, Thomas Willis and William Petty for dissection. They found her still alive and used a variety of techniques to revive her, including a heated ‘odoriferous clyster to give her warmth to her bowels’. According to contemporary accounts she survived the ordeal and went on to bear three children. Many would have heard or read the story pertaining to Anne Green, due to its widespread circulation in pamphlets, and it is interesting to see the mention of an ‘odorierous clyster’ as a means of reviving someone back to life.
In the eighteenth century the use of enemas was still prominent, albeit sometimes with negative connotations. A theatre production of The Golden Rump (a farcical play about the Royal family) scandalously suggested that the Queen Caroline administered enemas to the King George II. The ludicrous nature of the play prompted the Licensing Act of 1737, implemented by the Prime Minister of the time, Robert Walpole, which censored plays that were deemed too shocking.
Author of Common Sense, The Festival of the Golden Rump (Published by Act of Parliament, 1737)
The central character in this satirical depiction of The Golden Rump is meant to be George II. To the right of him is Queen Caroline, who appears to be injecting ‘a Golden Tube… with a large Bladder at the End, resembling a common Clyster-Pipe’ into the Pagod’s Rump, ‘to comfort his Bowels, and to appease the Idol, when he lifted up his cloven Foot to correct his Domesticks’. The concoction administered by Queen Caroline was an enema of “Aurum potabile” (a flavoured brandy) and the depiction is one that is not kind. The curtain which is draped in the foreground of the etching is further embellished with golden rumps, adding to the grotesque and outlandish nature of the act.
Although no manuscripts survive of the play today, the contents of the play were widely known and was extremely damaging to the reputation of the Royal family.
The Victorian enema that we have on display in our current winter exhibition is a glistening example of an expensive and flamboyant enema that could be used in the comfort of your own home. It was made by the London Company Philip and Whicker and is described as a pneumatic safety enema. It has various nozzles, most likely made of ivory that can be taken apart from the main machine. It is in good condition and has a paper patent tucked away in the box.
Scotney Castle’s Victorian enema, complete with paper patent
Below is a domestic enema made between 1831 – 35 in London by a medical supplier called ‘Maw’. It was named ‘Maw’s Domestic Medical Machine’ as a polite alternative to the term enema and is made from wood with an ivory tip. Scotney Castle’s enema also has an ivory nozzle, but the main machine was made of brass rather than wood. Both are very different in designs, but which were fashionable during the 19th century as it was believed to rejuvenate the body and increase sexual potency.
‘Maw’s Domestic Medical Machine’ (19th century)
In the nineteenth century many affluent people used self-administered enemas, but the habit could also prove to be detrimental to a person’s health. Although enemas have clear health benefits, if administered incorrectly or too frequently, the side effects can result in internal bleeding or exposure to intestinal bacteria.
Although enemas are a topic not for the faint-hearted, they have a fascinating history and are an insight the quirky fashions of the upper classes.
 WordPress, ‘Daily Life in Ancient Egypt’ (2015) http://uncouthreflections.com/2014/03/16/daily-life-in-ancient-egypt/
 T. Hughes, ‘Miraculous Deliverance Of Anne Green: An Oxford Case Of Resuscitation In The Seventeenth Century’, British Medical Journal (1982) p.1783
 P. Thomson, ‘Magna Farta: Walpole and the Golden Rump’, Keith Cameron (ed), Humour and History. Oxford: Intellect (1993) p.125-6