The tale of John Hodson of Warboys and his miraculous cure

While I was researching the origins of Warboys vineyard in South Australia, using TROVE the online South Australian newspaper archive, I chanced across what was described as an advertisement. It concerned John Hodson of Warboys and how he recovered from a severe illness.
Since then I have uncovered many such advertisements in the press around 1890. From these advertisements, census records and other online records (army, London Gazette etc) I have pieced together the tale which was quite detailed and matched the official records.
John Hodson was born about 1853 to James and Elizabeth Hodson who were living in Bencroft. James was listed as a shepherd, and had three daughters and three sons by 1861. John was working as a navvy for the railway contractors Lucas Aird and Sons in 1876, where he stayed for 7 years.
In 1883 he enlisted as Private John Hodson 429 of Her Majesty’s 51st Regiment (1st Batallion Kings Own Light Infantry) and went to India arriving at Christmas. He then left India on October 6th 1885. and then with the Burmah Expedition for 18 months. He was in Upper Burmah at Mandalay on 29th November 1885 when the young King Theebaw surrendered to Sir Harry Prendergast. King Theebaw recorded his “cordial recognition of the admirable manner in which LieutenantGeneral Sir HND Prendergast and the troops under his orders carried out the task set before them”
John Hodson says in his statement that when he reached Shorebo (Shwebo about 50 miles North East of Mandalay) he began to feel unwell. In his words

“I had a sinking sensation at the pit of the stomach, and was so drowsy I could scarcely hold my head up. I had pain in my right side and under the shoulder blades, lost my spirits, and took a gloomy view of everything. I could neither eat nor sleep. I lay in bed awake night after night. My liver was perfectly torpid, skin and eyes yellow (common in Europeans in India), tongue badly coated, heart irregular, no appetite, cold extremities, sickness, vomiting, and an incessant diarrhoea.” He lay in bed like this for four months in 1887. He said “In the hospital I was treated by the regimental physician, and was visited by the Regimental
Doctor and Dr. Bell, of the Indian Government, who said I was suffering from dysentery. I became so weak I could hardly stand and passed nothing but slime from the bowels. No treatment availed to stop the diarrhoea.”

He was sent home, arriving at Gosport in December 1888. A report in The Stage of September 5th 1890 is as follows

“One day in December 1888 a British Transport vessel arrived at Gosport. Only a brief look was needed to assure the spectator that she had made the long voyage from India. There were soldiers on board:; some on leave of absence to visit home, and others so worn and wasted that it was plain to see why they had come back from the East to the dear old island. Of these poor fellows a few were able to go on to their friends while others were just strong enough to bear the journey to the Navy Yard Hospital.”

John Hodson was one of those poor fellows and the article commented that it was a wonder that he had lived to reach the port. He stayed in the Hospital until February 1889 when he was discharged as incurable and placed in the Army Reserve.
He returned to Warboys, and feeling a little better tried to work, but soon had to give up. He had become so thin that people who had known him for years did not recognise him. His friends and mates said to him 

‘’Hodson, you needn’t trouble to buy any more clothes to wear in this world. The next suit you’ll want will be made of wood”.

Still he ate something but it gave him no strength. After eating he was often obliged to leave the table hurriedly, so severe were the griping, gnawing pains that seized him. 

He went to the doctor in Warboys (from census records possibly Joseph Dixon or later Joseph Martin) who gave him some medicine, which had no effect. He then went to Mr. Arthur Nichols, the Chemist, of Warboys (who in 1890 had gone to Croydon), who said to him,

“You had better try Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup.”

He got a bottle and took it, but it seemed to have no effect. Mr. Nichols then said,

“Try it again; I have such confidence in it that I will give you the second bottle free of charge.”

He did so, and before he had taken half of the second bottle he began to feel better. He got a third bottle and before he had finished it he had so much improved that he asked to go back to my work. But he was afraid, and said,

“No, wait until I have used three bottles more ; for this wonderful medicine is doing what nothing else in India or England has been able to do — it was healing me from the very depths where I was ill and dying.”

The fifth bottle was gone at last and he presented himself to the astonished people of Warboys as robust, strong, and well as ever he was in all his life, and as fit as he was when he joined the army. He returned, to his work, and his comrades looked upon him us one risen from the dead. What has done this for you they asked with wondering eyes

“ I owe my life and health to Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup, and I am willing all the world should hear me say so. I have never lost an hour’s work since”.

Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup did exist, and was the largest worldwide selling medicinal preparation in the last quarter of the 19th century. It is on a par with Lydia Pinkham’s vegetable compound marketed around the same time. It is the remembered in the song in 1968 by the Scaffold “Drink a drink to Lily the Pink, the inventor of a medicinal compound, the saviour of the human race”
Andrew Judson White, a proprietary medicine maker in New York City, had invented Mother Seigel. He said he had journeyed to Berlin and met with Mother Seigel who told him of how she fell ill, and when wandering in her garden chewed on a plant which her children thought poisonous.
She became better and then collected some more of the plant to make the syrup. He said she allowed him to take the recipe, make the preparation and sell it. 

In 1875 the Shakers of Mt. Lebanon, NY joined in a business deal with Andrew Judson White. White agreed to buy all his botanical ingredients from the Mt. Lebanon community in exchange for a loan to revitalize his business. White was then able to capitalize on the Shaker reputation for high quality, pure drugs, and so distance his products from some of the shadier aspects of the “patent” medicine business. His earlier product, Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup, was renamed Shaker Extract of Roots and became one of the company’s most popular medicines. A. J. White’s company survived until 1957, when it was bought by Smith, Kline & French Laboratories who sold off the proprietary rights to Mother Seigel’s Syrup.

The tale was widely reported in the national and international press of 1890, mostly as an advertisement, often with the headline “He came home to die”, or “Struck down in Burma”. 

• Bucks Herald, Yorkshire Gazette, Gloucester Journal, Cheltenham Chronicle, Essex Newsman, Dover Express, Northampton Mercury, Stamford Mercury, Westmoreland Gazette, Leicester Daily Mercury, Framlingham Weekly News, Exeter Flying Post, Derby Mercury, Banbury Advertiser, Royal Cornwall Gazette, Isle of Man Times, Leeds Times and many others.

Later in 1894 there were many tales of the curative effect including one from Sarah Mason of Ramsey Heights who bought a bottle from Palmer and Sons the chemist in Ramsey. This was reported in the Yorkshire Gazette of 3rd February 1894. She said 

“I was always healthy up to May 1884 when I had an attack of gastric fever which left me low and feeble. I had a bad taste in my mouth and after eating I had a great pain at my back and between the shoulder blades and a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach. As I grew weaker I was confined to bed. Over a year a doctor gave several medicines none of which helped. At the end of the year he said there was nothing more he could do and recommended a change of air. I despaired of ever getting better when a book was sent to me with statements of how people were made well with Mother Seigels Curative Syrup, including the tale of John Hodson. I got a bottle from Palmer and Sons, chemists, in Ramsey and after a week I felt relief and have not looked back since.”

The article concludes
And it is all the more a subject of rejoicing that this remedy conquers indigestion and dyspepsia, because that complaint is one which clouds the sun for millions on life’s hard road.

In September 1902 The Mercury, Hobart had an article. 

Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup is one that restores tone and efficiency to the stomach, liver, and kidneys impaired through worry, overwork, climatic changes, unhealthy atmosphere in factory or office, disease or any other cause. It promotes the thorough digestion and assimilation of food, which are the foundation of good health. Such a tonic is Mother Selgel’s Curative Syrup.
Mr. Alex. Cochrane, Eva street, Tooranga. Victoria, in a letter describing how he had for five years suffered from acute Indigestion and been completely cured by Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup, says: “Though it is l8 months since I took the last dose, I feel better and stronger than ever I did in my life before.” Such is the power of Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup.
While this tale originated as an advertisement, all the characters and timings in the tale can be verified. From the census returns Arthur Nichols was the chemist in Warboys in 1881, and was in Croydon in 1891. Sarah Mason was in the census of Ramsey Heights in 1881 and 1891. John Hodson was on the Warboys census for 1861. John Hodson is listed in the army records of the Regiment which went to India and Burma, and is also listed as being discharged and put on the army reserve. His later life is unclear.

Brian Lake
Warboys Local History Society 2021

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