John St. John Long: A Most Remarkable Quack

John St. John Long was the second son of a basket maker named John Long. A year before Eliza de Feuillide married Jane Austen‘s brother Henry, Long was born. It happened in 1798 in Newcastle, a town in west Limerick county in Ireland. Long would have pursued his father’s trade but he showed an inclination towards art and ended up attending design school in Dublin. In 1822, he moved to London where he soon exchanged art for medicine. He then developed various methods to treat consumption, gout, pulmonary diseases, rheumatism, debility, swelling of the glands, and other complaints. By 1827, he had a thriving and lucrative practice on Harley Street in Cavendish Square, but Long’s luck would not last.

John St. John Long

John St. John Long. Courtesy of the British Museum.

In August of 1830, Lady Cashin and her two daughters — Catherine and Ellen — arrived in London. Ellen needed medical attention for consumption, and because Lady Cashin had heard great things about John St. John Long, she sought him out believing he could cure her daughter. Unfortunately, Long told her it was hopeless. “A desponding [sic] apprehension seized upon [Lady Cashin’s] mind, that her eldest daughter [Catherine], a woman of twenty-four years old, might also be attacked with this dreadful disorder.”[1] So, Long played upon Lady Cashin’s fears suggesting the following treatment: “in cases of internal disease, it was proposed, by creating an external wound and a discharge, to carry off the malady.”[2]

Using secretive means, Long produced a wound in the healthy 24-year-old Catherine. Daily her wound increased until it was so large and so vile looking, a neighbor of Cashin’s became worried. The neighbor spoke to Long. He “humanely urged that danger might arise from symptoms which appeared so violent; but … [John St. John Long] laughed at her apprehension, declared that the wound was going on remarkably well, and that he would give a hundred guineas if he could produce similar favourable signs in some other of his patients.”[3] As the days passed, Catherine grew sicker and produced new and worse symptoms. Finally, a surgeon named Mr. Brodie was summoned, but, unfortunately, despite Brodie’s valiant attempts to reverse the situation, Catherine died.

Catherine’s death created a stir, and on the 21st of August a Coroner’s jury was summoned. The Cheltenham Chronicle reported:

“During the inquest held on the body of Miss Cashin, it came out in evidence that several persons, respectable from their rank and station in society, had been under the care of a Mr. St. John Long for the treatment of diseases, real or imaginary; that this Mr. Long was an illiterate person, a painter by trade, and had never received any medical education. All this appeared most extraordinary.”[4]

Numerous witnesses were examined, and some regaled the jury with the miraculous cures they had undergone at the hands of Long. However, “Mr. Brodie’s evidence was conclusive as to the cause of the death of the deceased … [and] Mr. Brodie added that he had no knowledge of the manner in which the wound had been produced.”[5] Brodie also testified that there was no doubt that the wound created by Long had been the cause of Catherine’s death and that he was at “loss to imagine how the production of such a wound could be supposed to have any effect in curing a patient of consumption, or in preventing such a disease.”[6]

After several days of testimony, at five o’clock in the evening, the jury retired to consider John St. John Long’s guilt. Three hours later they returned a verdict of “manslaughter” against Long.

“A buzz of approbation was heard in the room when the verdict was pronounced; and one or two persons cried out ‘Bravo!’ Others exclaimed, ‘Shame, shame!’ The coroner then asked if Mr. Long was present, and having been informed he was not, issued a warrant for his apprehension.”[7]

On October 30th Long surrendered and was placed on trial. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to Newgate, a prison where the London Burkers were hanged and where Elizabeth Ross was executed. Fortunately for Long death was not his punishment. His sentence was light: he paid a fine of 250l. before he was discharged.

After Long’s release, he was more popular than ever and he continued with his questionable treatments. He also began to attract new patients. New patients were often brought in by his old patients who claimed he was the reason they were cured. Long encouraged such claims and even deemed himself “qualified to cure all the bodily ailments to which the children of Adam are subject.”[8] Those who supported Long, maintained his remedies were amazing. Patients reported inhaling certain mysterious vapors from a large mahogany case, which resembled an upright piano, and many claimed the inhaled vapors worked miracles. Another amazing remedy was “a lotion or liniment endowed with the remarkable faculty of distinguishing between sound and unsound tissues.”[9]

On 10 November another malpractice charge of a similar nature was lodged against John St. John Long. This time it involved the death of a “Mrs. Colin Campbell Lloyd, aged, 48, the wife of Captain Edward Lloyd, of the royal navy, whose death was alleged to have been occasioned by the treatment she had experienced under the hands of Mr. St. John Long.”[10] Mrs. Lloyd inhaled something given to her by Long. The vapors eroded her tongue, mouth, and “fauces.” Additionally, something similar was rubbed on her chest. It caused a similar erosion where it was rubbed. After Long’s treatment she grew considerably weaker. Then she died on 8 November 1830. The jury once again charged Long with manslaughter, but when Long was tried at Old Bailey he was found “Not Guilty.”

John St. John Long

John St. John Long at his trial in 1831. Lithograph by J. Fahey, 1831. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even though John St. John Long was found “not guilty” critics claimed he was a “most remarkable quack.” In fact, a description of a quack and quack medicine appeared in an 1838 article that seemed to justify their claim and describe Long’s nefarious medical approach:

“Even if the art of medicine consisted of nothing but an abstract of registered results, every one must allow the fully and wickedness of attempting to practise without any knowledge of what has been done already; for the same mistake which would have been excusable in some patriarch of the medical art would be criminal in a practitioner of the present day. To take an obvious example: — Nothing could be more natural of the Egyptian priests, who first discovered the use of blisters, than to imagine that their utility would be in proportion to their size. It would soon, however, be discovered that a vary large blister was fatal as a wound in the heart of stomach, and that although a trifling wound is said proverbially to be only skin-deep, yet extent of surface makes up for want of depth. Hence the true empiric or practitioner taught by results soon learned to reduce his blisters to a narrow slip; while the modern empiric, or, in plain English, the untaught and unteachable quack continues to destroy life with his skin deep wounds, from wilful ignorance of all that has been done before.”[11]

Opponents of John St. John Long were upset about the “not guilty” verdict. This resulted in one critic writing a publication decrying and condemning Long’s lacking medicinal abilities. Long claimed the publication was libelous and sued the writer. He won his suit and obtained a verdict of 100l. in damages.

John St. John Long

Advertisement of several of Long’s malpractice cases. Author’s collection.

Supporters of Long were critical of the libelous publication. Some of his patients also claimed he was being persecuted and they wrote their own pamphlets trumpeting his miraculous medical skills and stating how he had “cured” them. An example of Long’s care was offered by the parent of a child who began receiving care on 25 January 1830:

“For the last two years abscessed have formed in different parts of the thigh, and remained open and discharging. The limb has been less painful, so as to admit of the use of crutches. It gradually shortened five or six inches; the hip considerable enlarged; the knee swelled, contracted, and very much turned in; the foot swelled, shortened, and turned in; the heel drawn up; the whole limb stiff, the several abscesses, all of them deep-seated and discharging offensive matter. … In the course of the months of February and March, under Mr. Long’s treatment, the hip was much reduced in size; the knee-swelling reduced, and restored to nearly its natural size and shape; the foot resumed its natural shape and position, the heel bearing to be pressed down; the discharged diminished, and no longer offensive; the limb lengthened and assuming a much more healthy and natural appearance. … the dislocation of the hip reduced, it having resumed its natural socket (admitting the knee in sitting to be crossed over the other), the hip, knee, and ankle, all restored to their natural size, shape, and appearance.”[12]

Such praises and his ever loyal patient following kept John St. John Long busy almost until the day he died. His death happened in 1834, which, ironically may have involved a twist (depending on which historian you believe). Some historians claim he died of consumption and refused to take his own treatment. Other historians assert his death resulted from a riding accident. No matter how he died he was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, where an illustrious monument was erected and paid for by some of his loyal patients. The following sentiment was inscribed upon it:

“It is the fate of most men to have many enemies, and few friends. This monumental pile is not intended to mark the career, but to shew how much its inhabitant was respected by those who knew his worth, and the benefits derived from his remedial discovery. He is now at rest, and far beyond the praises or censures of this world.”[13]


  • [1] The Chronicles of Crime, or the New Newgate Calendar, vol. 2, 1841, p. 217.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 218.
  • [4] “Mr. St. John Long,” in Cheltenham Chronicle, 7 July 1831, p. 4.
  • [5] The Chronicles of Crime, or the New Newgate Calendar, p. 218.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 221.
  • [8] Jeaffreson, J.C., “A Book about Doctors, 1870, p. 121.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] The Chronicles of Crime, or the New Newgate Calendar, p. 222.
  • [11] Penny Magazine, 1838, p. 487.
  • [12] “Mr. St. John Long,” in Morning Post, 31 August 1831, p. 4.
  • [13] Jeaffreson, J.C., p. 134.

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