What more appropriate title for the ‘Rare Bites’ series than an Australian book analysing snake and spider bites, with platypus poisoning thrown in for good measure? Published at the turn of the twentieth century, Dr Frank Tidswell’s slim volume encapsulates the end of colonial ideas of ‘scientific medicine’, and the emergence of the complex, international phenomenon of biomedicine. As a government medical officer, Tidswell worked with local police and medical records to survey the clinical and public health problem of snakebite. After a century of colonial dread of the continent’s snakes, he was forced to admit that only three Australian serpents appeared to be deadly. Detailing his laboratory work on an effective antivenine (antivenom), Tidswell then suggested that it would probably not provide a practical clinical treatment. He also examined the excruciating experience of being ‘spiked’ by a male platypus, and argued that red-back spider bites were unlikely to kill humans. Combining case reports, experimental results, statistical analyses and a dose of local lore, Researches on Australian Venoms is not only an entertaining read; it also proved so comprehensive that it effectively ended local venom research until the late 1920s.
Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW, TX00624
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