By: Mike Trew
History is at best a simplification of the chaos of human endeavour. It paints with a broad brush with some figures cast as heroes, others as villains. The man known to the world as Baron John William Adolphus Frederick Augustus Spolasco, M.D., A.B.,M.R.C.S., K.O.M.T. & C.L.D’H., falls firmly into the latter category. But, has history treated him fairly?
He first appeared, out of nowhere, in Limerick in June 1836, professing a continental pedigree and promising to cure every ill known to man. He held surgeries in at least 10 other locations in Ireland before coming to Bristol in June 1838 for a sojourn of just four months. He then relocated to Swansea where he remained for the next 7 years and saw his greatest success.
Following two tragic mishaps with patients and a court case he left for Gloucester in June 1846, taking up residence at 2, College Green where he advertised for two or three articled pupils at a fee of two thousand guineas each! Around February 1847, he moved again to a villa residence at Badgeworth near Cheltenham where he saw some success administering to employees of the GWR who presented him with a gold watch and diamond ring.
In August 1848, he was called to London, by an “ailing nobleman” and remained in the metropolis until December 1849 whereupon his last adventure began in New York. But, he was not to taste success in the New World, being ridiculed mercilessly by the poet Walt Whitman. He died there on 7th June 1858 and is buried in Brooklyn.
Many articles and accounts have been written about him, in which he is portrayed as a charlatan, purveying worthless nostrums to the afflicted. But, just perhaps, he was not as villainous as the historical record would have us believe?
A new booklet on his life and times reveals his real name – as plain John William Smith – born near Sunderland in 1800, his marriage in Ripon 1828 and his proper training as a surgeon/physician by James Moore Bowman, a mayor of the town. Thereafter, he appears to have lived apart from his wife and in 1833 is recorded going to Dublin where he “took ill and died”. At the same instant the Baron Spolasco was born and a new adventure began…..
The booklet is 36pps long with 60 illustrations. Only 200 copies have been printed.
They are offered for sale on a not-for-profit basis at just £3 each.