Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dr. Guthrie Carr: mesmerism, phrenology and laughing gas in Victorian Auckland

Never let it be said that those living in the era of Queen Victoria's reign didn't know how to have a wild time with substances other than alcohol or opiates.

A stage performer named Guthrie Carr came touring around New Zealand in 1872, and introduced laughing gas (nitrous oxide) to his audience's repertoire of ways to get high, along with phrenology (essentially, reading bumps of the head to determine personality etc.) and, to cap it all off, a bit of old fashioned mesmerism (or, what we now call hypnotism). He called his performances "seances". This type of stage entertainment followed on from earlier demonstrations held in the United States during the 1840s & 1850s, by a Dr. Gardiner Quincy Colton, called "Courts of Death".
We were present yesterday afternoon at a private exhibition of the administration of "Laughing Gas" to several gentlemen by Dr. Carr, the eminent mesmerist. The process of manufacturing the gas was conducted in the laboratory of Mr. King, chemist, of Queen-street, and transferred into air-tight bags; of the process and distillation, or the properties of the gas, it is needless to dwell as it would not interest our readers.

The gas was first inhaled by the Doctor himself, afterwards by other gentlemen present. The subjects appearing to be in a trance for a few moments, and on recovery all spoke of the enjoyment and intensely pleasurable feelings in the head whilst under its influence. We are assured that it contains no injurious properties, and partially as a proof of this a lighted match was inserted into a glass vessel containing some of the gas, and the flame immediately became intensified and burnt brilliantly until the gas was consumed. As far as we could judge, and from what we are informed, there is no fear of any reactionary influence after inhaling the gas, the feeling being almost one of regret that its power of action is spent.

We understand that Dr. Carr is about to proceed to the Thames, where he intends holding seances. On his return to Auckland the "Laughing Gas" will be administered in public, and will doubtless cause both wonder and amusement.
(Evening Star, 15 June 1872)
There was a very fair attendance at the Prince of Wales Theatre on Saturday evening to witness the wonderful mesmeric performances of Dr. Carr. The doctor commenced by feeling the "bumps" of a large number from the audience, after which he gave his usual illustrations on mesmerism. The laughing gas was afterwards inhaled by a large number, producing upon those who inhaled it the usual ludicrous effect. Dr. Carr will only give one or two more of his excellent seances. Those who have not yet seen him should therefore do so while they have the opportunity.
(Southern Cross, 15 July 1872)
The following year came reports from America of laughing gas (discovered by Humphrey Davy in 1799) being used by dentists to ease the pain of tooth extractions. I imagine it's popularity as a stage event waned from that point on.

1 comment:

  1. That's hilarious!!!!!!! Getting stoned in public? Gee anything went then Ice. Great post thanks for making me laugh...very very loudly.