On Blackbeard's Ship: Syphilis Syringe, Rectal Pump

Medicine was important to the pirate
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2015 2:23 PM CST
Updated Jan 31, 2015 4:44 PM CST
On Blackbeard's Ship: Syphilis Syringe, Rectal Pump
In this film publicity image released by Disney, Ian McShane portrays Blackbeard in a scene from, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."   (AP Photo/Disney, Peter Mountain)

The wreckage of the pirate Blackbeard's ship has yielded some fascinating finds, from swords to cannons. Some of the "treasure," however, offers a look at a very different side of his crew's life. Researchers have discovered an array of medical artifacts on the ship, called the Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground off North Carolina in 1718, LiveScience reports. Among them is a urethral syringe that once contained mercury, which was used as a syphilis treatment, researcher Linda Carnes-McNaughton says. That might have caused more problems than it solved. "Eventually, the mercury kills you" if you take too much, Carnes-McNaughton notes.

Also discovered were what's left of two devices, known as pump clysters, intended for sending fluid into one's rectum. Researchers plan further investigation to figure out just why the crew needed them. The ship also contained equipment likely used for bloodletting. Sure, Blackbeard might have been vicious, but he did seem to care about health, Carnes-McNaughton explains. When he captured the ship, he let most of its crew go—but not the surgeons. And in a blockade of Charleston, Blackbeard's primary demand was for a medicine chest, the Smithsonian reports. LiveScience has images of the equipment that's been discovered; if you'd like to see Blackbeard's gear up close, some of it is on display in a newly updated exhibit in North Carolina, the Sun Journal reports. (Also found in the wreckage: proof of terror.)

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