Friday, 1 May 2015

The Mysterious Doctor Du Brange

During a search of the British Newspaper Archive we found reports of a man with the unusual name of Du Brange who lived in Kilburn. We were intrigued when we discovered that he appeared several times in court.

Indecent Handbills
The first time that he is shown in the newspapers was in October 1869 when Gilbert Du Brange of 99 Seymour Street, Euston Square, (which is now called Eversholt Street), was charged in the Marylebone Police Court with causing indecent handbills to be distributed by Timothy Leonard.

Sergeant Martin, a plain clothes detective of S Division, said they’d been observing Du Brange for some time and that his real name was Charles Tiffin, a native of Scotland. Du Brange said this was a lie. Another detective, John Robertson, said he was in Seymour Street at 8.30pm on the 4th August and he saw Timothy Leonard go into Du Brange’s house. He came out again with a handful of small bills and he gave one to every person he met. He gave two to Detective Robertson who followed him as far as Camden High Street. Here Robertson took Leonard’s name and address, which turned out to be false and he was later apprehended on a warrant. On 20 Oct Detective Robertson went to Du Brange’s house. Eventually Du Brange admitted he had asked Leonard to distribute the bills. He said he also gave out handbills under the railway arch at Camden Town when Du Brange had gone there to lecture about the medicinal properties of his pills. Detective Martin said Tim Leonard had told him he was paid 1s 6d a day to hand out the bills.

Du Brange said he was well known and he had been selling pills in the open air for about two or three year until about nine months ago when his business had increased and he stayed in his shop. When he sold a box of pills he wrapped them in a handbill to advertise his products. When he sold them to a woman he wrapped them in plain paper. He said he sold about three or four gross of pills every day. The magistrate asked if he was a qualified medical man. Du Brange said he was a graduate of medicine from Giessen, Germany. The court clerk explained that anyone could get a diploma there for 10s. The police said that from their enquiries Du Brange was not in any way connected with the medical profession and the case was brought under the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867, a section of which prohibited the distribution of handbills.  

The magistrate concluded there were no doubts about the case and Du Brange would pay a penalty of 40s and Leonard 10s or they would be imprisoned for 14 days and seven days respectively. Du Brange paid the fines and said the case would be his ruin. 

Following the report in the Times, Dr Wilbrand of the University of Giessen in Germany, wrote a letter to the editor saying they were repeatedly been accused of selling diplomas of medicine. This was not true and neither Charles Tiffin or Gilbert Du Brange was a graduate of the University.

Selling pills
It’s clear that the bad publicity didn’t stop Du Brange from peddling his pills. In March 1871 he was summoned at the Marlborough Street court with unlawfully representing himself as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He had now moved his business to 36 Gilbert Street, off Oxford Street and he was living at ‘Salisbury House Kilburn’. He saw patients in Gilbert Street and in Kilburn. Police Sergeant Micklejohn said he went to 36 Gilbert Street and it had the appearance of a doctor’s shop. A diploma in the name of Dr Peskett was displayed in the window while ‘Du Brange’ was on the door. He had observed Peskett go into the shop numerous times and he witnessed Du Brange making up medicines and selling them. He also saw what he called ‘several disgusting medical representations’ in the shop. Micklejohn returned with the summoning officer Costigan, who asked Du Brange if he was the doctor. Du Brange replied that he was. The secretary of the Royal College of Surgeons gave evidence in court and said Du Brange was not on the register.

In summing up the magistrate said unqualified practitioners were ‘common pests in large towns’ and he imposed a full fine of £20 with costs, saying he wished it could be more. The next edition of the Lancet congratulated the Royal College of Surgeons for successfully bringing the prosecution against Du Brange and ‘having at last awoken to a sense of its duty’. 

Medical quacks had been common for years and Du Brange’s name appeared on a list of 26 quacks ‘practising’ in London in a book called ‘Revelations of Quacks and Quackery’ by Francis Burdett Courtenay. Punch in their review of the book said:
The vile practices, the monstrous impudence, the cruel rapacity, and the enormous gains of the obscene tribe of quacks, the mischief they do, the ruin they work, even to the causation of suicide, are fully set forth in "Revelations of Quacks and Quackery."

The Quack Doctor, by FOC. Darley from 'Every Saturday' a Boston Magazine, 1871

Despite his fines Du Brange remained undeterred and was summoned for the distribution of handbills in August 1874 and again in June 1875. His address was now given as the ‘Medical Institute’ 36 Gilbert Street. At the 1875 hearing Du Brange, behaving in a very excited manner, said the bills had been previously judged by Sir Thomas Henry (the chief magistrate at Bow Street), not to be obscene and there was no case to answer. The magistrate told him his manner was offensive and ungentlemanly and to conduct himself better. The case was proved and Du Brange was fined 10s. 

The indecent bills were most likely adverts for medicines claimed to cure the pox, other sexual diseases (usually called ‘secret diseases’ by the quacks), impotence, and abortion remedies for women, but we haven’t been able to find descriptions of Du Brange’s potions and pills.

Who was Gilbert Du Brange?
Obviously, he was a man operating on the edge and it proved difficult to find out who he really was. The only time he appears in official documents is on the 1871 census which shows a Gilbert Du Brange, at 19 Salusbury Road, Kilburn. He is 32 years old, a ‘medical botanist’, born in Carlisle. His wife is shown as Sarah Du Brange, 44, a skirt maker, born in Benson, Oxfordshire. Four children are listed: Robert Francis Greenwood, son, 18, a shopman to a medical botanist (presumably Gilbert), born in Islington; Alice Greenwood, daughter, 14, born in Islington and Clara Greenwood, daughter, 11, born in St Pancras. There is also a one year and nine month old son, Gilbert Du Brange, born in St Pancras; which indicates they had only recently moved to Kilburn.

The older children were Sarah’s. She was previously the wife of Robert Greenwood, a ‘chemist’ who made ‘laundry blue’ used to wash and whiten clothes, of Upper Seymour Street in Somers Town. On 17 January 1861 they baptised five children who had been born between 1850 and 1857 but they only got married in Lambeth on 6 March 1859. Robert Greenwood died in April 1866 and Sarah and her children later moved in with Gilbert Du Brange. There is no record of them marrying. Du Brange may have met Robert Greenwood through the manufacture of his pills.

In April 1875 Robert Francis Greenwood, Sarah’s eldest son, married Ellenor Tiffin in Manchester. Her father was Joseph Tiffin a blacksmith born in Penrith Cumberland. This set us thinking. During the first court case the police had claimed Gilbert Du Brange was really Charles Tiffin. As Tiffin is rather an usual name, this seemed too much of a coincidence. We believe that Tiffin came to London and began selling pox medicines under the name of Gilbert Du Brange. A linking fact was that a Gilbert Tiffin was born in 1869 in St Pancras, surely the boy called Gilbert Du Brange in the 1871 census. We sent off for his birth certificate which showed that Gilbert Tiffin was born on 11 August 1869 at 99 Seymour Street, Euston Square. His father is shown as William Tiffin, ‘herbalist master’. His mother is Sarah Tiffin, late Greenwood, formerly Warner (her maiden name). So it is clear that Gilbert Du Brange was really William Tiffin.

Dr William Richardson and the Greenwoods
There is an unusual newspaper report from May 1873, when surgeon William Richardson of 24 Southampton Street, Strand was charged with indecent behaviour to two girls in Hyde Park. In the Marlborough Street court, Clara Greenwood aged 13 of 36 Gilbert Street said her father was a doctor. She gave evidence that the previous afternoon she was in Hyde Park with her younger brother (probably Gilbert but not named), and an eight year old friend called Caroline Plante. They were sitting on a seat when the prisoner came and sat beside them. It was raining but he told them not to go as the rain would soon be over. Clara said that when she attempted to leave he grabbed hold of her jacket and indecently assaulted her. He did the same to Caroline who confirmed the story. PC Berry who was on duty in the Park, saw the incident and immediately arrested Richardson. Despite evidence of Richardson’s good character, the magistrate said the case should go to trial and he released Dr Richardson on bail of £500 and two sureties of £200 each.

Unlike William Tiffin alias Gilbert Du Grange, William Richardson had qualified as a doctor in 1859 and was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In the 1871 census he was a GP, born in York and living at 13 New Bridge Street, Bridewell in the City with his wife Louisa. In 1873 his practice was at 24 Southampton Street, Strand as he said in court. But we couldn’t find a record of his subsequent trial and perhaps he came to a financial agreement with Du Brange/Tiffin and the case was dropped? Dr Richardson continued to practice as a GP and live with his wife until he died in 1890 aged 54. He left Louisa £94, worth about £8,500 today. 

After 1875
Despite our best efforts, it is frustrating that we were unable to track Gilbert Du Brange or William Tiffin beyond 1875, but he probably changed his name again and continued selling potions.

For an interesting book about the subject see, ‘The Quack Doctor’ by Caroline Rance, The History Press, 2013. Caroline also writes a regular blog;

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