Cameron the Piss-Prophet

The Anti-Gallican Monitor, 21 May 1815

It is surprising the number of Persons that apply daily from 11 o’clock till 3, at No. 84, Wells-street, Oxford-street, to consult Dr. Cameron, who discovers disorders by an inspection of the morning urine, and although Dr. C.’s method is singular, it it (sic) a well known fact, that he restores many to perfect health, when the most eminent of the profession have failed, in painful, lingering, and dangerous cases; as diseases of the liver, bilious, and other obstructions, complaints in the Stomach, loss of appetite, jaundice, consumptions, dropsy, &c.; also those complaints peculiar to females at the different periods of life, and in all instances of Debility produced by free living and excesses, that derange, disorganize and weaken the nervous and muscular powers.

Source: The Anti-Gallican Monitor, 21 May 1815

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Uroscopy had been a diagnostic tool for centuries. The colour, consistency, smell and taste of urine were observed since the time of Hippocrates, and in the 17th century Thomas Willis described one circumstance in which it could be useful – in the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. By Cameron’s time, however, the idea that it was possible to diagnose every disease from the urine alone – often without even seeing the patient – was well within the realms of quackery and uroscopists were derided as ‘piss-prophets’.

Cameron set up as a doctor in Well Street off Oxford Street in about 1809. Initially sharing premises with a silhouette-maker, he soon had enough good fortune to part ways with his impoverished artist friend. Because of urine-casting’s long history, he was able to attract patients who thought there was something in it and who were suspicious of most doctors’ insistence that it was a load of rubbish.

An anecdote in the Medical Adviser (1824) tells of Cameron’s modus operandi. The Adviser is not the most impartial of publications so the details must be taken with a pinch of salt, but they did claim to have verified the story.

A Holborn innkeeper consulted the doctor for chest pains and received some pills. After a month of taking them, he became unable to urinate and, in agony in the middle of the night, had to send for a surgeon to catheterise him. The pills turned out to contain the purgatives jalap and calomel (mercurous chloride), which the surgeon felt had been responsible for his symptoms. He recovered (apart from the chest pain, which was still there) – but not without wanting to pay Cameron back.

The vengeful innkeeper sent his ostler, along with a ‘heavy’ for back-up, to take a urine sample to Cameron. Variations on this story are still doing the rounds today, so you can immediately see what’s coming…

The doctor tasted the urine, and concluded that the sufferer was in a bad way, but could be cured. By asking questions about the age of the patient (24), how hard he worked (lots of heavy loads) and whether he was a drinker (a pail of water twice a day), Cameron diagnosed a bad back, at which point the ostler revealed that the urine was from his donkey.

‘Get out of my house, you rascal!’ bellowed the enraged ‘Doctor’ as he chased the little ostler about the parlour, who now got behind his colossal assistant, and as well might Cameron pierce the shield of Ajax as make an impression upon him, so he contented himself with snatching up the bottle, opening the window and dashing it into the street.

He continued to have a go at the visitors until they ‘coolly retired.’  In reporting the tale, the Medical Adviser certainly didn’t disguise its contempt of the self-styled Water Doctor:

In the name of the north and the honor of old Scotland is this fellow a Cameron? And has the name that is associated with deeds of glory and the might of auld lang syne, dwindled into a filthy water-taster?

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