Although Mr Lewis admits in this ad that the causes of sheep rot were imperfectly understood, he is on the right lines when he refers to “insects in the liver.”

The liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica L. was often noticed in sheep that had died of the rot, but there was a lot of controversy as to whether they were a cause of the disease, or a spontaneously generated symptom.

Back in 1749, Ellis, in his Shepherd’s Sure Guide, wrote of “plaise-worms” (so called from their resemblance to plaice), which, circulating with the blood, make their nest or lodgement in the fountain; that is to say, in the liver of the beast, where, if they cannot be killed, they will eat till they kill the sheep.

Well into the 19th century, however, new theories continued to be proposed, with many agriculturalists believing that some sort of humidity in the air was responsible for the rot. Because the early stages of the disease often caused animals to put on weight and temporarily appear to be in good condition, farmers who recognised the signs would send the sheep to market before they deteriorated, thus putting the diseased meat into the human food chain.

After a devastating outbreak in 1860, the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society published an outstanding essay by James Beart Simmonds, Professor of Cattle Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, which described the life cycle of the liver fluke and concluded that this was the cause of the rot.

Image: Sheep from the fourth edition of Meyers Konversationslexikon (1885-90)


              To be had of TREWMAN and SON, EXETER.
                                 To FARMERS, &c.
          MR. LEWIS’S incomparable SHEEP-DRENCH.
           An  effectual  and  safe  remedy,  is,  with  confidence,
now  offered  to  the  public, as  a  preventive  of   those  fatal
diseases  incident  to sheep, called the ROT and SCAB. The
true cause of  these  disorders is very imperfectly understood,
many have attributed it  to  moisture,  others  have ascribed it
to a certain principle of putrefaction, both  in  the  air  and  the
grass,  especially  in  May  or  June,  if  the  year  proves  wet,
causing insects in the  liver;  it  is  sometimes  occasioned by
obstructed  and  inspissated  bile.     Before   these   valuable
drenches  were  prepared,  which  never  fail  of a cure, a con-
siderable number of these useful animals  were  lost,  but  the
sheep so affected may now be preserved with so easy an ex-
pense as sixpence per drench.  It  has  been  found  so  bene-
ficial  to  the  farmers  in  Kent  and  Berkshire,  that  it  will  be
adviseable that no gentleman  who  keeps  a  breeding  stock,
should   be   without   it,   as   it   will  if  kept  dry,  be  as  good
at seven years’ end, as when first prepared.
It   is   sold,  wholesale   and   retail,   by   Mr.   Lewis,   No. 
Bartholomew-yard,  and  retail  by  Mess. Trewman and Son,
in Exeter,  in  packets  of  one  dozen  each,  at 6s. with direc-
tions  for  using,  where  bills  or  cash sent  to the amount of
the   order,   will  be  duly  attended  to,  and  the  orders  for
warded to any part of England.
   The  under-mentioned  gentlemen  will  attest  the  wonder-
ful  benefit  of  the  above  drench;  J.  Write,  and   A.  West,
esqrs.  Walton;   Mr.  Row,  Lee;   Mr.  D.  Wilson,  and  Mr.
L. Jackson,  Newbury;  Mr.  N.  Cole,  Marlow;  with  many
other respectable gentlemen, too numerous to insert.


Source: Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, Thursday 29 June 1809




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