is an affliction caused by lead poisoning
which was suffered by the people of Devon
during parts of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The first written account of the colic comes from 1655. Symptoms began with severe abdominal pains
and the condition was occasionally fatal. Cider
is the traditional drink of Devonians, and the connection between the colic and apple juice
and cider drinking had been observed for many years. This was commonly attributed to the acidity of the beverage.William Musgrave
's publication De arthritide symptomatica
(2nd edn, 1715) included the first scientific description of 'Devonshire colic' - it was later referred to by John Huxham
and Sir George Baker
. Alick Cameron, ‘Musgrave, William (1655–1721)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
, Oxford University Press
, Sept 2004
However, the precise cause was not discovered until the 1760s when Dr George Baker put forwards the hypothesis that poisoning from lead
in apple juice was to blame. He observed that the symptoms of the colic were similar to those of lead poisoning. He pointed out that lead was used in the cider making process both as a component of the cider presses and in the form of lead shot
which was used to clean them. He also conducted chemical tests to demonstrate the presence of lead in Devon apple juice.
The publication of his results met with some hostile reaction from cider manufacturers, keen to defend their product.
Once Baker's conclusions... Read More