Ten Weird Things the Victorians Did


The Victorians, it has to be said, were a bit of a weird bunch!

From taking photos of the dead to 'fasting girls' we will run down 10 of the weirdest things the people of the 19th century did.

So without further ado, lets get counting:


1. Hosted mummy unwrapping parties

Yep, you read that right. Mummy unwrapping parties. The Egyptian sort too, not peoples mothers!

This was a particularly macabre practice that many of the upper classes of the time would attend.

During the period we, in Europe, experienced a renewed interest in ancient Egypt due to Napoleon's entry into the country. This new fascination was called 'Egyptomania'. Mummies mind you had been purchased from Egypt since the Elizabethan period but things heated up in the 19th Century.

Tourism in Egypt saw a boom in the period and many rich visitors would look to bring home a mummy as a souvenir - not exactly a fridge magnet but each to their own! When returning from their travels these rich folk would almost immediately hold an unwrapping party. Sometimes in public places but often by invitation only people would gather around to witness the mummies bandages being removed to reveal what lies beneath.

A gruesome practice and a smelly one too! It's not something we would be jumping to attend but at the time they were incredibly popular.


2. Sent strange Christmas cards

Ah, Christmas cards. A way to send your love to family and friends with sentimental words alongside a heartwarming scene.

Well, not in the Victorian period!

Christmas cards were a relatively new thing in the 1800's and they weren't quite as they are today. There of course were some nice heartwarming, Christmassy cards but many were just plain weird!


Humanised vegetables (for instance a beetroot with legs, arms and a head, wearing a top hat - see above), dead birds or frogs/animals killing each other were all popular images for a festive greeting. Not exactly snowy villages lit up with candlelight and large Christmas trees, but still, who are we to judge.


3. Believed in Dodgy Science

Science at the time was, for the most part, rather dodgy!

They still believed in the old theories of the body being made up of 4 'humours', which directly influence health. These were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Any illness was believed to be caused by an imbalance of one of these humours so the treatment would include using a variety of remedies that could help balance the humours. For instance if you had a fever (where you are hot and wet) you needed something cold and dry to even you out. This doesn't exactly hold up to more modern scientific facts.

Also it was popularly believed that the skin could breathe. They knew, of course, that most of the oxygen we need was taken in through the mouth but they still thought that a fair chunk of this was taken in through the skin. Because of this they didn't like to cover their body too much while sleeping for fear they would suffocate. This theory partly came about because an experiment took place where a horse was covered from head to hoof in shellac (a resin used in polish at the time and today used in nail polish) - the horse with in hours had died! Obviously suffocating due to it's skin being covered...

In reality it died from over heating as it's body could no longer regulate it's temperature.

A canary dying during the night while in a cage beside someone's bed also led to the belief that the air we breathe out could kill us in our sleep. This meant that many would leave their windows wide open at night to let the poisonous gasses out.

It's all very dodgy and this only scratches the surface!


4. Took pictures of the recently deceased (as if they were alive!)

This one...this one is very odd!

This sinister trend saw a massive increase over the 19th Century due mainly to the increase in photographic technology.

Often on the death of a loved one, be they young or old, the family would splash out on having a photo taken of them. Of course they don't want a horrific picture of the dearly departed looking lifeless they want an image of them dressed well, sitting up or even standing.

They sometimes even wanted other family members to pose with the deceased.

To do this they would dress the subject in their finery and then, in the case of an infant, sit them up on a chair or amongst pillows to give the impression they are alive. In the case of older folk they could have them standing using an incredibly macabre post-mortem photography stand. This would hold the torso to keep the subject standing straight and support the neck to keep the head upright.

This whole business isn't the nicest but if you wanted a photo of your loved one and didn't get this when they were still alive, it does make some sense to do it after death.


5. Wore increasingly tighter corsets

Corsets, as we all know, were a popular commodity in the Victorian period with most all women wearing them in some form. But things did start to get a little silly over the period.

Generally corsets were used to reduce women's waists, using laces to pull tight the waist and hold in any unwanted, yet natural, fat. Some though did take the practice to an extreme by using smaller and tighter corsets. Bringing in the waist further and further. The most extreme taking their waist down to an eye watering 14 inches!

You can imagine the discomfort and what potential damage this would cause to the internal organs. Still, fashion is fashion!


6. Incredible 'Fasting Girls'

Oh the incredible 'Fasting Girls', girls who could live on nothing but air. No sustenance required for these ladies. Food? Who needs it!

These girls became hugely popular for a time in the 1800's due to their miraculous ability to survive without eating a single thing...or at least that's how they marketed themselves.

Reality was that they were actually fraudsters using the fame of living without eating as a way gain attention and to make money.

Mollie Fancher of Brooklyn was quite famous for, apparently, living for 14 years without any food what so ever!


7. Body Snatching

At the start of the 1800s those studying anatomy were legally allowed to have and dissect the bodies of those condemned to death. Sadly, for them, this was only around 55 people each year. For the ever-growing study of anatomy in medical schools however, around 500 bodies were needed per annum.

Due to this high demand body snatching became prevalent with many folk out to get a quick buck would dig up the recently buried and then sell the body to the local medical schools.

The practice became so wide spread that some relatives would often watch over the burials of recently deceased family members.


8. Used arsenic - a lot!

What could make a better skin lotion than arsenic? Nothing I tell you!

Or at least that may have been a Victorian's view on it. Arsenic was used at the time for a whole host of cosmetic products.

It was also found in wallpapers, dresses, toys and even medicines. This was generally due to the fact that arsenic was very cheap at the time due to the industrial revolution. Arsenic is one of the most common elements in the Earth's crust so the increased amount of mining that was taking place meant that it was becoming more easily available.

It's not like the Victorian's didn't know it was a poison either as it was one of the most common poisons used for murder at the time. Luckily though in 1851 the Arsenic Act was passed which regulated the sale of arsenic and products containing it. It wasn't an out right ban on such products but did help minimise the risk.


9. Had nipple piercings

Granted this one isn't exactly weird, more interesting.

Of course today nipple piercings aren't anything particularly out of the ordinary but many would be surprised to discover that the well to do Victorian ladies were quite fond of them too!

If you were suitably fashionable you could have a, or both, nipples pierced. On piercing a gold ring, known as a 'bosom ring', would be inserted. If you had both nipples pierced then you could have two rings joined by a chain.

There were several jewelers offering this at the time and it is theorised that it became popular because some women thought it would make their breasts rounder and more attractive or, as other theories state, it could be that they enjoyed the sensation.


10. Believed in Electrotherapy

During the 19th Century electricity was starting to be harnessed more and more for everyday use. It also started to be used for medical practices.

This was called Electrotherapy. It was used to alleviate varying problems from muscle weakness to gout. The treatment literally meant people paying to be shocked by electricity in the problem area. This would, as you can imagine, leave burns and didn't really do anything to help. It's that dodgy science again!




Written by Bertram


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