• Debbie Lee


One of England’s most celebrated battles against the French took place on an impersonal expanse of water in the North Atlantic four hundred miles from any shoreline. That day, June 1, 1794, an English sailor named John Taylor was loading grapeshot into the canons when a piece of the ammunition struck against the gun, rebounded off the deck, and fired into his leg just above the ankle.1 John Taylor fell to the floor. Unable to make his feet, he looked down and saw the bone projecting through the skin. Fellow sailors carried him off to the cockpit for medical treatment, but because the grapeshot had settled between his tendons and his ankle had swelled so much, surgeons told him that cutting it out would make him “a cripple for life.”2 So John Taylor limped through the next three years with the grape-sized lead ball in his leg. Then, in 1797, he was in London on a heavy drinking binge when the ball suddenly fell out on its own with pieces of his rotted tissue still clinging to it. It was a disgusting memento, but because it had been a feature of John Taylor’s body for so long, he couldn’t part with it. He later said, “the ball, to which there adhered a quantity of flesh, I kept with me for some time.”3


Poor Woman French Revolution Disable Woman Middlesex Hospital Charity Hospital 
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© Debbie Lee 2006

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  • Debbie Lee

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