In Sickness and in Health

Some of the staff at Buxton Museum have been struck down by viruses recently. I myself suffered no less than two bouts of man flu just before Christmas. It seems to be an occupational hazard for those who work with the public. I was therefore entertained by a discovery from one of our volunteers last week: Brian turned up a poem about influenza written by none other than Sir William Boyd Dawkins. More famous for his innovative work in the fields of geology and archaeology, Boyd Dawkins is not really known for man flu or poetry.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

In an effort to illustrate for you a different aspect of the man’s character, I shall present the poem. Apparently, the following lines are to be sung to the tune of The Spider and the Fly, though I hope you are more familiar with this particular ditty than I.

Have you ever had the influenza, in the sunshine of young May,
When the East wind chills the flowers, as it hurries on its way
From the snowy steppes of Asia, from the Tartar’s sandy plain,
Over valley, over mountain, onwards to the Western Main?

If you have, you’ll know my feeling, as if my feet stuck to the ceiling
Head throbbing, downwards, looking on while boys are flowers stealing,
Or stray dog in garden gambolling is chasing a stray cat,
Or while from open entrance-hall thieves steal my Sunday hat.

Sneezing, wheezing, far from pleasing in my temper or my looks;
Growling, and not far from howling, sit I among my books.
Blinking like sad owl in desert, victim of an idle wish,
Or like pelican, who cannot in the sand find any fish.

The poem was published in the Pall Mall Gazette on May 27th 1891; a curious verse I’m sure you will agree. The vision of Boyd Dawkins blinking like a sad owl in the desert is not something you encounter every day.

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

On a healthier note, Buxton was once famous as a spa resort. People with various afflictions and ailments would flock here to benefit from the high altitude and natural spring water. The building that houses Buxton Museum and Art Gallery started life as a hydropathic hotel. If you would like to know more, Collections in the Landscape has developed an app on the theme of Buxton Water and you can find it at Also see Jess’ earlier post about the history of Buxton as a spa town.


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