The Opium Purge


For The Opium Purge, I needed a poison. After looking at a number of potential herbs that can kill, I decided on opium. These notes are taken from a wonderful 18th century medical book I found online which details everything known then about various poisons and their effects, how to detect opium in post mortem and what happens when someone is an addict. 

Heroin, which is one of the most dangerous narcotics in use these days, is derived from opium. Nothing changes, does it? 

Apoplexy descriptions were needed as some symptoms might indicate that and the distinctions had to be made. As you can see, these notes fuelled much of what I used in the story. 

APOPLEXY : arises from congestion or effusion of blood within the skull. Sometimes has warning symptoms, such as giddiness, headache, ringing in the ears, or partial palsy. But sometimes not.  But therefore is have warning symptoms, presumption is natural death as no warning symptoms with narcotic poisoning. If connected with a meal, disease likely to occur immediately or during eating. 

Narcotics occurs sometime after eating, and never as above with opium (always interval of 10, 15, 20 or 30 mins) – Narcotics symptoms advance gradually, A begin abruptly. Can’t rouse apoplexy from stupor, but can with narcotics (opium). 

OPIUM – LOOKS LIKE APOPLEXY – in O convulsions are rare, but with A are common – bloating of countenance common in A but not in O – A pupil dilated but with O contracted – with O die in 8 or 6 hours, but A can last a day or longer – but O rarely rapidly fatal as A which can be in few minutes – O shortest duration fatal in 3 hours, but A fatal much shorter 

THUS – can give presumptive opinion from symptoms only.  O only gives odour in stomach when immediately opened, and probably disappears and can’t be detected easily from left over juices of stomach – certainly not without chemical tests.  

Appearance after death – O may give congestion of blood vessels in brain –  A can leave no sign at all in body, but likely to leave cerebral inflammation – THAT is simple A, complex A always leaves congestion in the head, giving brain a rose-red colour – but congestion of brain vessels also points to O.  Main difference is speed of death from narcotics is sooner than from apoplexy. 

Convulsions can occur, but much more frequently simple sopor and coma. Acts on the brain causing congestion and consequently sopor; on general nervous center as an irritant exciting convulsions, and on the muscles as a direct sedative. Poisonous to all animals including man. 

TEST: 3 ounces urine boiled with magnesia, with insoluble matter collected washed and dried and boiled in alcohol, the residue of alcoholic solution formed a white stain, which became deep orange-red on addition of nitric acid. Indication of presence of morphia. Blood subjected to more complex operation. One pound ten ounces bruised in mortar, diluted with two pounds of water, strongly acidulated with sulphuric acid, boiled, filtered and washed. Filtered fluid saturated with chalk, with excess of carbonic acid driven off by heat. Fluid filtered again, and after being washed with water, acted on by diluted acetic acid. Acetic solution left a residue which was repeatedly acted on by alcohol; and reside treated with pure alcohol and carbonate of lime. New solution when filtered and evaporated left several small white stains which became orange-red with nitric acid. 

SYMPTOMS OF DANGEROUS DOSE: giddiness and stupor, which increases and person becomes motionless and insensible to external impressions; breathes very slowly, generally lies quite still, with the eyes shut and the pupils contracted; and the whole expression of the countenance is that of deep and perfect repose.  As the poisoning advances, the features become ghastly, the pulse feeble and imperceptible, the muscles excessively relaxed, and unless assistance is speedily procured, death ensues.  

TIME FROM INGESTION TO SYMPTOMS: various. If taken in solid form, does not start to act for half an hour or even almost an hour. An hour is valid. 

CAN rouse if not quite near death, but will relapse quickly when brisk agitation or loud speaking ceases. THIS distinguishes it from apoplexy – so important point to make. 

Convulsions are rare but have been noted.  

Face is commonly pale, but sometimes flushed and occasionally “furious”. 

Large doses suspend excretion of urine and faeces, but promote perspiration – lethargy may be accompanied by copious sweating. (one fatal case, sheets were soaked) 

TIME TO DIE:  seven to twelve hours, but as little as three hours known.  

AMOUNT: variable.  36 or 60 grains, or as little as  

POST MORTEM:  can find clots in the brain, can find lungs gorged with blood (as in apoplexy), stomach occasionally red and inflamed, lividity of the skin almost always present and sometimes excessive, blood is always fluid – but can be coagulated in cavities of the heart or (as in clots in brain) or clots in ventricles.  Body apt to pass rapidly into putrefaction (36 hours in cool place already easy to peel off cuticle of skin, joints flaccid, acid smell exhaled. Even 14 hours body can go putrefied – hair and cuticle separated on slightest friction and stomach, intestines and large vessels distended with air.  Bladder full of urine (because of suspension in death).  

Opium may not be in stomach after death, as either absorbed or partly decomposed – so disappears in very few hours – but can be found there. Can test contents of stomach on frogs, etc. and if they go comatose and die could be proof.  Peculiar smell and bitter taste.  

TREATMENT – if not realised it’s poison, then won’t pump stomach, which is the first action to take. Or injection of emetic in veins of sulphate of zinc. Keep person aroused. 

OPIUM EATING:  if feeling drowsy, 30 drops enlivens enough to resume studies. Drowsiness in 2 hours after that, 100 drops more “became so much exhilarated he was compelled to laugh and sing and dance. Meanwhile the pulse was full and strong, and the temporal arteries throbbed forcibly. In no long time the customary torpor ensued. By repeating such doses frequently the stimulus may be kept up for some considerable time in some people. In this way are produced the remarkable effects said to be experienced by opium eaters. These effects are described as always in the first instance stimulant, the imagination being rendered brilliant, the passions exalted, and the muscular force increased; and this state endures for a considerable time before the usual stage of collapse supervenes.” 


These days, marriage ceremonies can be almost anything anyone likes to include. Couples make up their own vows and, of course, the dread word “obey” is now omitted from the female’s vow. In the time of these stories, however, the Church of England ceremony was taken from the Book of Common Prayer and proceeded accordingly. 

When Francis intervenes in the attempt made by Simeon to marry Tamasine, there’s a specific moment to stop the marriage. At the appropriate time, he steps in to say “The marriage cannot go forward.” 

Here is the marriage ceremony as laid down in the Book of Common Prayer, which would have been the one used at the time. 



The laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in churches, or by License, being different in the several States, every Minister is left to the direction of those laws, in every thing that regards the civil contract between the parties. 

And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form: I publish the Banns of Marriage between M. of —-, and N. of —-. If any of you know cause or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second or third] time of asking.

At the day and time appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony, the Persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church, or shall be ready in some proper house, with their friends and neighbours; and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Minister shall say, 

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.  

And also speaking unto the Persons who are to be married, he shall say,

I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that if any persons are joined together otherwise than as God’s Word doth allow, their marriage is not lawful.  

The Minister, if he shall have reason to doubt of the lawfulness of the proposed Marriage, may demand sufficient surety for his indemnification: but if no impediment shall be alleged, or suspected, the Minister shall say to the Man,

M. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her honour and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

The Man shall answer,

I will.

Then shall the Minister say unto the Woman,

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after Gods ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The Woman shall answer, I will.

Then shall the Minister say,

Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?

Then shall they give their troth to each other in this manner. The Minister, receiving the Woman at her father’s or friend’s hands, shall cause the Man with his right hand to take the Woman by her right hand, and to say after him as followeth.   

I M. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman with her right hand taking the Man by his right hand, shall likewise say after the Minister:

I N. take thee M. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Then shall they again loose their hands and the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring. And the Minister taking the Ring shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand. And the Man holding the Ring there, and taught by the Minister, shall say, WITH this Ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then the Man, leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand, the Minister shall say,

Let us pray

OUR Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Minister join their right hands together, and say,

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the company:

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a Ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are Man and Wife, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And the Minister shall add this Blessing: GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.