Credit: Albert Isaiah Coffin. Stipple engraving by H. B. Hall after Charpentier. 
Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

Dr A I Coffin abt 1790 – 1866

Whilst researching my new talk, How Many Children?!!! I came across this gentleman. Firstly his name intrigued me, I started to wonder if you would actually choose him as your Doctor. So how did I find him? Well, a lecture called ‘How Many Children’ clearly had to feature a segment on midwifery. Searching my go-to references for medical matters, i.e. The Wellcome Collection, I found a book called the ‘Treatise of Midwifery’. and I became very intrigued by the author’s name, A. I. Coffin. M.D.

Written in 1878, the full title of the book is ‘ Treatise of midwifery and the diseases of women and children with remedies.’ It is to be noted that Albert has under his name, on the flyleaf, Professor of Medical Botany. His strapline is

“Believe one who has experience to justify his opinion”

He amassed followers called Coffinites, and several Doctors took on his ‘remedies’. However, not everyone was a fan of Dr. Coffin’s work. See below the damning article in a newspaper.
Nottinghamshire Guardian 10 November 1853

LOBELIA INFLATA.-Special Verdict against an Agent of Dr. Coffin, the herbalist.- On Thursday afternoon Mr. Baler resumed a protracted investigation respecting the death of George Burt, aged 26 years, a London city ostler who, it was alleged, had died from the administration of a quack medicine, prescribed by herbalist and grocer named John Stephens, an agent to Dr. Coffin, in great practice in the district…………..

………During the postmortem, the deceased, was found to have brown powder in his stomach. Made up from cayenne pepper and ginger and a small portion of the seeds of lobelia inflata, which no doubt, occasioned the inflammation described.

………The effects of lobia inflata were well known to the profession; and to witness’s knowledge there had been 22 deaths from lobelia inflata in this country and probably a great many more in America. The three great medical authors of the day all condemned its use……………..

The Coroner stated ‘that he had sent the same person (Stephen) twice before another tribunal for manslaughter, and he had been discharged. Some means ought to be adopted to punish the malpractices of quack doctors, and botanical medicine vendors. On Tuesday there was a case of a child three years of age, who had been placed under the care of a woman named Mansfield, the wife of a baker in Charlotte Street, Whitechapel, who was an agent of Dr. Coffin. She was administered lobelia, and adopted other remedies, and the child died, in all probability, from the poison.

She (Mansfield) knew as much about the medical treatment of a person as a horse, and the man Stephen was quite as ignorant.

The Jury after half an hour’s consultation unanimously agreed to the following special verdict:- “That the deceased died from natural causes, but his death may have been accelerated by improper medicine, administered by an agent of Dr. Coffin and the jurors cannot separate without requesting the coroner to lay copies of the depositions taken by him in this case before her `Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Home Department and the General Board of Health in order that the most efficient measures may be taken to prevent the illegal practice of herbalists and others not duly qualified in administering medicine.”

The Coroner said it was a very proper verdict, and he would lose no time in forwarding copies of the depositions, as they requested.

Albert was clearly very passionate about his ‘work’ and belief in the healing powers of herbs. He held a series of lectures on the subject.

Personal life: It is thought that Albert arrived in England from America but so far I have been unable to locate him on a passenger list. The first record of him in England is 1840.

White’s Directory 1840

Coffin Albert, botanist, North walls

In 1841 he is listed at a different address.

Pigot’s & Co Directory 1841

Coffin Albert Isaiah, botanical physician
5 Bourne Street

In 1851 he can be found living in Montague Place, Bloomsbury. On 10th April 1851 he marries Sarah Alexandre. On the marriage certificate, he states he is a widower. Was he married and widowed in America? His father is recorded as Noah Coffin, a Master Mariner. Alberts occupation is recorded as M.D. In 1865 he is still living at the same address.

1865 Post Office London Directory
Coffin Albert Isaiah, M.D. medical botanist, 134 High Holborn W. C. & physician, 24 Montague place, Russell square WC

I’ve been unable to locate any children from the marriage or his wife’s death. When Albert dies in 1866 the probate records his executors as John Morris Brooks of 24 Montague Place, a Dealer in Patent Medicines, and William Taylor of Leadenhall Market, a Salesman.

I refer back to my opening question, would you wish to consult a Doctor called Coffin. Some did and it may have been to their detriment.

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This coffin is now finished, and is of thick Spanish mahogany, polished, with double lock, and two shelves inside forming three compartments. Fixed in an upright position, it will answer the purpose of either cupboard or wardrobe, and doubtless will be considered by the owner a very elegant article of furniture.

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