Cupping glasses & scarificator

Early/mid-nineteenth century

These cupping glasses are of the type that was used in the treatment of convict patients at the General ‘Rum’ Hospital for convicts, next to Hyde Park Barracks, between 1816 and 1848. Cupping involved the burning of a small piece of lint inside the glass cup, which created a vacuum. When placed on the skin, the vacuum drew the blood to the surface. The skin was first broken using a scarificator, which let the blood flow into the cup. Cupping was one form of bloodletting, also achieved by directly opening a vein with a fleam or lancet. This had been the standard medical practice for blood purification since the middle ages, and was one of the most common methods of treatment at the convict hospital in Sydney. Very quickly it gave the hospital a reputation and the convicts generally dreaded having to go there. In 1820 hospital assistant Henry Cowper reported that he had bled one patient suffering ‘brain fever’, two pounds in the morning and three pounds in the evening, but the patient had been allowed to get up immediately, after which he ‘dropped down Dead’.

‘They did not like the mode of Treatment by such Copious Bleedings as were in practice… They used to call the Hospital the Sidney Slaughter House’.

Hospital assistant Henry Cowper, 1821, in John Ritchie (ed), Evidence to the Bigge Reports, Melbourne, Heinemann, 1971, vol 1, 142.

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Convict Sydney, Level 1, Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Convict Sydney


These convict-era objects and archaeological artefacts found at Hyde Park Barracks and The Mint (Rum Hospital) are among the rarest and most personal artefacts to have survived from Australia’s early convict period

Convict Sydney

Convict Sydney

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Close up of a ceramic bottle. This item was featured in one of our virtual excursions.

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