Bishop … a Dental Giant

By , July 24, 2011 12:41 pm

William Bishop …. A Dental Giant
A single lonely grave in the north- west corner of the Byng Cemetery between Orange and Bathurst NSW stands as mute testimony to one man’s struggle with a tooth-ache. The inscription, though increasingly weathered, says: “ In Memory of William Bishop, Died August 16 1864, Aged 70”. There are no other names noted. Were it not for the 40 or so Glasson family letters still extant his memory would have faded into a weathered obscurity.

Bishop as he was called seems to have been an institution in the Glasson family if not indeed one of the family. He worked for and probably lived with them in Cornwall, then with John in Australia from 1833 before John’s marriage in 1835 and finally with Richard when John went to New Zealand in 1857. He was mentioned in some context in 16 of those letters. They were written to family in Cornwall (or in one case back to Australia from New Zealand), between 1833 when he followed John to Australia and 1862, the last letter we have of that correspondence. Bishop probably could not read or write and had to ask John or Richard to pass messages to his family still in Cornwall. In one instance Richard was to send £10.00 for Bishop’s brother, George to emigrate; in another in 1835, John was to ask that one of the Cornish Glasson servants, called Jenny, come out with a view to marriage. There is no word that either George or Jenny made the trip. Certainly, Jenny did not come as in 1845 as we read in a letter by Mary Glasson that “Bishop is about the hay. He has got a cross old thing wishing he were married “.

But it is from the unpublished memoirs of George Hawke that we know most about him because of his unusual method of dealing with a toothache. Indeed it gives new meaning to the phrase “to bite the bullet”. The following is an extract from those pages which describes his ordeal.
“A man living in the house with me [it must have been about 1834-1835] was troubled with a violent tooth-ache. To go to the Doctor to get it out would be attended with a journey and a delay and the thought of a continuation of the pain was worse than death, independent of a future state [the writer was a very religious man and clearly believed in an afterlife]. What was to be done? We had no dentist nor surgical instruments. When our conceptive faculties were brought into exercise “Old Bishop” [he was only eight years George’s senior!] (the man who had the tooth-ache) thought he could shoot out the painful bore (sic) with a pistol. I also entered into the scheme. “ A dangerous experiment you will exclaim.” Not so dangerous as you would think before you know the plan that we adopted. Our inventive faculties were unitedly called into exercise as to the best method to adopt so as to accomplish the end with the least possible danger. Necessity as the mother of invention I got my silver mounted duelling pistol (which by the way I would say I never used or saw it used for that purpose). I then got a ball and made a hole in it through which I passed a long string, put the ball into the pistol on a charge of powder, and fastened the other end of the string to Bishop’s tooth. Now for the scene and action in the comedy. In order that you may fully realise the fact (for fact it was) I will describe the sufferer. He was below the middle size, just commencing the decline of life, haggard in countenance, with a small face very much marked by smallpox, a very thin coat of frizzy red hair on his head (having been thinned by the smallpox in his youth). This object courageously took the pistol in his hand having been prompted to the desperate act by pain, walked out of the house, outside of which he stood with his head uncovered (except by his thin dismodelled frizzly red hair) with his face toward the sky as if watching the constellations, the pistol pointed upwards and his mouth wide open. I was standing by as sedate as a philosopher watching to see the result of some experiment on which some important science was depending. At last Bishop pulled the trigger with as little compunction as if to shoot some violent murderous troubler of a peaceable community, and faithful to the touch off went the pistol, bang! The ball was gone, the string cut Bishop’s lip a bit and broke. It had but partially the desired effect, as it did not extract the tooth, but it shook it so much that it never pained again for fourteen years. Then he had recourse to another experiment as remedy in my absence. He tied a string to it and fastened the other end to the fence, pulled backward and so extracted the tooth, and thus got rid of his painful companion.”

So when you next visit the Byng cemetery look him up. Bishop may have been diminutive in stature but he was certainly a dental giant.

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