Samuel Baskett, growing up in a Dorset rectory, wants to save lives, not souls. Mary Cockram, looking after her animals on the family farm, longs to travel the world. Spanning nearly 60 years of the eighteenth century, Searching for Samuel Baskett is a sweeping family saga, chronicling the lives of the Baskett and Cockram families, their friends, and servants. It tells of their loves and losses, their joys, and tragedies.When Samuel sets up as surgeon, apothecary and ‘man-midwife’ in the Dorset town of Wareham, he goes against all the accepted practices of the time. He attends births, encourages mothers to breast-feed their babies and tries to convince his patients to give up their old traditional remedies for fits and fevers.The novel covers many issues still relevant today – vaccination, slavery, and the role of women in society. Samuel meets a local farmer, Benjamin Jesty, who used matter from cowpox to inoculate his family, years before Jenner. And Mary sets up a school for girls, providing lessons in mathematics and ‘natural philosophy’.Samuel Baskett’s signature inside an old 1766 dictionary inspired Rosemary Allen to investigate further. The family trees she built up from Dorset parish records form the skeletal structure of the novel; she just had to put flesh on the bones in the form of a fictional narrative.
I was hooked within a few pages of this fascinating insight into 18th-century life. As an atheist myself, I certainly understood Samuel's search for the truth about life. This is a page-turner for sure, made all the more vivid because of its basis in real life. Recommended!
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