An Incomplete Biography of Dr. Hurley, cont’d: A Medical Man?

During Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure‘s recent research trip to  Ireland, we uncovered some artifacts related to Dr. Seamus Hurley’s past. For our previous entries in the biography of Dr. Hurley, click here and here.

An Sciobairín, Corcaigh1, 5th September, 1855

My dear Dr. Cornish—

Your estimation of this fellow appears to have been sadly confirmed. Though his ministrations have led to success in the past and, I admit, several of his patients have changed sufficiently in hue and temperament during the duration of my stay to prove that his methods are not wholly without merit, I would discourage in the strongest terms his admission into the College2.

After my initial expedition, I made a supplementary call on the clinic in Cill Orglan3 where the ‘good Doctor’—as the skeleton crew at his ‘Baths’4 calls him—obtained his medical training. Although there is a record of one Séamus O’Herlihy5 exiting their program of study (frankly, a program from which the College ought to withdraw support), none of the physicians there was able to provide any further documentary evidence of O’Herlihy’s existence. However, most claimed to have known the man. What contradiction!

As to the fellow himself: the good Dr. Seamus Hurley has no more skill treating dysentery or female hysteria than he does letting blood. He is, my friend, a quacksalver! His skills would harm rather than heal our esteemed organization in the eyes of our countrymen. The College, as we all know, has been through a difficult period, and though we are in dire need of physicians, we must not allow the vagaries of recent years6 to benefit the Hurleys of the world!

Forgive my harshness. I look forward to reconvening in Dublin and to being rid of these potions and notions, these brittle Germans and Englishwomen looking for health and succour in meaningless tinctures and Oriental mumbo-jumbo

Respectfully, your friend and colleague,

Ciaran O’Sullivan, M.D.


  1. Skibbereen, Co. Cork
  2. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
  3. Killorglin, Co. Kerry
  4. Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths & Spa, in Co. Cork.
  5. The Irish clan name O’Herlihy was often anglicised as ‘O’Hurley’. Seamus Hurley would likely have been a common name in the West Cork/Kerry area of Ireland at this time.
  6. Unclear.

Nannerl’s Lament


ou’ve probably come to ask about Wolfgang. Most people do. For many years, I was afraid he’d been forgotten, but now that Salieri is dying, people have become curious about his earliest rival.

My brother would laugh his braying laugh to be considered anyone’s rival. But during his lifetime, it was no laughing matter. Court intrigue blocked his every attempt to secure a permanent job to support his family. Everyone knows he died poor and thinks it was because he was a careless drunkard. He did love luxury, but he was no fool. One day when he had no money to buy firewood, he and Constanze danced crazily around the room with blue lips and chattering teeth, trying to keep warm. He took on the insane task of writing an opera and a requiem at the same time to earn a few badly-needed guineas.

It’s strange what opposite directions our lives have taken. Look around you at the comfortable room that my late husband the Baron has provided for me. Feel the warmth of the crackling fire. See the light gleam on the polished silver and the fine Dresden porcelain we inherited from his mother. I never want for food or care. Yet who would guess that once I played for the crowned heads of Europe, sitting at fine gilt harpsichords next to my little brother as we wove tapestries of brilliant sound? Who even remembers that Mozart had a sister?

When I was a little girl, Papa used to take me on his lap and teach me music at our little Klavier  in Salzburg. For my fourth birthday, he copied out a notebook of minuets I’d learned to play. “Bravo, Nannerl,” he would exclaim. “My musical one, you will go far.” He and his musician friends would exclaim in delight when I played, my legs dangling beneath my ruffled gown.

Then he was born. On a chilly January night, Mama moaned behind closed doors and brought forth a tiny baby, my brother Johann Chrysostomos Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart. The “Gottlieb” means “God’s love,” and was later changed to its Latin form, “Amadeus.” Wolferl seldom took it seriously though, and later poked fun at his ridiculously long name.

At first my brother was a bit like a puppy with his eyes closed all the time. All he did was puke and cry. I did not find him very interesting, and much preferred our real puppy, Bimperl. My parents seemed to like him well enough, though.

When Wolferl grew old enough to walk, he grew especially annoying. He would interrupt my music lessons and try to plink on the keys. Papa gently chased him away, but one day something strange caught his ear.

“Oho, what have we here? Listen, Nannerl.”

“What?” I pouted. I just wanted my brother to go away.

“He’s playing your minuet!”

And indeed he was. Not perfectly, but his tiny fingers were carefully pecking out the main theme in recognizable form. When he was done, Papa scooped him up, laughing in delight.

“Again, Liebling!” He sat down with Wolferl on his lap, pushing me aside, and the two of them spent the afternoon at the Klavier. From then on, Wolfgang received lessons as well.

Papa’s friends convinced him there was money to made with his Wunderkinder, his wonder children. Papa began to have visions of gold dancing in his head. When Wolferl was six and I was ten, we launched our first tour of Europe. Mama came along that time, and we had a wonderful time seeing the sights as we rode through Linz and down the Danube River to Vienna.

We went to Holland, to London, to Paris, falling sleep to the familiar rumble of carriage wheels. We stayed in dark sinister inns, sharing a flea-ridden mattress and shivering in the cold. Mama tried to make jokes and keep our spirits up, but it wasn’t easy. Papa counted our coins and scribbled in his ledgers. Our money was running out fast.

In Paris we weren’t paid at all, but were allowed the privilege of standing behind Louis XIV and Madame Pompadour at dinner. Despite their dazzling gowns and high elaborate wigs, the people at court smelled horrible. Parisians considered bathing unhealthy in those days, so people wore layers of cologne. We Salzburgers, who bathed every week, had to struggle not to hold our noses in the famous halls of Versailles.

So passed our childhood. Sometimes it was exciting, other times it was exhausting and dull. We would come home to Salzburg and delight in the fresh mountain air and romp with Bimperl. It felt so good to sleep in our own beds! Then Papa would pack us up again.

By the time I was twelve, Papa began to leave me behind. Though I had mixed feelings about touring, I hated being left behind without Wolfgang. I had hoped to learn how to compose as he did, but my early efforts were ignored. All Wolferl had to do was spill a concerto onto the page and everyone hailed him as a genius. Later, of course, we knew he was. But I was never given a chance to prove myself.

I have advice for you young people. Don’t be afraid to go out into the world. Let yourself be heard, whatever your passion is. Don’t pass away unknown as I will. Perhaps someday people will learn that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister, and her name was Marianne, whom her family nicknamed “Nannerl.” Remember me.

A first-person account of Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths & Spa

When a research colleague from Northern Germany contacted us recently, claiming to have found a document pertaining to Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa in Skibbereen, we were thrilled. Little did we know, however, that this document – a personal letter from one of the doctor’s patients to her sister (back home in Germany) – would provide such insight into daily life at the Restorative Baths.

The letter-writer – one Mrs. Antonia Gallagher – details the complaints that led her to go to the spa for recovery, describes the activities undertaken by the patients in residence there, and hints at the various treatments prescribed by the doctor. It appears that his assertions about tedium were borne out in the everyday operation of the spa as well as in the courses of treatment he espoused.

This document was uncovered by our esteemed German colleague while she was clearing the attic of a distant, recently deceased relative. It appears that this document survived against stacked odds – there is a good deal of water damage to the paper, a number of tears (the corners of the document seem to have been ripped as our colleague extricated it from behind a badly jammed desk drawer), as well as some evidence of a fire. Our colleague only has this one document to share at this time, but intimated that there may be others of a similar nature.

You may inspect the letter in its original form by clicking to expand the images. For those whose German is lacking, we have provided a translation below.

My dear Sister!

You have most likely been asking yourself why I have not written. Be reassured, there is no reason for concern. In fact, I am not spending the Spring in Cork, but have been sent south by Eamonn while he continues to conduct his business. I was, in any instance, terribly bored in Cork! Yes, I became acquainted with several Ladies from the church congregation, but everything is so strange here, both in the city and in the church. There really are only Catholics over here! You could not even begin to imagine!

I meet with them regularly to do needlework—with the Ladies from church, that is—but it is not really something to which I am suited, and I find it difficult to make myself understood. I continue, diligently, to learn English, but only with difficulty have I become used to the queer dialect of the Natives. Of course, I do not regret that I followed Eamonn, my one true love (for such he is!) to his native land, but the strangeness has begun to go to my liver. And all the rain! In Winter, there was hardly a week when the sun shone for more than one day! I could no longer be happy, and grew ever more querulous.

By chance, Eamonn heard of a place that was supposed to breathe a new joie de vivre into life. And now here I am, at Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa. Aside from me, there are eleven or twelve other guests, but the majority of them stay only for a few days. I, on the other hand, have been here for seventeen days and am recovering from the trials of city life. The establishment is overseen by one Dr. Hurley. He is indeed a young man, no more than five years older than I, and to all appearances in his mid-twenties, and is best equipped to raise and

reinvigorate the spirits of dispirited Men. Every morning, before breakfast, I walk on the beach and breathe in the fresh air and stretch my body as much as I possibly can. The Doctor says that it is good to expand the lungs in order to be well-armed for the day. And the day is always filled with one thing or another.

The Doctor believes, in fact, that boredom may be the death of modern society, and I am only too grateful that he has made it his goal to combat this. I play guessing games with the other guests, we paint and draw, for the ladies there is a crochet group and for the gentlemen a smoking room, and in any case, everyone here is in the best of moods. Of course, even here I have problems with the language, but everyone is so helpful and patient with me! After our evening meal, Dr. Hurley often holds forth on his newest discoveries, and he even hands out potions, herbal remedies and tinctures that help combat all of the ills that have afflicted the people here during their lives.

Often, of an evening, I have a brew of whiskey and different herbs that the Doctor grows in his garden behind the main building. What exactly is in it, he won’t say, but I tell you, it helps marvelously! Rarely was my mood so good as after partaking of this drink! However, the Doctor warns that you should only enjoy it in moderation, otherwise the potions can have the opposite to the intended effect. I myself take care to avoid drinking more than the prescribed measure. I heard from another guest that she woke up with a terrible headache after having drunk her sister-in-law’s portion (she had had indigestion) the evening before.

I plan to stay here for a few more weeks, and to return to Eamonn in Cork during the Summer. I miss him terribly, but I realise how good Dr. Hurley’s prescribed ministrations have been for me. I am quite

excited to see what will happen after my third week here. I have yet to taste any of the Doctor’s tinctures or herbal remedies, but I will let you know as soon as there is anything new to report!

And—how are things with you? Every evening I imagine how things might be going, and what you might be doing. You must certainly have a lot to do, but I am relieved to hear that Johann came to his senses and that you now have a housekeeper.

My most heartfelt and loving kisses,

Your loving sister Antonia

P.S. I am so looking forward to your next letter! Here is my address:

Mrs. Eamonn C. Gallagher
c/o Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa

As always, we would be thrilled to receive any further reports or information pertaining to Dr. Hurley’s beliefs, history, and practices.  Please send any pertinent information and/or documents to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Incomplete Biography of Dr. Hurley: Chapter One

ou will be wondering
whence the name of this collection of jottings, suggestions, and thoughts. Dr. Hurley was by no means the only purveyor of Snake-Oils in his time, nor was he the most famous. Despite his relative obscurity, Dr. Hurley is a fascinating study. In the coming years, we will attempt to discover his character and piece together his history, recounting tales from his life and death, examining his wise counsel, and testing his theories and tonics for the rejuvenation of mind and spirit.

“The greatest ill of humankind,” the eminent Doctor is known to have said, “is tedium. Nothing is more tiresome, nor more likely to advance the march of time and its cruel mistress, age, or to cause stomach upset, a bout of the vapours, or an ache about the temples. It is the duty of those who answer the call of medicine and those who plumb the depths of philosophy to attack tedium in all its forms, to root out its deteriorating influences, and prescribe our patients a course of healing that will lead them back to vitality, interest, health, and youth.”

The Chapel at St. Finn Barre's School for Boys, near Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Ireland.

What we know thus far about Dr. Hurley is very limited indeed, though clearly he was not a terse man. We do not know where or when he acquired his honorific, nor under which precise circumstances he made the long journey from his native Ireland to the bustling young U.S. of A. We do not know whether he married nor whether he had children, nor how he developed the recipe for his famous Snake-Oil Cure. It will be necessary for us to start with the few bare facts we have traced thus far.

r. Seamus Hurley, it can be surmised, was born in the early Nineteenth Century in County Cork, Ireland. Though the Doctor’s birth certificate is lost, from his school records (a school report from St. Finn Barre’s School for Boys shows that he was a good, but not excellent student, and that he was in the fourth year in 1832, though a school portrait shows him looking a good deal younger than his classmates) we can infer that his family resided in the Clonakilty area, situated in the west of this verdant, wind-swept county.

From said document emerges a picture of a young Irishman who was adept at the sciences, uninterested in theology, though curious and amicable all the same. After his schooling, he mysteriously came into fortune and founded Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa in the seaside town of Skibbereen, where he ministered to the wealthy landowner and the lucky housewife alike.

The site of Hurley's Restorative Baths and Spa, Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland.

It was here, no doubt, that the seeds of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure were sown, though there is no record of this elixir of interest having been sold in his native Ireland. Only upon his arrival in the USA do records of Seamus Hurley begin to paint a more complete picture of the man Hurley became.

*        *        *

Although we have assembled the beginnings of an archive documenting Dr. Seamus Hurley’s life and career, we are in desperate need of more information. Please send any first-person accounts, biographical notes, documentation, images, or correspondence pertaining to Dr. Hurley or his Snake-Oil Cure to the editors of this work.  Electronic correspondence may be addressed to snakeoilcure (at) gmail (dot) com.