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Speke’s Ear Nightmare

Of all the injuries and afflictions suffered by John Hanning Speke during his quest to discover the source of the Nile in 1854 and 1856 none was as EARie as the incident in which a beetle lodged itself in his ear.

by Southwell Brothers, sepia carbon print, (circa 1863)

Too exhausted to contend with the countless “small black beetles” swarming about his tent, Speke quickly fell asleep. He quickly awoke when one of the bugs entered his ear. The pain grew in intensity as the beetle began digging into his eardrum. When pouring melted butter into his ear failed to flush it out, Speke took to lancing the creature with a penknife; a move that led to an infection so severe that it caused him partial deafness and ate a hole between his nose and ear. Recovery took more than seven months.

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