Further Earwiggery

Further to that earwig business, I found this reference to Speke and earwigs at snopes.com:

John Hanning Speke, remembered for tracking down the source of the Nile River, recorded that the interior of his tent “became covered with a host of small black beetles, evidently attracted by the glimmer of the candle.” Exhausted, Speke went to sleep with them crawling over his person, only to be awakened by one of the “horrid little insects” struggling into his ear. Trying to remove the beetle only pushed it in further. The beetle continued into Speke’s ear as far as possible, and then “he began with exceeding vigour like a rabbit in a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description . . . What to do I knew not.” After trying to flush the critter out with melted butter, Speke tried to dig it out with his penknife, succeeding only in killing it and increasing the damage to his ear. Infection followed, distorting his face and causing boils. “For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle – a leg, a wing, or parts of the body – came away in the wax.”

(Quotes are from Speke’s journals, as referred to in Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton by Edward Rice, 1990, Scribner’s, New York.)

3 thoughts on “Further Earwiggery

  1. This incident features in the film about Speke and Burton’s travels, The Mountains of the Moon. It’s haunted me ever since I first saw it in my youth.

    We witness him very decisively stab at the beetle whilst it’s in his ear; in doing so he manages to inflict on himself some form of brain damage. Iain Glen, who plays Speke, then spends a while looking gormless before, I thought improbably, making a full recovery. Boils and perforations sound much more likely, but no doubt much less cinematic.

    The film’s pretty good.

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