Walking along the seafront there is a lot of public art to see, much of it weathering badly after only 25 years. One stone relief shows a Baron Spolasco, and around his head are set tablets of verse which reads:
I pledge unto SPOLASCO’S name
A name in which we glory
His splendid CURES and HEALING fame
Recorded are in story.
He may have been born in or near Manchester as John Smith, but before he came to Swansea he had been selling his medical advice and potions in Cork until patients began to suffer more from his cures than their ailments. He boarded a ship to escape any further beatings at the hands of unhappy Irishmen, but it struck a rock and sank. He survived by clinging to a rock for three days, until the storm calmed and rescue came. Returning to Cork he published a pamphlet of his ordeal and was hailed a hero. (How short the public memory.) But soon he left again for Swansea, with carriage, horses, man-servant and much pre-arranged publicity. The picture caption above is part of an advert he placed in a Swansea paper to announce his arrival, it continued, ‘having been called professionally to Wales, he may be consulted at his residence, 2 Adelaide Place, Swansea, relative to every Disease to which the human frame is liable.’
Crowds turned out to see him arrive, ‘in coach and horses, in splendid trappings, with postillions in bright colours and cockades, a black manservant in gorgeous livery . . . .’ and so on.
He arrived in 1838 and established a thriving business thanks to copious advertising. He even survived two court cases, being acquitted of damaging patients health both times, but bad stories gradually began to dominate and he left Wales in 1845 for London. Later he turned up in New York, still selling his medical skills, but ultimately died there in poverty.
In a world of generally poorly developed medicine and bad communications a man could make a living selling snake-oil, for a while anyway. But why did the developers celebrate him in their sculpture trail? Perhaps they saw similarities between themselves and him? Selling little boxes on the dockside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.