Little Willie the Poisoner

The ‘Little Willy‘ is a genre of short poems with an obscure origin but almost certainly inspired by, or inspired, the ‘Ruthless Rhymes‘ of ‘Harry’ Graham (Col. D. Streamer). They have in common a callous or light-hearted spirit and involve the horrible actions of the horrid Little Willy, with no one becoming particularly upset or more than a little irritated.

Little Willie by Harry Graham
Little Willies 1911

Perhaps you know ‘Little Willie the Poisoner’?

Willie poisoned his father’s tea;
Father died in agony.
Mother came, and looked quite vexed:
“Really, Will,” she said, “what next?!”

And Little Willie answered: Arsenic.

Little Willie feeling mean
Fed his sister Paris Green
As she lay in agony
Willie boy was full of glee.

And then, still full of glee, came radium in grandma’s tea:

Little Willie, full of glee,
Put radium in grandma’s tea.
Now he thinks it quite a lark
To see her shining in the dark.

Inevitably, perhaps, Little Willie himself eventually succumbed to his poisonous escapades. It is unclear whether he met his end due to a mishap with sulphuric acid:

Little Willie’s dead and gone.
His face we’ll see no more.
For what he thought was H2O
was H2SO4.

Or with mercury:

Little Willie from his mirror
Sucked the mercury all off.
Thinking, in his childish error.
It would cure his whooping-cough.

At the funeral, Willie’s mother
Smartly said to Mrs. Brown, 
‘T was a chilly day for William 
When the mercury went down.’

1895 version…
Little Willie Mercury 1904
Little Willy 1904

Old letter

Literary Medicine


Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

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