Drugs for Sale

When someone retires from running a business or dies while still in business, it is not unusual for their stock-in-trade to be sold by auction. This might include household furniture and other personal possessions.

In the spring of 1794, “Mr John Smith, Surgeon in Minyhive,” died. On the last day of December, his lawyer, Mr William Acton, arranged the “Sale of Drugs, Surgeons Instruments, Medical Books, and Household Furniture… The roup to begin at mid-day, and to continue till the whole are sold off.”

“A Considerable quantity of all sorts of Drugs” was advertised. Although these are not specified in detail, some idea of the types of medicines available two centuries ago, can be found in an advertisement published in 1801 for “W. Inglis, Surgeon and Druggist” on the Plainstones in Dumfries. Thirteen patent or proprietary medicines, such as “Cundell’s improved Balsam of Honey; Pectoral Essence of Coltsfoot and Greenough’s Lozenges of Tolu” were available “For Consumptions, Coughs, Colds, and Pectoral Complaints”.

“For Corns, Warts, and Issues” there was “Infallible German Corn Plaister” or “Marshall’s Wart Dissolvent”. “For Fevers; Scorbutic, Scrophulous, Rheumatic and Nervous Complaints” there were twelve varieties of powder, cordial, syrup, balm, drops, essence and pills. “For Itch and Eruptive Disorders” ointments and lotions were recommended.

There were medicines for disorders of children; teeth and gums; eyes and head, also “For Wounds, Sores, Bruises, and Sprains” as well as “For Bite of Mad Dogs.”

Veterinary medicines for cattle and horses were also on offer to “Gentlemen and Farriers.”

While the effectiveness of these medicines might not be guaranteed “Every Drug or Medicine, sold or dispensed at Inglis’s Laboratory, is warranted of the choicest quality.”

Another surgeon and druggist, John McNaught, set up in business in 1801 “at the foot of the Friar’s Vennel” in Dumfries. Here &endash; “All Medicinal Compositions, and Physicians prescriptions, prepared by himself with care and exactness” were punctually executed.

The Rev. William Grierson, Minister of Glencairn, wrote about 1790, that, “The people are, in general, healthy… The diseases, which prevail most are rheumatisms, and pains in the stomach and bowels”. He added that several people were over 80 years old, but he did not mention anything about infant mortality or smallpox. About fifteen other Ministers recorded that smallpox had been serious, but was declining as a result of the introduction of innoculation. Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary which opened at the High Dock in 1778 was helping to get smallpox under control by offering free treatment to young children in 1788, thus living up to its motto: “By giving help to the sick, the giver himself becomes enriched.”

Innoculation used active smallpox material, whereas vaccination, which came in ten years later, following the publication of the paper by Edward Jenner in 1798, used material from cow pox, which was far less hazardous.Vaccination saved the lives of millions of people worldwide and any list of the top ten Britons should include the name &endash; JENNER.

The inhabitants of Moniaive might have had more interest in the 18th century furniture than the ingredients for making up medicines at John Smith’s displenishing sale. The drugs and surgeon’s instruments could have been of benefit to Mr Hastings who was practicing as a surgeon in the village by 1797 and into the first part of the 19th century.

© A.B. Hall


Dumfries Weekly Journal

The Statistical Account of Scotland Vol II, Sir John Sinclair 1792

Devils, Drugs and Doctors, Howard W. Haggard

Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, Gordon Irving 1975