Goldfields Medicine: Part 2

Apothecaries: medicines and food

Interior of Apothecary at Sovereign Hill. Gold Museum Collection

Interior of Apothecary at Sovereign Hill. Gold Museum Collection

In a previous post we talked about doctors on the goldfields, and the early hospitals in Ballarat. But there were many other medical people on the goldfields. Among them were the Apothecaries, who could make up medicines, from the ingredients available at the time. Most of these ingredients were based on plant and animal extracts, and could also be used as foodstuffs. Their role is now mainly performed by Pharmacists, but an Apothecary did so much more. They also performed surgery, midwifery and gave medical advice. In this Blog we will explore the secretive world of the Apothecary, and how they contributed to the lives of people on the goldfields and the wider world.

Apothecaries were very secretive and they held their recipes in large books called “Formularies”. These books could be locked to keep prying eyes away from their secrets. An Apothecary had to complete a five year apprenticeship and several examinations before being deemed to be qualified. In this way the standards for Apothecaries could be kept very high, and during the 19th century Apothecaries were often more trusted than doctors or surgeons.

Some Apothecaries became quite famous because of their creativity with different ingredients. Here are some you may have heard of:

Advertisement for Cerebos salt

Advertisement for Cerebos salt

George Duncan Bowie and George Weddell, both were pharmacists and are responsible for creating table salt.

Weddell’s inspiration was his daughter, who was sickly. In order to strengthen her bones and teeth, he mixed magnesium carbonate and calcium carbonate into her salt. He founded Cerebos salt

Before their discovery, salt was broken from a block.

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, D.Sc.h.c. (31 October 1828 – 27 May 1914) was a British physicist and chemist. He is most famous for inventing an incandescent light bulb before its invention by the American Thomas Edison.

Tin of Birds Baking powder

Tin of Birds Baking powder

Alfred Bird had a wife who suffered from a delicate digestion and was unable to digest any dishes with eggs or bread containing yeast.

He turned his hand to creating substitutes for both eggs and yeast.

He is credited with inventing baking powder, which he was able to supply to the British War Department for troops to be regularly supplied with fresh bread. (1842)

He also invented eggless custard, by substituting cornflour for egg in egg custard, and realised after accidentally serving it to some guests that it had a wider use than just feeding his wife. (1837)

James Crossley Eno, Invented “Eno’s Fruit Salt”. Which was especially popular amongst sailors as a safeguard against sea-sickness, fever and change of climate.

John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, invented Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce.  The two men owned and ran a pharmacy in Broad Street Worcester, and legend has it that a maharajah or local gent who had been governor of Bengal gave them the recipe, which they refined into Worcestershire sauce.

Johann Jacob Schweppe (16 March 1740 – 18 November 1821) was a German-born naturalised Swiss watchmaker and amateur scientist who developed the first practical process to manufacture carbonated mineral water, based on a process discovered by Joseph Priestley in 1770. Maybe you have heard of Schweppes, somewhere?

Apothecarists held many of the secrets of food technology close to their chests for a long time. For example the recipe for carbonating water. So if you wanted a

Chow Yew Chinese Apothecary on the Ballarat Goldfields. Gold Museum Collection.

Chow Yew Chinese Apothecary on the Ballarat Goldfields. Gold Museum Collection.

refreshing fizzy drink, you had to visit the Apothecary. You could imagine in summer on the goldfields, this would be in high demand.

As we have seen, they were also called upon to make up sauces and fish pastes as they held many of the ingredients in their stores.

On the Victorian Goldfields it was difficult to bathe regularly, therefore perfumes, colognes, skin perfumes, toilet-waters, “Florida Waters” etc. were important items that Apothecarists had the skills to create. They could also manufacture Almond and other skin lotions for the goldfields ladies. There are even recipes for re-plating of silverware, in those secretive “Formularies” kept by Apothecaries.

Wayne and Robinson Apothecaries Hall, Sovereign Hill.

Robinson and Wayne Apothecaries Hall, Sovereign Hill.

At Sovereign Hill we have re-created the Apothecaries Hall of Robinson and Wayne.  William Bramwell Robinson and Philip Wayne began their partnership in 1856 on New Road, Ballarat Flat. The Ballarat Star from March 16th 1857 reports that Robinson and Wayne offered their business up for sale due to illness. They moved to a new weatherboard shop on Main Road Ballarat in July 1859. The next year they called for tenders to build a brick and stone building in Mair Street. In March 1861 Robinson left Ballarat and Wayne continued on with the business. Sovereign Hill has recreated the Main Road building from sketches made at the time and details in the for sale notice. The building is marked

Doctors surgery at rear of Robinson and Wayne's, Sovereign Hill.

Doctors surgery at rear of Robinson and Wayne’s, Sovereign Hill.

as an Apothecaries Hall by the large Pestle and Mortar on the peak of the front of the building. Many Apothecaries could also practice medicine. Some practiced dentistry as part of their service. However in their case, there was a dentist called De Saxe working close by, so they probably didn’t practice dentistry. Because of their advertisement in 1857, offering part of the business as a surgery, the rear of Robinson and Wayne’s has a consulting surgery. Here, Dr. George Wakefield can be consulted.

Would you like to know more about Apothecaries and their recipes? If you have any questions contact us and we will help.

2 responses to “Goldfields Medicine: Part 2

  1. I am wondering where I can view dental instruments used on the gold fields in a museum in Ballarat.My great grandfather was Thomas Johns he was a mine inspector and an unofficial dentist on the goldfields.He possessed a number of dental instruments which were later displayed in a Ballarat museum. We will be visiting for a few days and would love to see them.Many thanks Sue

    • You can see some in Dr Wakefields Rooms at the back of Sovereign Hill’s Apothecaries’ Hall, but otherwise we’re not sure of any other place where such instruments are currently on display anywhere in Victoria. Maybe that would be a good theme for a small exhibition at the Gold Museum! We will suggest this to the curator 🙂

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