Chosen by The Sussex Family History Group
This chemist’s prescription book from Bognor was bought by the Record Office using a grant from the Sussex Family History Group in 2015. It records a patient index and ingredients for prescriptions, and not only provides a unique look into the ailments and cures available in the 1870s, but most notably includes prescriptions for celebrated Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
A founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of notable English painters and poets who sought to return to the abundant detail and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art, Rossetti was known for both his sensual poetry and vivid medievalist painting alike. Closely linking his public works with his personal life, the death of his wife and infamous red-headed muse Elizabeth Siddal, combined with unfavourable critics responses to his first poetry collection, led to Rossetti’s eventual mental and physical decline. In October 1875 the depressed and chloral-addicted Rossetti left his notorious Cheyne Walk residence in London, for Bognor and stayed for some 18 months, commencing the painting ‘Venus Astarte’.
Whilst staying on the West Sussex coast, Rossetti’s declining health is clearly evident in the Bognor chemist’s book, which includes entries that record his receipt of two prescriptions in 1875.
Since the prescription book has been available at the Record Office, one helpful researcher has been able to aid us in ‘translating’ the entries from their abbreviated state and interpret the dated terminology to discover what Rossetti was prescribed whilst in Bognor.
- Dilute Hydrochloric Acid: “3 drams” (roughly 3 teaspoons) – this is the ‘active ingredient’
- Orange Tincture (Tinct Aurant): “9 drams” (roughly 9 teaspoons) – this is for flavouring
- Misce: ‘mix it’ – the ingredients are to be mixed together
Instructions (from abbreviated Latin):
- sumat: “Let him take”
- 3i: 1 dram (1 teaspoon) – the ‘3’ is actually a symbol that denoted ‘dram’
- bis die: twice a day
- ex: out of (in this case actually meaning ‘in’ or ‘with’)
- cyatho: a glass
- aqua: water
“Stir one teaspoon into a glass of water twice a day and drink it.”
The quantity is sufficient for a 6 day supply, so presumably this is for short term usage.
Even diluted and flavoured with orange, hydrochloric acid would not normally be prescribed to patients today. People with digestive complaints would tend instead to be given products aimed at decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach, the exact opposite of this product.
It may have been possible that the doctor felt the patient was not producing enough stomach acid, and so prescribed this dose as an ‘appetite stimulant’, if so it would probably have had very little therapeutic benefit diluted to this level, but perhaps produced a ‘placebo’ effect.
The chemist’s book provides not only an interesting insight into the pharmaceutical practices of the time, but acts as an example of how everyday records can humanise and contextualise well-known figures such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his stomach problems, as well as the likes of a Miss Wilkins of Bognor and her chilblains.
The Sussex Family History Group have kindly sponsored the production of the published booklet of our 70 favourite records, and we thank the group for their ongoing support. Find more information about the Sussex Family History Group on their website http://www.sfhg.org.uk/