We live in an age of luggage limitations, weight surcharges and baggage fees. Traveling light seems to be the buzzword. This was not so during the Victorian Era. Men and women had trunks, grips and valises of clothing and unmentionables. Their wardrobes required specialty cases, complete with drawers and hanging compartments.
But clothing wasn't the only thing they were required to pack.
Victorian travelers were required to carry a truck of doctor's stuff. In My Winter on the Nile, Charles Dudley Warner describes what he brought to the Land of Pharoahs, aka Egypt.
"...you will need blue-pills, calomel, rhubarb, Dover's powder, James's powder, carbolic acid, laudanum, quinine, sulphuric acid, sulphate of zinc, nitrate of silver, ipecacuanha, and blister plaster."
Okay, those blue-pills are not the blue pills of today. They seem to be made of some mercury salt and were used to treat toothache, constipation, childbirth pain, parasitic infestation and tuberculosis.
Calomel is mercurous chloride, which aside from poisoning you with mercury, acts as a cathartic (laxative)
Rhubarb is a plant that most of us associate with strawberry-rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is also a laxative.
Dover's powder is a mix of opium and ipecacuanha and is used as a pain reliever. It also causes sweating and checks spasms.
James's powder is a fever powder. I don't know if it reduces it or induces it but it contained arsenic.
Carbolic acid is an antiseptic or disinfectant and is used outside the body. When ingested, it is a poison.
Laudanum, that mainstay of historical novels, is a liquid whose main ingredient is opium.
Quinine is still around today and is used to treat malaria. Nowadays, it's a tablet but in Victorian times, it was a bitter powder dissolved in water or alcohol.
Sulphuric acid is an acid used in dyes, fertilizers, explosives and batteries. This had to be diluted in water before swallowed.
Sulphate of zinc had two uses. When swallowed, it induced vomiting but when applied externally it was an astringent for ulcers. It also had to side benefit as a spermicide (so maybe those Victorians weren't so prudish after all).
Nitrate of silver is used today in developing photographs but was recommended as a cauterizing agent.
Ipecacuanha is still in use today to induce vomiting.
Blister plaster is a plaster specifically designed to raise a blister to burn out the illness.
As you can see, the Victorian traveler was well prepared to treat illness or induce it. And sometimes both. But how would you use these items?
Well, going back to Mr. Warner, "If you feel a little unwell, take a few blue pills, only about as many as you can hold in your hand; follow these with a little Dover's powder, and then repeat, if you feel worse, as you probably will; when you rally, take a few swallows of castor-oil, and drop into your throat some laudanum; and then, if you are alive, drink a dram of sulphuric acid."
Wow. Those required immunizations don't seem so bad now, do they?
Since the story featuring my Victorian heroine's journey to Egypt has been delayed, my publisher has graciously agreed to put the ebook featuring her parents' love story on sale until August 15th.
As a special bonus for the blog tour, I have a free paranormal short story available here:
And lastly, on August 31st, I'll be drawing for a Ankh necklace. To enter, send an email with one of the Victorian medicines featured in today's blog to contests at lindaandrews dot net (placed in proper email format).