Medicine in 1860s Victoria

Medicine Notes

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Transcripts of some items from the medical notebook of Dr. J. S. Helmken at the British Columbia Archives, call number MS-0505, Volume 4.


"It is a very useful laxative, acts on the large intestines, in Haemorroids and irritable bowels ... in chronic coughs to which old coachmen are troubled with…"


"The principle use is in the treatment of Ague & intermittent fever … in malarious plagues. In chronic diseases of the skin as Lepra Psorias but there is a danger of its absorption … if the eyelids become stiff its use must be broken off. It excites the capillaries of the skin. It is also said to do good in chronic Rheumatism."

Zinc Sulfate

"In small doses acts as an astringent… Checks secretions and constipates the bowels; it seems to have specific influence on the nervous system."

Employment of Zinc

"It is one of the most valuable metals which we possess… The Sulfate exerts a special tonic effect on the nervous fibrilla not only those of voluntary motion but on those of involuntary also viz. those of the great sympathetic systems … it is an excellent emetic producing little nausea and acting very quickly … Rheumatism it is also most valuable, no remedy seems so effectual in alleviating and checking this incurable malady … but it is in the treatment of Chorea that Zinc is indispensable - this disease is an involuntary action of the muscles which are drawn up & down in every way… Another disease in which it is very valuable is Epilepsy, this is a most intractable disease … see whether they have an aura - that is as if any person was blowing on a part, which runs up to the brain … you may conclude that there is no organic mischief."


"It is most valuable in Anaemia, where you see the face pale and ashy - doughy - the patient feels low sits about in all corners - melancholy - with palpitation of the heart on slight exertion … It is said to diminish the size of the enlarged spleen - but it is not so useful in enlarged liver. When taken for some time the stools become black - the blood red - the pale lips resume their rosy hue … Some refer an aenemia to an abnormal condition of the blood and that iron acts and does good by improving the quality of this fluid…"


"It is what may be called a sedative tonic, a tonic in giving strength, as sedative in relieving morbid irritability."


"It is used in diseases characterized by feebleness of the muscular fibre and vascular action."


"It is the sea onion growing on the shores of the Mediterranean - it is diuretic, emetic & expectorant … lowers the pulse … is the most useful in Dropsy…"


"In Nervous and Hysterical depression… In pain and in restlessness arising from irritability of the nervous system it is of great use. In low fever … we may give this with much benefit. In constant Hiccough and other spasmodic diseases it is of good service."

Digitalis Purpurea

"It is a sedative poison … It is also a Sedative and Diruretic. Its sedative action being chiefly on the heart. It usually produces, in small doses, Pallor, pulse slower, Heart lower, cold sweat, tendency to fainting, and sudden death when any little unusual exertion … the best antidote will be to give Brandy with Ammonia and other stimulant, there is no true antidote known for Digitalis. In diseases of the Heart, where there is narrow contracted orifice, it is used with Benefit…"


"To allay pain and irritation, is very valuable. In neuralgia … rubbed on is most valuable…"

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