Medicine in 1860s Victoria

Helmcken Medicines

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Dr. Helmcken was an apothecary as well as a physician, and kept a large selection of medicines. His medicine chest, now kept at Helmcken House next to the BC Provincial Museum, is shown at the right.

He also kept an account book containing a long list of medicines and medical equipment. One page of this book is shown below. The book also contains lists of medicines shipped to other communities in British Columbia, as well as of drugs purchased and sold. Helmcken sent medicines to outposts along the coast and in the interior, and referred to them as "so many purges, so many dozen pukes, and so many dozen of quinine and calomel, etc." Click for reference data

While a student in London, Helmcken took notes on the medical uses, properties and preparation of many chemicals and plants used as the basis of nineteenth century medicine. Transcripts of some of those notes are available here .


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Helmcken Medicine Chest Click for a larger image Click for reference data
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Helmcken Medical Account Book

This is part of a page from Dr. Helmcken's medicine and equipment account book. It is not clear from the book whether Helmcken actually had or used all of the items listed; this could be just a list of the medicines a properly-supplied doctor should have access to.

The list is written in an elegant, careful script, quite unlike Dr. Helmcken's notebooks, but it does appear to be his hand writing.

On this page we find Coriander Seeds and Powder (pd), Creosote, Croton Oil, Cubebs Pulverized and Powder, Cusparia Bark, Cuttle-fish Powder, Dandelion Extract, Dill Oil and Seeds, Dragons Blood, and Digitalis Leaves, Tincture and Powder. The only truly exotic item is the Dragons Blood; there is no indication of how such a substance was obtained or used. Creosote is not something modern doctors would likely prescribe, though digitalis is still used as a heart medicine. The other substances are derived from plants, as many Victorian era medicines were.

A more complete transcription of the medicines in Dr. Helmcken's account book can be found here .

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