The contemporary hype about Ritalin-drugged kiddies went out the window when I went to an exhibition in the foyer of UQ’s Fryer Library just now. Called The Archaology of Victorian Childhood, it features an exhibit on the raft of opium-laced patent medicines marketed specifically to Victorian infants.
According to the exhibit, Australian coroner’s reports from the 1800s consistently named opiate-based infant ‘preservatives’ and soothing syrups as a cause of the death of small children. For example, a ten-month old Brisbane boy called John Cope died of narcotic poisoning in 1884 after being spoon-fed Steedman’s Teething Powder, bought from a chemsit in Fortitude Valley.
Here is a list of opium-based patent medicines available over the counter in Brisbane in 1900, all marketed with suitably evocative names and pastel-sweet domestic imagery:
Atkinson’s Royal Infant Preservative, Bonnington’s Irish Moss, Kay’s Essence of Linseed, and Moulton’s Pain Paint (active ingredients chloroform and morphine);
Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral (morphine);
Ayer’s Sarsaparilla Mixture, Chamberlain’s Cough Remedy, Godfrey’s Cordial, Perry Davis’ Painkiller, Powell’s Balsam of Aniseed, Steedman’s Teething Powder (opium); and
Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup (opium alkaloids).