Odds and quads

This watercolour of the medical kit owned by the great Victorian missionary and explorer David Livingstone (1813-73) was painted shortly after his death in what is now Zambia.

March 3, 2011

It forms part of the archive of the Council for World Mission (formerly the London Missionary Society), held by the School of Oriental and African Studies Library in London.

Although the selection of medicines looks impressive, the cure may have been worse than the disease. On an earlier expedition to assess the natural resources of southeastern Africa in 1858-64, Livingstone took with him a recipe for a fever remedy - known as a "Zambezi Rouser" - which, along with rhubarb and spirit of cardamom, included resin of julap, calomel (or mercury chloride) and quinine.

Several of the ingredients are either toxic or emetic, and the remedy was usually taken "till the ears ring or deafness is produced", an early sign of poisoning.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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