Pills and Potions in County Mayo Newspapers

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, manufacturers of pills, ointments, elixirs, drops, and balms, used newspapers to promote their products. There are countless examples of medical advertisements in historic newspapers published in Mayo.

Consumers purchased these medicines by mail order or from agents in provincial towns or manufacturers' outlets. While they offered little, if anything, in medicinal terms to users, the level of advertising across such an extended period suggests a market for these products.

How did manufacturers convince so many people to purchase their dubious remedies? The style and wording of the advertisements and packaging played a part. But we also need to investigate the minds and circumstances of those who sought alternatives to the advice and remedies offered by their doctor. In the highly regulated world of 2022, people buy products that promise miracle cures over the internet, notwithstanding the risks.

Revenue from commercial advertising played an essential role in the emergence of papers like the Connaught Telegraph. John Bole, the owner of the Mayo Constitution, was also the sole agent for Dublin chemist John Evans. Bole sold Evans' products, including bottles of Solution of Leontodon Taraxacum (Dandelion ) from the Constitution's office on Ellison Street. Like the many stationers, booksellers, and general traders appointed as agents, Bole had no medical training.

Hynes of Ballina, Hearne & Son., Ballinrobe, Lynch of Westport, and Brabazon of Castlebar, were the local agents of Dublin chemists Bewly and Evans. The latter produced several generic medicines and cosmetics, including 'Poor Man's Cough Drops.' One might ask whether they were less effective than the rich man's version. A list of popular medicines published in the Connaught Telegraph included Mrs S. A. Allen's World's Hair Restorer, Dent's Anti-Fat Remedy for the 'removal of corpulence' and a cure for cancer – Ringwood's Cancer-Specific.

In the late 1820s, Butler of Dublin offered an extensive product range, including Dixon's Anti-Bilious Pills, Ching's Worm Lozenges, and Family Medicines. Young of Castlebar was their agent. Butler employed the tried and tested formula of linking their products to the crown and government. Consumers could take reassurance from the fact that they were the 'Chemists to his Majesty and the Lord Lieutenant.' Their products were 'Genuine Patent Medicines' and 'Approved.'

Many advertisements were accompanied by favourable reviews and endorsements by users or 'independent' upstanding gentlemen. In January 1847, Castlebar stationer John Young had a letter he wrote to a Mr Kaye published in the Mayo Constitution. He explained that several people, including Thomas Roach of Turlough, had been cured by Kaye's Pills. Young was Kaye's Castlebar agent.

Not all products lent themselves to public endorsement by local gentlemen. Advertisements for cures for impotence, hair loss and sexually transmitted diseases make up a considerable proportion of the collection in Mayo papers. These adverts targeted desperate individuals who, in many cases, may have been reluctant to consult their doctor. Advertisements married graphic descriptions of the effects of syphilis and venereal disease with assurances that a cure was available. Perry's Purifying Specific Pills offered both sexes a treatment for venereal disease. Confidentiality was guaranteed.

In 1840-1847, the Constitution and Telegraph published Perry's advertisement: 'In cases of Secrecy, consult the Treatise.' The latter was a set of instructions and graphic images 'secretly enclosed' with Perry's pills. This 'medical' work contained a commentary on the harmful effects of 'solitary indulgence' and infection. Perry cautioned against consulting 'illiterate' men who offered remedies containing mercury. Perry's Pills were sold at Atkinson's Medical Establishment, Castlebar. Sufferers likely chose the online option of the day – the postal system.

In April 1849, the Constitution published a letter advocating Ponsonby Drops during a cholera outbreak. In 1833, eight Limerick cholera sufferers were given the drops as part of a medical experiment – six died. William B. Stoney cautioned against relying solely on the drops and encouraged the use of various remedies.

It is unlikely these products found favour to any great extent with the poorer classes in Mayo. The advertisements were in English language newspapers, and the cost of the medicines and postage would have been prohibitive. These people had their own herbal remedies and cures passed down by word of mouth for generations.


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