Object Parents

    Natural resources that “parent” objects:
  • 'Japanned' metal: an East Asian lacquer preparation based on the dried sap of the Toxicodendron vernicifluum tree
  • ammonium bromide: The ammonium salt of hydrobromic acid. The use of bromides in medicine dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. The salts were used in neurological and mental diseases, particularly in epilepsy.
  • Blaud pill: Ferrous carbonate pill, a hematinic agent attributed to French physician Pierre Blaud (1774–1858), once used to treat iron deficiency anaemia; ferrous sulphate is the currently preferred agent for iron deficiency.
  • calomel: Occurs as a secondary mineral which forms as an alteration product in mercury deposits. It occurs with native mercury, amalgam, cinnabar, mercurian tetrahedrite, eglestonite, terlinguaite, montroydite, kleinite, moschelite, kadyrelite, kuzminite, chursinite, kelyanite, calcite, limonite and various clay minerals. (The type locality is Moschellandsburg, Alsenz-Obermoschel, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.)
  • chloroform and morphine
  • corrosive sublimate
  • Dover powder: powder from the Papaver somniferum and the Carapichea ipecacuanha (which is a species of flowering plant in the Rubiaceae family, native to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil)
  • ginger essence: Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or simply ginger, is widely used as a spice or a medicine. Ginger likely originated as ground flora of tropical lowland forests in regions from the Indian subcontinent to southern Asia, where its cultivation remains among the world's largest producers, including India, China, and other countries of southern Asia (see Production). Numerous wild relatives are still found in these regions,and in tropical or subtropical world regions, such as Hawaii, Japan, Australia, and Malaysia.
  • glass-stoppered bottles: crushed flint (as a source of silica) and the addition of lead oxide produced clear glass in 19th century
  • Hazeline: distilled extract of witch hazel (from Hamamelis virginiana).
  • Ink: a complex medium, composed of solvents, pigments, dyes, resins, lubricants, solubilizers, surfactants, particulate matter, fluorescents, and other materials
  • Ipecacuanha: made from the dried root of Cephaelis ipecacuanha, a plant from Brazil.
  • iron and arsenic compound: interaction of soln of sodium arsenate and ferrous sulfate
  • laxative vegetable
  • leather strap: animal hides imported from Argentina and South Africa most probably
  • medicine droppers
  • opium: seedpods of the Papaver somniferum poppy
  • paper labels
  • paper wrapping: mainly wood (spruce, pine, fir, larch and hemlock, and hardwoods such as eucalyptus, popular, aspen and birch) and esparto grass
  • pepana
  • phenacetin compound: condensation of p-nitrophenol in a sodium hydroxide solution with ethyl bromide followed by reduction with sodium sulfide and acetylation with acetic anhydride
  • quinine and cinnamon: quinine derives from the bark of a cinchona tree & cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species from the genus Cinnamomum
  • quinine and rhubarb compound (Livingstone Rouser): quinine derives from the bark of a cinchona tree & Rheum rhabarbaru is a species of plant in the family Polygonaceae.
  • quinine bisulphate: an alkaloid derived from the bark of the cinchona tree
  • soda-mint: a salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions
  • tonic compound: the bark of a cinchona tree
  • zinc-sulphate: zinc sulfate is produced by treating any zinc-containing material (metal, minerals, oxides) with sulfuric acid.

Tabloid Medicine Chest

BC666 Floyd Family Papers (Medicine Chest) (As listed in Wellcome catalogue: No. 254 (The Indian))

15cm in height and depth, and 20cm in width
Currently locked away in Strongroom 3 in the UCT Jagger Library. Prior appointment to the library staff needed in order to view the object. Object should be handled with gloves, and a form signed in order to take any photos of it.

Object Domicile

Strongroom 3, Jagger Library, University of Cape Town Special Collections, Upper Campus

Object Origin

Wellcome, Burroughs and Co. offices. Snow Hill Building. The corner of Snow Hill and Holborn Viaduct in London. 1883 - 1941

On the night of 10-11 May 1941, during one of the heaviest nights of the Blitz, the Snow Hill building was destroyed. Afterwards, staff were temporarily moved to other Wellcome owned sites – such as the main warehouse where Wellcome’s collection was stored in Willesden and to the Wellcome Research Institution on Euston Road (which is now the Library and where the rest of Wellcome Collection is situated).

A small medicine chest, listed as BC666, can be found in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Cape Town. Roughly 15cm in height and depth, and 20cm in width, it is made of metal and painted black, with the words ‘Trade Mark’, ‘Tabloid’ and ‘Brand’ printed under the keyhole, on its front. Fitted with a brown leather strap and metal clasps, the case suggests easy portability and containment. Manufactured by Wellcome Burroughs & Co in the 19th century, these travelling Tabloid brand medicine chests accompanied eminent explorers such as Stanley, Scott and Shackleton on their travels – and was a firm favourite amongst missionaries and explorers coming to Africa, seen as a tool to combat ‘tropicality’. This particular chest belonged to Walter Floyd, a dentist born in Kent, who opened a practice in Cape Town in 1904, and bought it for a hunting trip he made in (then) Northern Rhodesia in 1913. As an object, the chest speaks of the history of imperialism, colonialism, disease and local medical practices of the period.

The chest as property of Walter Floyd

The medicine chest forms part of a larger collection of documents (the BC666 Floyd Family papers) in the Manuscripts and Archives department of the University of Cape Town. According to the Collecting Policy of the Department manuscripts “relating to the political, social, cultural and economic history of the Cape Province, in particular the Western Cape” should be collected in order “to support research needs of the students and the staff of the University of Cape Town” (UCT Libraries: online). This particular collection consists of the personal papers of Walter and Agnes Floyd (documents such as school certificates, passports and personal correspondence), papers concerning the financial affairs of the family, a large quantity of papers on dental matters, and papers relating to Agnes Floyd’s business ventures. As part of this vast array of documents which were all categorised, divided and subdivided as part of standard archival practice, the medicine chest stands somewhat apart from the rest, as it is the only object in this collection. It is however, one of many objects in the library tied to donations or bequests of personal and organisational papers that become, in some sense, ‘buried’ due to accepted archival practices which prescribe they remain tied to these collections.

This essay will explore the chest as the property of Walter Floyd, outlining the possible reasons which would have motivated its purchase for the hunting trip he undertook  in 1913 to (then) Northern Rhodesia.

It is uncertain when Walter Floyd arrived in South Africa, though records prove that he was living here in January 1902. In 1904, he bought a dental practice in Cape Town and in June 1909, he entered into partnership with William Johnston (Hart & Lydall 1981: 1).

The large amount of papers in the BC666 collection pertaining to dental matters (legal and financial papers of the practice, papers of the various dental societies to which Walter belonged, letters on various dental matters, as well as a large section devoted to correspondence, memoranda and notes on the Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Act of 1928) shows he was very active in dental politics. An office-bearing member of the Dental Society of the Cape Province, and a member of the South African Dental Association, he was a key figure in formulating and presenting the dentists’ case against unqualified dental mechanics in the proposed new medical bill, which was passed in 1928 as the Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Act. In 1913, he undertook a hunting trip with a few of his friends to (then) Northern Rhodesia. The BC666 collection includes his safari diary, photographs and the No. 254 (The Indian) Wellcome Burroughs & Co. medicine case he acquired for the trip. His letters to Agnes Chamberlain, who had come out to South Africa in 1907 from her home near Bristol and taught at the Star of the Sea convent in St James, describe the trip in vivid detail.

On his return, he married Agnes in 1914 and they had four children: Eleanor, Hugh, Katherine and Godfrey. When the war broke out, Walter was stationed in German East Africa in 1915 and 1916 as part of the South African Medical Corps of which there are many letters and photos in the collection.

He died in 1934. A newspaper article, possibly the Cape Times, notes his death (Sudden death of city dentist): “Mr. Floyd and his wife attended the performance of Galsworthy’s play, “The Roof,” at the Little Theatre, on Thursday night. After the performance they walked down Government Avenue, and caught a train to Rondebosch, where they recede. In the train Mr Floyd had a heart attack and collapsed, not recovering again” (Hart & Lydall 1981: A1.562).

As a British citizen, a dentist and a hunter, many ideas about what he would encounter in Northern Rhodesia during his 1913 trip, would have been influenced by broader British views about the empire and its colony – and these would have led to the subsequent purchase of the No. 254 (The Indian) Burroughs Wellcome & Co Tabloid medicine case.

Except for an occasional Portuguese explorer, the area that would become known as Rhodesia, lay untouched by Europeans for centuries. After the mid-19th century, it was penetrated by Western explorers, missionaries, and traders. The missionary-explorer David Livingstone, in 1855, was the first European to see the waterfalls on the Zambezi River. In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British commercial and political interests in Central Africa, allegedly obtained mineral rights concession from local chiefs – and later that year, both Northern and Southern Rhodesia were proclaimed a British sphere of influence. Rhodesia’s history, up to the time that Floyd would have visited in 1913, formed part of what historians call the “Scramble for Africa”—the period from about 1870 to the outbreak of world war in 1914, during which Africa was  divided between the major European powers, and the machinery of trade and rule was set up to retain dominion over the continent and its people (Tilley 2011:32).  Britain was primarily concerned with maintaining its lines of communication with India, hence its interest in Egypt and South Africa. Once these two areas were secured though, acquisition of further territory ensued, and exploration assumed a more privileged status as an agent of knowledge, wealth, and power during this period.

The figure of the explorer was a popular one during the nineteenth century, with museums, societies, and related organizations supplying much of the institutional support and intellectual rationale for exploration (Kennedy 2007: 1887). The Royal Geographical Society became the leading institutional advocate of British exploration after its founding in 1830, and it would remain so through the nineteenth century. It was simultaneously a sober scientific institution, a shrewd promoter of the explorer as national hero and a strong lobby for British economic and political interests abroad (2007: 1886). Intellectual curiosity – the desire to advance scientific understanding of the natural world and acquire information about the diverse species that inhabited it – supplied an important impetus for many of the probes into unfamiliar lands, with institutions defining the objectives of the expedition and saddling explorers with sets of protocols that governed their activities in the field (2007:1886). It became obligatory for explorers to maintain a daily journal, record latitude and longitude, measure rainfall and wind direction, collect botanical specimens and geological samples, gather word lists and ethnographic artifacts from indigenous peoples, and much more. Many of these tasks also required precision instruments such as sextants, chronometers, barometers, thermometers, pedometers, and artificial horizons. Historians of science have noted that the primary purpose of these instruments was to establish a system of “standardisation and accountability” to the activities of explorers, providing “forms of equivalence and modes of comparison” for the information they brought back to Britain (Bourguet, Licoppe & Siburn 2002: 3, 8). This inquisitiveness was accompanied by the acquisitiveness of Western capitalism.

The expeditions undertaken by explorers sought out new routes, new markets, and new resources, ranging from plants to minerals and more – all of these tying in to imperial ambitions. Scholars, such as Edward Said (1979) have argued that the epistemology of exploration was inherently imperial, contributing to the ‘imaginative geography’ of distant lands as inherently alien and savage, a characterization that allowed the British to advocate a ‘civilizing mission’. This view has been discussed by many scholars in recent years (Arnold 1996, 2000; Driver & Martins 2005; Stepan 2001) with particular attention paid to the ways the category of the ‘tropical’ was applied to certain regions of the world – which would have included Central Africa and Rhodesia. David Arnold (1996, 2000) has noted how the tropics were understood as both a specific geographical location – extending from the equator to the North and South parallels of the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn – as well as a conceptual space – something culturally and politically alien, as well as environmentally distinctive from the west. Western language describing tropical climates was saturated with words such as “paradise, plush, and bountiful, alongside danger, disease and darkness” (Arnold in Johnson 2008: 258).

Burroughs Wellcome & Co (from here referred to as BWC), the company that manufactured the medicine chest, actively promoted imagery of the tropics in journals such as Tropical Life, Medical Missionary, Journal of Tropical Medicine, and Climate, in order to promote their products – and the medicine cases in particular – as the “ideal antidote against a tropical landscape at once full of potential wealth for imperial Britain, but simultaneously rife with disease” (Johnson 2008: 258). Seemingly at the forefront of human exploration and colonisation, BWC made a “special feature” of studying medical and surgical requirements for expeditions to tropical climates and conducted research throughout the empire in its own laboratories, and in conjunction with state and colonial facilities (D’Arcy 1999; Church & Tansey 2007).

Along with the explorer, the missionary doctor also exercised a powerful hold over the Western imagination – feeding into ideas of ‘tropicality’ during the colonial period. Livingstone paved the way with his unprecedented public celebrity, derived from his saintly persona and success in communicating a moral rationale for exploration: “the redemptive power of commerce and Christianity for Africa’s slave-ridden peoples” (Kennedy 2007: 1889). David Hardiman writes in Healing bodies, Saving Souls: “During the colonial era, mission doctors (…) worked with sick people in remote parts of the globe, treating maladies that were seen to be as much social as physical. They laboured not only to restore health to the bodies of ‘natives’, but also to save their souls” (Hardiman 2006: 5). Megan Vaughan supports this and, in Curing their ills (1991), she explores how, during colonial times, the Europeans were fascinated by the image of the white doctor working in tropical climes. In the nineteenth century, this encounter was often: “Framed in a jungle-like setting, as in many pictorial depictions of David Livingstone. The white doctor stands confronting both the ‘nature’ and the ‘culture’ of the dark continent, the boundaries between which are disturbingly ill-defined. Armed only with his faith and his medicine, he is stalked both by the animals of the bush and by men in animal skins” (Vaughan 1991: 1).

Western medical intervention was often portrayed as an important first contact between Europeans and locals and here again, Walter’s medicine case would have featured as a pivotal object in these interactions. Pictured alongside white Europeans, BWC promoted the Tabloid brand medicine chest as going “hand in hand with the advance of civilisation, the conquest against disease and the battle against ignorance and superstition” (1934:27). According to BWC (1934: 29): “[T]abloid’ medical equipments have been the choice of famous missionaries and of the foremost missionary organisations throughout the world, because it is recognised that not only do they enable effective medical treatment to be given in the most remote places but they are a valuable asset in securing the attention and goodwill of the natives to religious teaching”.

Walter’s No. 254 was a firm favourite  amongst missionaries in the BWC medicine chest range. It duplicated the iconic No. 250 chest Stanley carried with him on his journeys into central Africa (Johnson 2008: 256) but was light weight and could therefore be kept “close to a European body” (Battersby 1900: 26). Made of teakwood, it was “not easily attacked by white ants” and lined with “japanned” metal to keep the contents safe from the tropical elements (27). The chest had “the usual accoutrements, except in fewer amounts” (27). It contained 16 glass stoppered bottles, six four-dram phials, and lacked bulky items such as 7 lbs of Vaseline, 10 lbs of Epsom salt, and 10 lbs of boric acid. Missionaries from Livingstone College referred to the chest as the ‘Livingstone College Medicine Chest’ and adored it as much they might a college mascot (27).  It thus seems that both the explorer and medical narratives would potentially have influenced Floyd’s purchase of the No. 254 chest. Another narrative could have been that of the hunter in Africa.

During the nineteenth century, hunting narratives also fed contemporary desires for stories of exotic adventures, manly enterprise and colonial conquest (Thompsell 2015: 5). Thompsell argues that because of the depletion of game along Africa’s coastlines, hunting took place on and, indeed, beyond the colonial frontier where imperial powers were in the making and the tentacles of civilization, as the British understood it, did not “constrain the actions of white gentlemen” (Thompsell 2015: 7). Along with the depletion of animal populations, the avid demand for ivory resulted in the retreat of elephants and other game into the “‘fly’-infested districts”, which radically altered the logistics and demographics of hunting. The tsetse fly was the vector for trypanosomiasis, better known as sleeping sickness in humans or nagana in animals, and in East and Central Africa, nagana was endemic. East and Central Africa also had higher rates of malaria, and while hunters did not know that the disease was carried by mosquitoes, they knew to avoid regions where ‘the fever’ was found. By the 1870s, however, the retreat of game had drawn hunters further north into these districts, which meant abandoning the horses and oxen-pulled carts they had previously used for hunting and transporting goods (Thompsell 2015: 6-8).

Floyd travelling to Northern Rhodesia in 1913, would have been aware of all these issues and a full itinerary drawn up by an acquaintance who had undertaken the same expedition, alludes to many of the problems mentioned by Thompsell. Along with this itinerary, Floyd’s lists of items he needed to buy, mostly from J.D Cartwright in Adderley Street (‘oxo cubes,’ a dozen ‘Sauvignon Blanc bottles’, ‘Captain biscuits’, ‘salmon’, ‘Irish sausage’ to name a few) and a page detailing the contents of each of the three cases he took along, further supports the impact the imperial narratives of explorer, hunter and medic would have exercised on his planning for the trip.

Listed as luggage in the Floyd’s second suitcase, is the No. 254 medicine case Floyd bought at the Wellcome Burroughs & Co shop located at 5 Loop Street, Cape Town.

Sources referenced:

Arnold, D. 1996. Inventing topicality. In The problem of nature: environment, culture, and European expansion. London: Blackwell.141–168.
Arnold, D. 2000. ‘Illusory riches’: representations of the tropical world, 1840–1950. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography. 21: 6–18.
Bailey, P. 2008. The birth and growth of Burroughs Wellcome & Co. [Online] Available: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/History/WTX051562.htm. (18/11/2018).
Bourguet, M., Licoppe, C. & Siburn, H. 2002. Instruments, travel and
science: itineraries of precision from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. London: Routledge.
Burroughs Wellcome & Co.1934. The romance of exploration and emergency first aid from Stanley to Byrd. London: Burroughs Wellcome & Co.
Church, R. & Tansey, E. 2007. Burroughs Wellcome & Co.: Knowledge, Trust, Profit and the Transformation of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, 1880–1940. London: Crucible Books.
D’Arcy, P. F. 1999. Laboratory on the Nile: a history of the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories. New York: Haworth Press.
Driver, F. & Martins, L. 2005. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hardiman, D. 2006. Healing bodies, saving souls: medical mission in Asia and Africa. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi B.V.
Harford-Battersby, C. 1900. Medicine chests. In Climate. 2(5): 26 – 27.
Hart,L. & Lydall, S. 1981. The Floyd papers. [Document]. University of Cape Town.
Johnson, R. 2008. Tabloid Brand Medicine Chests: selling health and hygiene for the British Tropical Colonies. In Science as Culture. 17(3): 249-268.
Kennedy, D. 2007. British exploration in the nineteenth century: a historiographical survey. History Compass. 5(6): 1879–1900.
Said, E. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.
Stepan, N. L. 2001. Picturing tropical nature. London: Reaktion Books.
Thompsell, A. 2015. Hunting Africa: British sport, African knowledge and the nature of empire. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Tilley, H. 2011. Africa as a living laboratory: empire, development, and the problem of scientific knowledge, 1870 – 1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Twentyman-Jones, L. 1981. Sorting collections of manuscripts. [Document]. University of Cape Town.
UCT Libraries. 2018. Unpublished collections at UCT Libraries Special Collections (Online). Available: http://www.specialcollections.uct.ac.za/manuscripts . [28/11/2018].
Vaughan, M.1991. Curing their ills: colonial power and African illness. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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