Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills – Mr. John Loaney – A permanent cure after three years’ suffering

Doan’s Pills cure aching back, rheumatic pains, gravel, swelling of the limbs,
impure blood, dizzy spells, sleeplessness, irregular heart, and counteract
the harmful effects of beer, spirits and tea

Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills brought peace and health to Mr. John Loaney of Swanson Street Erskineville, who attributed a remarkable return from death’s door to the wonders of Doan’s Pills – a special medicine for the kidneys and bladder.

Mr. John Loaney, 20 Swanson Street, Erskineville, this City states:- “I wish to give you particulars of my experience with Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills. I owe these pills a debt of gratitude, for they have cured me of a very serious kidney disease. My trouble started three years ago when I first had to lay up. I had terrible pain in the back and right side, and my secretions scalded, and were thick, and contained sedimentary matter. I also had fits of giddiness, and every day I would have a violent headache. For three years I spent an average of two weeks out of every three in bed. I had medical advice and treatment. Ten leading Sydney physicians treated me in the three years of my illness. Their bills totalled £180. The general idea was that I suffered with stone in the kidneys. I was constantly advised to undergo an operation. At last a specialist put me under the X Rays. He found no foreign substance in the kidneys; but a dark veil enveloped the right kidney, showing pronounced disease. He told me an operation would not benefit me.
“I then gave up all hope of recovery, and fully expected to die soon. My friends were of the same opinion. My lawyer was brought home, and made out my will. I was held up to sign it. Not long after this, I was advised to use Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills. The man who urged me to give this remedy a trial had been cured by it, and had the utmost faith it its healing properties. He told me he had been unable to get about at all, and one box had cured him for good. One could not but be convinced that he was in thorough earnest, so I sent for a supply. I used nine boxes, and was cured. This was seven months ago. I felt no good effects till I was using the third box, and after that my recovery was gradual. I have not needed to take the pills since, and I am still in the best of health.
“My case is the most marvellous in that I am an aged man. I am seventy-four. The medicine I took before I used Doan’s Pills would stock a chemist’s shop. I might mention that the operation which had been suggested was to cost £60. My cure by Doan’s Pills cost me less than 30s. If I had used these pills when I first got ill I would be considerably over £200 richer to-day. My recovery is well known,  and may be authenticated by many, but if anybody would like to see me personally, I will be pleased to see them.”

Advertisements featuring the story of Mr. John Loaney first appear around August 1905. Mr. Loaney’s return to health must have been considered compelling (and effective), with advertising for Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills utilising the story on an almost continual basis until 1918. The advertisements took many forms, incorporating hyperbole, testimony and illustrations. Often different versions were run concurrently. Over the years updates to the story were incorporated into the testimony, with additional input from both Mr. and Mrs. Loaney attesting to the continued good health of the Erskineville man ‘cured to stay cured.’

The first advertisement features one of several “Every Picture Tells a Story” illustrations. “There’s No Peace For The Kidney Sufferer” appears in about August 1905 and is featured on a regular basis until October 1906. An additional example has been identified appearing in April 1907.

John Loaney Doans Pills 1906

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser Wednesday, 4 April 1906

Interspersed with the above advertisement is the following “AS WE GROW OLDER OUR KIDNEYS NEED HELP.” Just the four examples have been identified, appearing  from May 1906 to May 1907.

John Loaney Kidney Backache Pills 1906.png

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 5 May 1906

First appearing in November 1906, and with a new “Every picture tells a story” illustration “GET AT THE CAUSE” was the longest running of the advertisements featuring Mr. John Loaney. These first appeared in about November 1906, and appeared regularly until July 1909. Again, one example has been identified over a year later, in September 1910.

Sydney Testimony Doans Backache Pills.png

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser Wednesday, 6 January 1909

“GET AT THE CAUSE” is also the first to incorporate updates attesting to the continued good health of the increasingly elderly Mr. Loaney. In an advertisement published on
24 March 1907 John Loaney’s testimony was followed by a statement from Mrs. Loaney:

On 9th February, 1907, Mrs. Loaney says:- “The above is true, and I am pleased to say my husband is still free of kidney trouble. In fact, he was never better in his life, and is without ache or pain. I think this is marvellous, for he is 76.”

In an advertisement published on 4 October 1908 an update to the original statement from Mrs. Loaney appears:

On 12th August, 1908, Mrs. Loaney says:- “I am pleased to be able to say now that my husband is still free from kidney trouble. In fact, he was never better in his life, and is without ache or pain. I think this is marvellous, for he is 77.”

Interspersed amongst “GET AT THE CAUSE” was “YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON YOUR KIDNEYS” which appears  only occasionally from about November 1907 to March 1912:

Your Health Depends On Your Kidneys Erskineville

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 16 March 1912

“YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON YOUR KIDNEYS” incorporates a noticeable change to Mr Loaney’s testimony. No longer does Mr. Loaney simply state that he ‘sent for a supply’ of the pills, but specifically he ‘sent for a supply to Ellis’s Pharmacy, Erskineville.’

Imperial Hotel Erskineville circa 1930.png

To the immediate left of the Imperial Hotel:  Pharmacy of George Ellis,
Erskineville Road, near Union Street in about 1930
Interim source: Yesterday in Erskineville

Mr. Loaney is now recorded as 77 years of age for all but the last example of “YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON YOUR KIDNEYS.” On 16 March 1912 Mr. Loaney’s age is omitted and instead includes the following update:

Seven years later, Mr. Loaney says:- “I am pleased to be able to tell you the cure effected by Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills , over seven years ago, has proved permanent. I am still well and have had no return of my old trouble during all that time. My lasting cure speaks volumes for the merit of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills.”

The following “HOW FATAL DISEASES ARISE” sees the introduction of a new “Every Picture Tells a Story” illustration (and strangely, the second appearance of a member of the constabulary in the background). There is also the introduction of a new (and ‘unmistakable’) sign of kidney and bladder trouble: ‘Puffiness of the eyes.’
Only four examples of this advertisement have been identified, appearing in July, September and November 1909, and once more in August 1910.

Cured to Stay Cured John Loaney Doans backache.png

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser Wednesday, 15 September 1909

More restrained in appearance, the advertisement “IT IS A MATTER OF FACT” has only been identified once, appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 17 August, 1912:

It is a matter of fact Erskineville.png

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 17 August 1912

It seems no advertisements featuring Mr. John Loaney appeared for a period of almost two years, between August 1912 and July 1914. The following advertisement “PROOF POSITIVE” saw the return of the story of Mr. John Loaney with a new “The Testimony of Your Neighbour is Conclusive” illustration. These advertisements appeared on a fairly regular basis between about July 1914 to March 1916:

Proof Positive Erskineville.png

Sunday Times Sunday, 19 March 1916

In all “PROOF POSITIVE” advertisements, whilst Mr. Loaney refers to himself in his testimony as ‘an aged man,’ his advancing age is not specified. Instead, the following addendum to his testimony is provided:

Nine years later Mr. Loaney says:- “I am pleased to be able to tell you the cure effected by Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills, over nine years ago, has proved permanent. I am still well, and have had no return of my old trouble during all that time. My lasting cure speaks volumes for the merit of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills”

The following “Every Picture Tells a Story” has only been detected twice, first in December 1915 and again in March 1916:

Every Picture Tells a Story Erskineville.png

The Sun (Sydney) Friday 24 March 1916

The “Every Picture Tells a Story” testimony contains a reference to Mr. Loaney’s age of 74 at the time of his statement in combination with the ‘Nine years later’ addendum, suggesting his age towards the end of 1915 was 83.

This is the first of two versions of “You Can Always Tell the Man with Kidney Trouble.” Only two appearances have ben identified for this advertisement: the first in May 1916; and once more in May 1917:

Man with kidney trouble Erskineville.png

The Sun (Sydney) Friday, 19 May 1916

The above advertisement sees an update provided by Mr. Loaney attesting to his continued good health:

Eleven years later, Mr. Loaney says:- “I am pleased to be able to tell you the cure effected by Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills. over eleven years ago, has proved permanent. I am still well, and have had no return of my old trouble during all that time. My lasting cure speaks volumes for the merit of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills.”

Despite appearing just a few months after Mr. Loaney can be identified as an 83 year old, two additional years have been added to the addendum statement, suggesting instead that Mr. Loaney was 85 at the time.

This next version of “You Can Always Tell the Man with Kidney Trouble” (with revised “Every Picture Tells A Story” illustration) has been detected just three times, first in October 1917; again in February 1918; and March 1918:

Man with kidney trouble Swanson Street Erskineville.png

The Sun (Sydney) Friday, 15 February 1918

The advertisement incorporates another update from John Loaney, reassuringly attesting to his permanent cure:

Thirteen years later Mr. Loaney says:- “I am pleased to be able to tell you the cure effected by Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills over thirteen years ago, has proved permanent. I am still well, and have had no return of my old trouble during all that time. My lasting cure speaks volumes for the merit of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills.”

Doan's Remember

Perhaps in anticipation of the inevitable, no advertisements featuring Mr. John Loaney can be found after early March 1918. On 26 July 1918 a notice was published of the death of John Loaney on 24 July 1918, dearly beloved husband of Mary, at his residence, 26 Swanson Street Erskineville, aged 84.

John Loaney was a builder, with references indicating that in the main he built homes and cottages. An article from the Evening News on 19 June 1874 identifies ‘Mr. Loaney of Shepherd’s Paddock’ as the contractor for brickwork of ‘a very pretty brick Protestant Episcopal Church and school-house to be called St. David’s.’ The building still stands and is located at 17 Arthur Street Surry Hills (here is a link to the building’s heritage report). Other references, including one from the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 January 1878 also refer to John Loaney’s address at the time as 12 Myrtle Street Shepherd’s Paddock, Darlington (Chippendale).

John Loaney married Mary Batting on 15 February 1886 (Mary was John’s second wife. John’s first wife Elizabeth Loaney died on 1 January 1883). In about 1889 John and Mary moved to Erskineville, and John Loaney is shown in the 1890 edition of the Sands Directory residing at Swanson Street Erskineville.

John Loaney lived in Swanson Street Erskineville from about 1889 until his death in 1918. When numbering appeared in the Sands Directory records for Swanson Street in 1894 Mr. Loaney is recorded at number 20, which remained the case through to the 1910 edition, and is reflected in the advertising from 1905 to 1911. The 1911 to 1918 editions of the Directory record Mr. Loaney at number 26, which is reflected from the final example of “YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON YOUR KIDNEYS” from 16 March 1912 onwards. Following John Loaney’s death the 1919 edition of the Sands Directory lists Mrs. Mary Loaney, after which Mary appears to have moved away.

Despite the street number change (and some pretty slapdash record keeping by Sands Directory transcribers) the Loaney’s appear to have remained at the same house throughout their time in Erskineville. The house can be identified from the Sands Directories as being located on the corner of Swanson Street and Sydney Lane, which remains 26 Swanson Street today:

26 Swanson Street Erskineville

Here is Mr. John Loaney in a photograph taken of the Newtown District Cricket Club 1907-08 (also featured in the photograph is John Loaney’s son Charles). Based on his stated age at the time of his death (rather than the various approximations featured in his testimonials) Mr. Loaney is about 74 at the time of the photograph:

John Loaney Newtown Cricket Club 1907-08.png

Newtown District Cricket Club 1907-08


According to the makers of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills the recipe was derived from a discovery made by ‘an old Quaker lady, who was affectionately known as Aunty Rogers.’ Aunty Rogers, from Stayner, a quiet country town in Canada, was known for her great skill in compounding medicines from certain roots and herbs. The following advertisements appear around the same time as those featuring Mr. Loaney in 1905 and ran until about 1908:

Doan's Backache and Kidney Pills History.png

The Telegraph (Brisbane) Saturday, 23 February 1907

In 1909 the British Medical Association took an interest in Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills, incorporating details of their analysis within the publication ‘Secret Remedies: what they cost and what they contain:’

These pills, of American origin, which have been very extensively advertised for some years, are sold in boxes price 2s. 9d., containing 40 “kidney pills” and 4 “dinner pills.”
They were described on the wrapper of the package as a

Specific for kidney complaints and all diseases arising from disorder of the kidneys and bladder. Cure Backache, Weak Back, Rheumatism, Diabetes, Congestion of the Kidneys, Inflammation of the bladder, Gravel, Bright’s disease, Scalding Urine, and all Urinary troubles.

A circular was enclosed with the box, in which a dissertation on “Diseases of the Kidneys and Bladder” was given, together with directions for taking the pills for various complaints. The following extracts are taken from the circular:

Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills are composed of rare and valuable medicinal agents in a combination best adapted to the speedy relief and cure of Kidney Disease, urinary and bladder affections, and all diseases resulting therefrom. They are purely vegetable, containing no ingredients of a deleterious nature, and may be taken by the most delicate person, with every confidence of their giving quick and permanent relief, without any after ill effects . . . they are the only medicine known that quickly relieves and permanently cures.
This medicine has restored to health thousands of women. As a means of healing the kidneys, and as a tonic to the whole female constitution it is unequalled.

The last sentence of the next extract shows some ingenuity:

Chronic cases of long standing. These frequently come under our notice and we hear that the patient, after trying every known remedy and failed (sic) has despaired of ever getting relief. Now in all stages of Kidney Disease this is where Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills are the most needed, and, indeed, are the only remedy possible to give permanent relief. But it takes time. One cannot expect to be cured in a few weeks. . . In some cases three of four boxes of Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills are sufficient; but in these cases of long standing, 8, 10, and even 20 or 30, are required to effect a cure. But they will cure in the end if the patient perseveres. We are emphatic on this point, because in kidney disease patients are so easily discouraged. It is one of the symptoms of the disease.

The directions were to take from two to four of the dinner pills at night before commencing to take the kidney pills; then to begin with one kidney pill after each meal and one at bedtime, increasing the dose to two or three, after a short time. For children under 8, the dose was given as half a pill after each meal and at bedtime.
The “kidney pills” were ovoid in shape, and of a brown-grey colour externally, with sugar-coating beneath the thin, coloured layer; after removing the coating, the average weight of the pills was about 2 grains. Analysis showed them to contain oil of juniper and (in spite of their “purely vegetable” nature) potassium nitrate, together with a considerable proportion of a resinous substance, and of powdered fenugreek seeds and wheat and maize starches. Examination of the resin showed it to be derived from a coniferous source, and on comparison with various coniferous resins it agreed in characters with that of Abies canadensis (Pinus canadensis), known as hemlock pitch. The proportions of the different ingredients were determined by analysis; but oil of juniper, in such small quantity, can only be approximately determined, and the amount found was confirmed by comparison of a pill containing this quantity with the pill under examination. The following formula gives a similar pill:

Oil of Juniper        ….   ….   ….   ….     1 drop
Hemlock pitch      ….   ….   ….   ….   10 grains.
Potassium nitrate       ….   ….   ….     5     ” 
Powdered fenugreek  ….   ….   ….   17     “
Wheat flour            ….   ….   ….   ….   4     “
Maize starch          ….   ….   ….   ….    2     “
                                  In twenty pills

The estimated cost of the materials of the 40 kidney pills and 4 dinner pills, 1/2d.
The dinner pills, of which four were included in the box of kidney pill, are also supplied separately in boxes of 50 for 1s 1 1/2d. The label stated that:

Doan’s Dinner Pills Cure Constipation, Sick Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, and all deranged conditions of Stomach, Liver, and Bowels.

The directions were:

For adults, 1 to 3 pills; for children, 1/2 to 1 pill.

These statements and directions were amplified in a handbill enclosed in the package.
The pills were ovoid and enclosed in white sugar coating; the average weight of one, without coating, was about 3/4 gr. Analysis showed the presence of podophyllin, aloin, oil of peppermint, a resin that appeared to be jalap resin,
cayenne, liquorice, gum, maize starch, and a small quantity of an extract that resembled extract of henbane; as the extract last named had no sufficiently well-marked characters to enable a small quantity of it to be distinguished perfectly when mixed with larger quantities of the other drugs named, the identity of this ingredient could not be completely established. The following formula gives a similar pill:

Oil of peppermint         ….     ….     ….     1 drop
Podophyllin          ….     ….     ….     ….     3.8 grains.
Aloin              ….     ….     ….     ….     ….     6.9     ” 
Jalap resin             ….     ….     ….     ….     0.8 grain.
Powdered capsicum     ….     ….     ….     0.5     ”
Powdered liquorice      ….     ….     ….     0.6     ”
Maize starch         ….     ….     ….     ….     0.5     ”
Acacia gum           ….     ….     ….     ….     1.5 grains.
Extract of henbane       ….     ….     ….     1.5    
                                  In twenty pills

In 1910 the journal of the Melbourne Medical Students’ Society Speculum  issue 77, May 1910 p13-19 described the various modern patent medicines available at the time and provided the following assessment of Doan’s Backache Pills:

Now, where the patent medicine really fails is in the fact that it treats in every case a symptom. The “every-picture-tells-a-story-ad.” which stares at one in most nerve wracking fashion from every magazine cover, will inform you that that most excruciating pain in the back (which is generally due to constipation) is cured by Doan’s Backache Pills. These must be rather good pills, as reference to Butler’s Diagnostics of Internal Medicine informs us that the selfsame pain in the back may be due to any one or any combination of 35 complaints, varying from influenza to amenorrhoea. Perhaps, however, Butler is a perverter of the truth. Anyhow, to get back to Mr., or was it Mrs. Doan’s 35 disease curer:-These pills are issued in two forms, (a) Kidney Pills [and] (b) Dinner Pills.

Note [in the dinner pills] the aloin and podophyllin. The latter is a drug which one would naturally hesitate to recklessly prescribe, but of aloin we have on authority of Potter that “it may cause abortion in the female, priapism in the males and not unfrequently it is said to have caused piles.”

In London in 1914 Foster-McClellan Co, the makers of Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills published a 35 page advertising booklet ‘Doan’s long life laws : methods of attaining a long and healthful life with the means of correcting a bad constitution‘ containing an array of testimonials and accompanying portraits. There are many parallels between the stories of the poor and suffering of the British Isles and those of Mr. Loaney (right down to the line ‘Cured to Stay Cured’):

Doan's Long Life Laws

Source: Wellcome Library


Doan’s is still available today for the relief of back pain, although its appearance and composition appears very different to that of the past. The stated active ingredient of the modern day Doan’s is magnesium salicylate.

Doan's Pain Reliever.png

For more history of Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills, and other patent medicines take a look at the article by the Social Historian: Patent Medicines – The Cures that Killed. The featured article describing the woes of Mrs. Harriet Williams is not that dissimilar to that  of John Loaney’s.

Are you impatient and irratable.png

This entry was posted in 1900-1909, 1910-1919, Advertising, Good for what ails you, Swanson Street and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills – Mr. John Loaney – A permanent cure after three years’ suffering

  1. Vanessa Berry says:

    Love that he had a 13 year biographical relationship with these ads!


  2. Anne Hyde says:

    My great grandmother was a spokesperson for these ads in Blenheim, New Zealand. They continued long after her death from kidney disease.


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