What is there in life more tragic than the young woman who soon after marriage begins to fade and prematurely shows the sign of age, while her husband keeps his youthful health and vigour. The careworn wife and the youthful husband are to be seen everywhere.
Advertisements featuring the testimonial of Mrs. William Callaway of 14 Baldwin Street Erskineville appeared in newspapers around Australia from about September 1908, and continued until the beginning of 1910. Mrs. Callaway sought treatment at Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney for a kidney complaint, but finding no relief from the treatment and medicines prescribed to her Mrs. Callaway instead followed the recommendation of a friend. Commencing an eighteen-bottle course of treatment Mrs. Callaway found herself completely cured of her kidney complaint, and incidently found the pills very effective in the treatment of her headaches:
This style of framed advertisement featuring illustrations and a Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills trade mark only appeared on a few occasions to promote Mrs. Callaway’s testimonial, and was also used to frame the testimonials of Mrs. Martha Cohen of Collingwood; and Mrs. Ellen Manbridge of Heathcoate, Victoria. More often than not Mrs. Callaway’s testimonials appeared as simple text advertisements like this one.
A check of the Sands Directory entries for Erskineville shows William Callaway residing at 14 Baldwin Street in the 1905 to 1914 editions of the Sands Directory.
Mrs. William Callaway’s identity can be detemined with the assistance of an article from 1913 describing an injury to Mr. and Mrs. Callaway’s son Albert (then aged 9) (available here). By taking William and Albert’s names and conducting a Family History Search Mrs. Callaway’s name can be identified as Bedelia M Callaway.
So, what were Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills good for? According to the circa 1900 publication ‘Just a Word‘ from the Australian manufacturer and distributor of Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills – W.H. Comstock Company Pty. Ltd of 58 Pitt Street Sydney:
Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills cure Biliousness, Indigestion, Dyspepsia, Constipation, Sick Headache, Liver Diseases, Sallow Complexion, Kidney Troubles, Gravel, Gall Stones, Jaundice, Flatulency, Foul Breath, Influenza, Female Ailments, Piles, Pimples, Boils, Blotches, Scrofula, Eczema, Rheumatism, Neuralgia, and Impure Blood.
Basically everything; and by the sounds of it definitely good for any symptoms you might be experiencing.
So how did they work? With a less than subtle nod to Leviticus 17:11 ‘Just a word’ informs us that:
The Blood Is the Life Of The Flesh.
So said that uncrowned King of Jeshurun, the meek but mighty Moses, “who was learned in all the learning of the Egyptians.” Long centuries after, Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood, and showed how much depended upon that vital fluid being kept free from impurity, but Moses seems to have known this four thousand years before. But it has been reserved for the eminent scientists of this ninteenth century to discover still more about the nature of the blood and its many impurities, and all these discoveries have served to show more clearly the great need of keeping the “fountain of life” free from all foreign and deleterious substances. If the fountain be impure the whole stream will be contaminated. The latest discoveries reveal to us the fact that microbes, bacilli, bacteria and micro-cosms of countless forms and powers are apt to infest the blood, each form of bacillus producing a disease peculiar to itself.
Thus there is a bacillus of typhoid, and a bacillus of pneumonia, and so of every disease perhaps. The attempts of medical men to discover each form of bacillus and to drive these from the system or to so modify them by hybridization that their virulence may be reduced to a minimum, have been the engrossing topic of discussion and experiment in the medical world for the last generation. But even before that time Dr. Morse realized that the only sure way to deal adequately with disease was to pursue these minute bodies in the blood and drive them from the system. In this, he proved himself to be far in advance of his times DR. MORSE’S INDIAN ROOT PILLS is the most efficient detective known to science to-day. It relentlessly pursues these microbes, and rests not until the last is slain and expurged from the stream of life, and the clarified fountain sends forth a vigorous stream of rich, pure, energy-giving blood which carries with it into every part of the body, life and health.
This method of coping with disease is the only scientific and purely successful plan. The triumphs of Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills during the last fifty years have demonstrated this so fully that medical men are fast adopting this scientific course. The testimonials at our office are so numerous and convincing that it may truly be said that Dr. Morse inaugurated a new era in the treatment of disease, and thousands upon thousands have owed their health and happiness to him, and have gladly laid their tributes of thankfulness at his feet.
“THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE OF THE FLESH.”
Therefore keep the fountain pure by using according to directions on the bottle Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills.
These claims are quite impressive. They give a religious basis to discoveries of the eminent scientists of the ninteenth century, then brazenly point out that Dr. Morse and his Indian Root Pills achieved fifty years previously what medical men were only then discovering. Really though, the entirety of the proof of the effectiveness of Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills comes down only to the testimonials ‘so numerous and convincing’ and that ‘thousands upon thousands have owed their health and happiness to him.’
And so to their compilation:
Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills
DR. MORSE’S INDIAN ROOT PILLS, manufactured from plants and roots which grow around the mountainous cliffs in Nature’s garden, for the health and recovery of diseased man. One of the roots from which these pills are made is a Sudorific, which opens the pores of the skin, and assists Nature in throwing out the finer parts of the corruption within. The second is a plant which is an Expectorant that opens and unclogs the passage to the lungs, and thus, in a soothing manner, performs its duty by throwing off the phlegm and other humors from the lungs by copious spitting. The third is a Diuretic, which gives ease and double strength to the kidneys; thus encouraged, they draw large amounts of impurity from the blood, which is then thrown out bountifully by the urinary or water passage, and which could not have been discharged in any other way. The fourth is a Cathartic, and accompanies the other properties of the pills while engaged in purifying the blood; the coarser particles of impurities which cannot pass by other outlets are thus taken up and conveyed off in great quantities by the bowels.
From the above it is shown that Morse’s Indian Root Pills not only enter the stomach, but become united with the blood, for they find their way to every part, and completely rout out and cleanse the system of all impurity, and the life of the body, which is the blood, becomes perfectly healthy; consequently, all sickness and pain is driven from the system, for they cannot remain when the body becomes pure and clean.
Eighteen bottles! Just imagine: the opening of the pores! The throwing out of the corruption! The throwing off of phlegm! The bountiful throwing out by the urinary passage! The conveying off in great quantities by the bowels…
As to the specific ingredients of Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills; the publication History of the Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972) provides some insight:
What were the ingredients of the Indian Root Pills and other Comstock preparations? Originally, the formulas for the various remedies were regarded as closely held secrets, divulged only to proprietors and partners – and not even to all of them – and certainly never revealed to the purchasers…
In the latter years, under the rules of the [United States] Federal Food and Drug Act, the ingredients were required to be isted on the package; thus we know that the Indian Root Pills, in the 1930s and 1940s, contained aloes, mandrake, gaboge, jalap, and cayenne pepper.
Aloe is a tropical plant of which the best known medical varieties come from Socotra and Zanzibar; those received by the Comstock factory were generally described as Cape (of Good Hope) Aloe. The juice Aloe is extracted from the leaves of this plant and since antiquity has been regarded as a valuable drug, particularly for its laxative qualities. Mandrake has always been reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Gamboge is a large tree native to Ceylon and Southeast Asia, which produces a resinous gum, more commonly used by painters as a colouring material, but also sometimes employed in medicine as a cathartic. Jalap is a flowering plant which grows only at high altitudes in Mexico, and its root produces an extract with a powerful purgative effect. All of these ingredients posessed one especial feature highly prozed by the patent-medicine manufacturers of the ninteenth century, i.e., they were derived from esoteric plants found only in geographically remote locations. One does find it rather remarkable, however, that the native Indian chiefs who confided the secrets of these remedies to Dr. Morse and Dr. Cunard were so familiar with drugs originating in Asia and Africa…
Whether the formula for the Indian Root Pills had been constant since their “discovery” -as all advertising of the company implied -we have no way of knowing for sure. However, the company’s book of trade receipts for the 1860s shows the recurring purchase of large quantaties of these five drugs, which suggests that the ingredients did remain substantially unchanged for over a century.
Common to many praparations of the era was the ‘origin story;’ an account of how the secrets of the curative properties came to be passed on and made known for the benefit of all mankind. And so we come to the passing of the secrets to Dr. Morse. According to the ‘History of the Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills:’
In brief, there never was a Dr. Morse – other than Andrew B. Moore [the originator of the pills]… Subsequently, the company fabricated a lengthy history of the discovery of the pills and even pictured D. Morse with his “healthy, blooming family.” This story was printed in almanacs and in a wrapper accompanying every box of pills. According to this version, “the famous and celebrated D. Morse,” after completing his education in medical science, traveled widely in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, and spent three years among the Indians of our western country, where he discovered the secret of the Indian Root Pills. Returning from one of these journeys after a long absence, he found his father apparently on his death bed.
Here is the story as it appeared in Australian newspapers in 1905:
An earlier version of the story is contained within ‘The North Eastern Ensign’ (Benalla, Victoria) of Friday, 21 April 1899.
Well-known amongst anyone with an interest in Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills is the restoration of advertising signage on a corrugated iron shed in near Morpeth, NSW:
The story of the restoration of the shed’s signage by the ‘Letterheads’ is available here.
Photographs of the restored signage feature prominantly on flickr.
Closer to home in Surry Hills, Sydney, Vanessa Berry, doyen of Sydney’s overlooked and hidden places and histories uncovers a Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills ghost sign in Reading the City.