Commemorating a compassionate man

Until 4 January 2015, you can see an interesting little temporary exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London’s Brunswick Square (next door to the UCL School of Pharmacy). The museum celebrates the history of the UK’s first children’s charity, the Foundling Hospital, which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram as “a hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children”.

The charity was supported by many leading figures of the day, including the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel. The museum’s special exhibition commemorates another patron, Dr Richard Mead (1673–1754), who was an eminent royal physician, collector and philanthropist, and a leading expert on poisons, scurvy, smallpox and public health. He was a founding governor of the charity and he advised it on all things medical.

Many years before Edward Jenner’s introduction of vaccination, Mead was an advocate of smallpox protection by variolation, a procedure brought to Britain from the Middle East by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. He inoculated 247 children at the Foundling Hospital. Despite the prevalence of the disease at the time, only one later died of smallpox.

Mead also devised many pharmaceutical formulae, some of which are displayed in the exhibition. An example is his Expectorating Linctus: “Take Oxymel of Squill, Oil of Almonds, and Syrup of Maidenhair of each one Ounce: Loaf sugar, a sufficient quantity. Mix and make a Linctus. One Spoonful to be taken often.” Each recipe was accompanied by Mead’s observations — in this case, “This is proper in Asthmas, to promote the Expectoration of thick Phlegm sticking in the Bronchia, and exciting a troublesome, fatiguing cough, as it seconds the Efforts of Nature towards its discharge…”.

In tribute to Mead, his formulae were published as the Pharmacopoeia Meadiana shortly after his death at the age of 80.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Commemorating a compassionate man;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066815

You may also be interested in