Source: The Morning Chronicle, Saturday 12 December 1818. For transcript, click here.
On this site I include anything medical or surgical provided it was advertised, so not all the remedies were considered quackery in their time. Some were endorsed and prescribed by reputable doctors, and many were no worse than the orthodox medicines then available. Others, while inefficacious, were produced by honest people who believed in the power of their product and did not set out to rip people off.
The brothers Jordan, however, were a right pair of dodgy coves.
In 1816, C.J. Jordan of Cannon-street-road started placing ads saying he could cure ‘a certain disease’ without using mercury. At this point he referred to himself as a surgeon, but by 1818 he had adopted the qualification M.D. and was calling the remedy The Cordial Balm of Rakasiri, or Nature’s Infallible Restorative. His business was the East London Medical Establishment, but this might as well have been the East London Nose-Picking Establishment for all its professional credibility. With the medicine selling at 11s a bottle (33s for family size), the business was lucrative, and in August 1821 it became the Surrey and West London Medical Establishments with premises in Great Surrey Street, Blackfriars and in Berwick Street, Soho.
In early 1823, the adverts started referring to ‘Drs. C. & J. Jordan.’ The Monthly Gazette of Health, with its usual entertaining indignation, introduced the new partner as
Dr John Jordan, who, from the rank of distributer [sic] of handbills has lately been raised to the dignity of M.D. by leaping, we suppose, over a broomstick.
Balm (otherwise Balsam) of Rakasiri was, in theory, a resin from a tree species native to the Americas. It was said to have stimulant and tonic properties, and had briefly been known in Britain in the early 18th century before its limited popularity had fizzled out. The Jordans’ adverts recommended it for a variety of conditions, including consumption and scrofula, but like its inspiration, Solomon’s Balm of Gilead, the main targets were venereal disease and ‘nervous’ disorders supposedly caused by masturbation. The natural source of the resin not being available in the UK, the Jordans formulated their own version – spirit of wine (rectified ethyl alcohol) flavoured with rosemary oil and sugar.
Both The Monthly Gazette of Health and The Medical Adviser campaigned against the Jordans during the 1820s, and while these publications are far from dispassionate, they make for entertaining reading. According to the Adviser, the Jordans had started out as pencil-sellers before taking the Cannon-street-road premises and setting up their medicine business.
One would think to see these two fellows, standing at their door with their hands in their pockets, their hair powdered, their sleek countenance and suit of black, that they really were medical men; although to a discerning eye a peculiarly roguish cunning, and an expression of innate ignorance, are labels on their front…
Of the Doctors’ fancy carriage, the Adviser continued:
…we fancy their seat the back of an hypochondriac ; their foot-board a grave-stone: their wheels a compilation of human bones; their chariot-rim decked with diseased livers ; their reins the intestinal canal; their side lamps two bottles of Rakasiri; and their whip a long bill! with which the two black longtailed horses most awfully harmonize.
The Adviser – without much relevance, perhaps – also accused the Jordans of stealing a pig, then rather childishly printed their purported reply:
I wont to no what you meen by tacking my karacter as you doo you rite in your book that I mede awey with a milkmans pigg but I wood ave you to no sir that sich like slander shall not be suffered to pass. You also say that I was a pencel pedlar this I despise and say it is a ly. I never hokd pencels I only took orders for em, and even if I did it is no affere of yours I got my bred onnestly.
To the people who had fallen for the scam, however, the Balm of Rakasiri wasn’t so funny. In part 2 of this post, we’ll see how a young woman stood up to the quacks.