Empire of experiment

Mark Harrison

in Medicine in an age of Commerce and Empire

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199577736
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595196 | DOI:
Empire of experiment

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During the early eighteenth century, a wide range of medicines, including chemical preparations such as antimonial drugs, was being used to treat tropical complaints. During the 1750s, these were supplemented with mercury, which had hitherto been used predominantly to treat syphilis, and nitric acid, which had seldom been used in any capacity. In the hospitals of the East India Company, these substances were used widely to treat a range of complaints, including hepatitis and fever. Although the practice initially faced great opposition from physicians in Britain, mercury in the form of calomel soon came to be used throughout the British Empire. The same was true for a time of nitric acid, which was endorsed by senior figures in the British Army, as well as by reform‐minded civilian practitioners who saw chemical therapeutics as the key to medical progress.

Keywords: chemistry; East India Company; fevers; hepatitis; hospitals; mercury; nitric acid

Chapter.  13123 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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