Before the discovery of antibiotics, sulphur was the leading anti-bacterial drug. Every Queensland household in the 19th century would have a kilo or two of sulphur flowers for burning, and a few bottles of sulphurous acid for gargling.
Diphtheria was one of the greatest killers of the 19th century and the one and only line of defence against Diphtheria was sulphur. First the patient’s room was sealed tightly, and while the patient was still in it, ½ kilo of sulphur was burnt in the room. Next, the tonsils were brushed with sulphurous acid. Great care had to be taken to make certain that sulphurous acid and not sulphuric acid was used. There were many cases of patients’ throats being burnt out, because of this mix up. The patient then gargled a mixture of sulphur and water before going to bed with a few teaspoons of sulphur folded in their pyjamas. This cure was hard on the patients but spare a thought for the rest of the household and the neighbourhood for that matter. During diphtheria outbreaks the suburbs reeked of sulphur.
The great child killer of the 19th century was croup. The most dreaded sound a mother could hear was the sharp cough of the croup. Mothers were desperate for cures. One mother wrote to the newspapers with her cure. Her pen name was ‘Experienced” and with good reason. She had beaten off over twenty attacks of the croup with her cure. First the patient was given an enema made of mustard, salt and water. Next a mustard plaster was applied to the throat and chest and the patient was placed in a hot bath and covered to the neck with a blanket. After the bath the patient was wrapped in blankets, kept in bed, and after a few days, the patient would be right as rain.
Skin cancer ravaged our forebears just as much as it does today. One cure shows what a different world it was then. Spirit of salt applied once a day for a week would turn the cancer black and it would drop off within a few days. Ah, if it only could be so simple.