Wednesday, 18 February 2015

ATURFUQIL: philanthropy funded by snake oil

This is a fairly well-known local curiosity, but as it was a beautiful day, I decided to take an afternoon off to see it for myself: the "ATURFUQIL" memorial in Ringmore churchyard on the grave of William Newcombe Homeyard and his wife Maria Laetitia Kempe Homeyard.

The short of the story is that Mr Homeyard was the inventor and marketer of the successful patent cough remedy Liqufruta. As the story goes, after his death his widow wanted the name on his memorial, but the local church, St Nicholas at Ringmore, Shaldon, Devon, wouldn't allow this, so the name in reverse - "ATURFUQIL" - was used instead.

A book available around Shaldon and Teignmouth, Aturfuqil's Shaldon by Lisa Pash, gives the full story. That part of Shaldon relating to the Homeyards is worth a potter; in a 2013 post - Teignmouth and Shaldon: revisit - I put up a few photos of the Homeyards Botanical Garden, part of Mrs Homeyard's extensive redevelopment and philanthropy; and Robin Stott has a good Geograph collection, Mrs Homeyard's Shaldon legacy. See also the Teignbridge Council leaflet, Homeyards.

It's such a feelgood story that it feels a trifle churlish to point out its roots in the murky pre-NHS era of dubious patent medicines. Liqufruta first came on to the market in 1902 as "Mother Job's Liquid Fruit Cough Cure", sold by the Mother Job Cure Laboratory, 193 The Grove, Camberwell, via the folksy story that it was the invention of a lady burned at the stake in 1735.
There was last year introduced a cough remedy— Mother Job's Liquid Fruit Cough Cure, a very excellent recipe said to be descended from an old crone of the 17th century, burned as a witch—and a very good story too. I don't suppose it is true, but there's nothing else the matter with it.
- Printers’ Ink, 1903
("Mother Job" is such a distinctive name that I strongly suspect it was inspired by "Good Mother Job", the nickname of the venerable Eleanor Job, an army wife who attended the wounded at the Battle of Quebec and is said to have prepared the remains of General Wolfe for embalming ("She it was that on that melancholy occasion performed the necessary ablutions of the internal parts of the body" - Gentleman's Magazine, 1823).

Right from the start, like many patent medicines of its era, Mother Job's Liquid Fruit Cough Cure was sold with specific and fraudulent claims to cure major disease, in this case tuberculosis. This claim, that Homeyard - who before he turned remedy entrepreneur was a newspaper advertising manager - must have known was nonsense, came under attack very early on.
The Coroner and Mother Job
Mr. John Troutbeck held an inquiry at the Westminster Coroner's Court on August 22 [1902], concerning the death of George Stanley Loffhigra, aged four months, who was found dead in bed. The mother stated that the child was in good health, but having a slight cough she gave him some of "Mother Job's liquid fruit, a lightning cure for all kinds of coughs." The Coroner: I see, according to the label on the bottle, that Mother Job was burned at the stake in 1735. I suppose that was because her remedy failed. This recipe is over two hundred years old, and on the face of it it is a very dishonest remedy. I see, too, according to the label, it professes to cure various complaints and to destroy the germs and bacilli of consumption. It is astonishing that anybody should believe such a thing. Dr. Clarke, of Gerrard Street, Soho, said death was due to convulsions. He thought the mixture referred to had "turned" the milk in the child's stomach. In summing up, the Coroner said it might be that the so-called I cure was harmless, but it was perfectly clear that the advertisement on the bottle was extremely dishonest, and he would have thought that educated and intelligent people like the parents were too wary to be taken in. Unfortunately, the State made a good deal of money out of such nostrums, and many poor people thought the Government stamp was a State guarantee of the efficacy of the medicine. That meant that the Government made money out of dishonest advertising.
- "Mother Job's Liquid-fruit has been in the coroner's court, and the Coroner made some strong comments upon it", p378, The Chemist and Druggist (UBM, Vol. 61, no. 9 ... 30 Aug.1902, Internet Archive b19974760M1240)
The comment about the Government making money from dishonest advertising concerned the then Medicines Stamp Act, which required taxing (with a duty stamp attached) of "manufactured medicines not deemed to be of a standard, well-known recipe". Supposedly intended to be a disincentive to such products, it was in practice a major earner for the government, and the stamp was indeed mistaken by many for government endorsement. See the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Information Sheet 10: Patent and Brandname Medicines.

An editorial comment followed in The Chemist and Druggist, noting the vendor's risky tactic of attacking its suppliers:
Mother Job and chemists
The severe strictures of Mr. Coroner Troutbeck on Mother Job's Lightning Cures (see page 378) may or may not be warranted, but pharmacists generally will not, we imagine, be disposed to disagree with Mr. Troutbeck. For some time past this preparation has been extensively advertised in various newspapers, and we have before us now an advertisement of the article which concludes thus : —

Don't accept a substitute.

It is playing with death to accept an ordinary chemist's cough-syrup. These usually contain morphia, which is a deadly drug, and injuriously affects the heart. They never cure; they only deaden.

Insist on your chemist obtaining it. All Boots' branches stock it; also Wand, at Leicester; or post free from the Mother Job Laboratory

This is the sort of thing, we assume, that makes the chemist eager to handle the "Lightning Cure," and to impress its merits on his clientele. If the re-incarnated witch desires even a moderately lengthy period of existence she will have to change her tactics.
- ibid., page 393 
Evidently Mother Job didn't last long, quite probably due to the bad publicity of the court case. But rebadged as Liqufruta, the remedy was still sold with sweeping claims of its curative powers: "the Only Safe Cure for Pulmonary Consumption, Chronic Asthma ..." The 1912 BMA book More Secret Remedies has a detailed description of the packaging, and what an analysis showed it actually to contain. It was purest 'snake oil': sugary water flavoured with garlic and peppermint, with a mucilaginous substance ("unidentified sticky matter floating within" - ref) probably derived from onion.

The preparation sold under this name is supplied from ''The Liqufruta Laboratory." There appear to be two varieties of the medicine, the one being called simply "Liqufruta," and described on the label as "cure for consumption cough, whooping and every other cough," while the other is called "Liqufruta Medica," and is described on the label as "The Great Consumption Cure." The price of the latter is 2s. 9d., and the bottle was found to contain 12 1/2 fluid ounces.

Other particulars given on the label are as follows:
  • Liqufruta Medica the Only Safe Cure for Pulmonary Consumption, Chronic Asthma, Bronchitis, Catarrh.
  • Certain of the germicidal constituents contained in this remedy are otherwise unobtainable throughout the world.
  • Guaranteed free of poison, laudanum, copper solution, cocaine, morphia, opium, chloral, calomel, paregoric, narcotics, or preservatives. . . . 
  • Liqufruta Medica heals the chest, lungs, and throat, arrests the inflammation, loosens the phlegm, and effectually destroys the bacilli of consumption, etc., which no other medicine can reach. Whilst the cough will be eased at once, the expectoration will be more profuse for a short time.
  • Directions. One dessertspoonful every two hours ; in severe cases every hour, and also during the night whenever cough is troublesome; take a dose when getting into bed and the moment of awakening in the morning. When symptoms moderate and pronounced benefit has been obtained the doses may be administered with one and a-half to two hours' interval if desired.
The mixture was found to be a dark brown, rat<text missing> liquid, smelling like a mixture of garlic or onion and <text missing> mint. On distilling, a trace of volatile oil was obtain<text missing> distillate closely resembling the liquid obtained by di<text missing> onion and a trace of oil of peppermint with water; 100 parts by measure of the mixture contained 10.05 parts of solids; of these, 2.05 parts were of mucilaginous or pectinous nature, 3.44 parts were glucose, and 2.28 parts were cane sugar. A decoction of onion was found to contain a mucilaginous substance somewhat similar to that obtained from the mixture.
Alkaloidal matter was present in very small quantity, the amount being about 0.01 per cent. ; this consisted of two (or more) alkaloids, neither of which gave the reactions of any of the ordinary medicinal alkaloids. The other constituents consisted of tannin, a trace of resin, and extractive. The original liquid had a very slightly pungent taste, such as would be given by a trace of a preparation of capsicum or ginger.

The results of the analysis thus showed:
  • Oil of peppermint ... traces
  • Oil of onion, or garlic ... traces
  • Alkaloids ... traces
  • Potassium bitartrate ... 0.4 parts
  • Glucose ... 3.44 parts
  • Cane sugar ... 2.28 parts
  • Mucilaginous matter ... 2.05 parts
  • Tannin / Extractive / Resin ... together 1.9 parts
  • Water ... 100 parts by measure 
No alcohol was present, and no metallic salts beyond the traces ordinarily accompanying plant extracts.

Examination of the plain Liqufruta (for cough) did not show any important differences between it and " Liqufruta Medica."
- More secret remedies: what they cost & what they contain : secret remedies--second series (British Medical Association, London, 1912, Internet Archive moresecretremedi00britiala).
This, then, was the source of income that funded Mrs Homeyard's future good works around Shaldon, such as the Homeyards Botanical Garden. There are more details about the marketing in Les Roberts' essay on a Liqufruta bottle - Liqufruta - telling how Homeyard played the "Nature" card, with quotations from Thoreau, Matthew Arnold, Milton and the Bible, to market what was basically strongly-flavoured sugar syrup. His obituary in Advertiser's Weekly mentions how he wrote this creative copy himself.
The Late Mr. William Homeyard
Another of the past generation of popular men in advertising passed away last week when Mr. William Homeyard died suddenly at a ripe old age at his residence, the Grove, Denmark Hill, S.E. Mr. Homeyard was at one time advertisement manager of the Star and the Morning Leader, when these newspapers were published from Stonecutter Street. Associated with Mr Homeyard in those days were Mr. H. Simonis and Mr. George Wetton. Mr. Homeyard was also an advertiser of some importance, being interested in a proprietary line, for which he took great pride in writing the copy.
-  page 120, Advertiser's Weekly, Volume 55, 1927
It leaves you wondering how the Homeyards' legacy sits on the moral scales, with the abundant philanthropy weighed against the bogus TB cure that funded it.

Liqufruta didn't die with the Homeyards. After Mrs Homeyard's death, the business was advertised as a going concern (the Times ad conforms the important ingredients; by the 1940s, aniseed had joined the list):
LIQUFRUTA.The Public Trustee, as Executor of the late Mrs. Homeyard, who died on 20th April, 1944, has for disposal as a going concern the business of the Manufacture and Sale of Liqufruta, the well-known cough and cold remedy, including the Registered Trade Mark in this and other countries, the Proprietary Rights, and the Goodwill, together with a quantity of essential oils of Allii (Garlic), Peppermint, and Aniseed sufficient for the normal requirements of the business for two years, and other ingredients and manunfacturing materials.
- Business Offers, The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Oct 31, 1944; pg. 1 
Trade ad from The Chemist and Druggist supplement, Aug 21, 1948
(Internet Archive) - now "for Congestion, Whooping and other Coughs"
It subsequently passed through other owners, notably the Sanitas Group, which aggressively marketed it in the 1960s. The makers announced in The Chemist and Druggist for October 13, 1962, that
Large and dominating spaces in the DAILY EXPRESS, SUNDAY EXPRESS and other leading National Daily and Sunday Newspapers will tell millions of readers the LIQUFRUTA story again and again throughout the winter season.
- pp2-3
The Chemist and Druggist for September 19, 1964 (Internet Archive b19974760M4606, pp17-20) has a four-page spread on the winter campaign two years later, listing its extensive press advertising. The hype for its powers continued to be toned down, though through the makers still claimed that...
"the Liquorice, Extract of Ipecacuanha and Aniseed Oil in Liqufruta, after being absorbed into your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs, where they loosen clogging phlegm and facilitate easy expectoration"
... and that the vapours of its garlic, peppermint and aniseed oils ...
"are antiseptic in their action ... help to kill infecting organisms which cause phlegm".

Coming up to the present: Liqufruta still exists (obviously minus the extravagant claims made for it historically) with the trademark owned since 2013 by the pharmaceutical company Alston Garrard, of Modbury, Devon. According to the MHRA patient guidance leaflet, it now has an actual pharmaceutical active ingredient, guaifenesin, but the rest still comes down to garlic/mint flavoured sugar syrup. The rest of the lineup is "sucrose and inverted sugar, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate (E211), acetic acid, citric acid monohydrate, ethanol, menthol, garlic flavour, caramel (E150), purified water").

As with any other over-the-counter cough medicine, it's doubtful whether it does any more than it ever did, even with the guaifenesin; the evidence-based Cochrane review Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings (DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub5) concludes that "There is no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC medicines in acute cough".

The Homeyards' grave is easily visited from Teignmouth, most pleasantly by taking the Shaldon ferry, then walking the mile or so upriver to Ringmore, where St Nicholas Church is between the road and river. A gentleman walking in the churchyard very kindly pointed me to the location; it's close to the north-west corner of the church.

Back Beach, Teignmouth

Back Beach, Teignmouth

Looking upstream from the Shaldon ferry

Shaldon Ness, from the Shaldon ferry

Shaldon ferry, from Shaldon side

Shaldon beach and the Ness

Back Beach, Teignmouth, from Shaldon

Fore Street, Shaldon, looking west

Beach and A379 bridge, from Ringmore Road

Looking upstream to Haytor, from Ringmore Road (part of the Templer Way)

Churchyard gate, St. Nicholas, Ringmore

St. Nicholas, Ringmore

The Homeyard grave

The Homeyard grave (inscription detail)


- Ray

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