This case arose out of the extremely dangerous practice of administering quack medicines. Morison's Vegetable pills have been for many years an article from the sale of which immense profits have been derived; but it is to be regretted that in more than one instance the life of the patient has been sacrificed, from their undue and improper use.
At the Central Criminal Court Sessions, which commenced on Monday the 4th of April 1836, Mr. Robert Salmon, a medicine-vendor in Farringdon-street, was indicted for the manslaughter of Mr. John M'Kenzie, by administering to him certain large and excessive quantities of pills, composed of gamboge, cream of tartar, and other noxious and deleterious ingredients.
The deceased, it appeared, was the master of a vessel, and lived in the neighbourhood of the Commercial-road. He was induced to take some of Morison's pills as a purgative, upon the representations of a Mrs. Lane, a woman who was employed by his wife as a sempstress, who sold the Hygeian medicines; and subsequently Mr. Salmon's aid having been claimed, on account of his suffering from rheumatism in the knee, he recommended increased and still-increasing doses, until at length the deceased became so ill as that his life was placed in jeopardy. Medical aid was now called in, but it was too late, and death soon put an end to his sufferings. A. post-mortem examination left no doubt that the medicine prescribed by the prisoner had been the cause of this termination of the case, and the present indictment was in consequence preferred.
On the part of the defendant a great many persons were called from all parts of the kingdom, who stated that they had taken large quantities of these pills, with the very best results, as a means of cure for almost every species of malady to which the human frame is subject. One person stated that he had taken no fewer than twenty thousand of them in two years, and that he had found infinite relief from swallowing them in very large doses.
Mr. Justice Patteson left the case to the jury, who had to decide upon the facts which had been proved; and after about half an hour's consideration they found a verdict of "Guilty," with a recommendation to mercy, upon the ground that the defendant was not the compounder, but the vendor only of the medicines.
On the following Saturday, the 9th of April, the defendant was brought up to receive judgment. The learned judge having sentenced him to pay a fine of 200l., added, "I think it right to caution you, that in the event of your being again found guilty of conduct of a similar description, the character of your offence will be materially altered. I hope that the punishment which is now inflicted on you will deter others from rashly administering medicines, with the nature of which they are unacquainted, in large quantities, as the result may be fatal."
The trade in Morison's pills is, however, still carried on to a very great extent, and Mr. Salmon continues one of the largest agents for the sale of the medicine in the metropolis.