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'Tabloid' medicine chest used by Teddy Roosevelt in 1909, London, England, 1900-1909

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What is more dangerous, a lion or a mosquito? If you went big game hunting in Africa a hundred years ago you took plenty of guns and ammunition, but also a good supply of quinine. The drug had long been essential for travellers braving malaria-infested parts of the world and this medicine chest was particularly well stocked. It was taken to Africa by former US President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt and his expedition in 1909. How do we know they encountered malaria? The chest originally contained six bottles of plain and ‘sugar coated’ quinine tablets, an anti-malarial drug used to treat established infections. Four bottles remain but only two have any contents left, suggesting the expedition got through the rest. Another bottle of pills bears the curious name ‘Livingstone Rouser’, based on an original recipe developed by the missionary and explorer David Livingstone sixty years earlier. By combining quinine with laxatives such as rhubarb, Livingstone found that the drug helped to ‘rouse’ his body against the fever. It probably just relieved the main side effect of quinine – constipation. With malarial mosquitoes tackled, how did the lions fare? Roosevelt and his companions were meant to be on a scientific collecting expedition for the Smithsonian Institute, but they hunted on a grand scale. He’d spared the life of a bear during a trip in 1902, sparking the soft toy trend we know as the teddy bear. But among the thousands of animals killed on this trip were several white rhinos – rare even then – one of which Roosevelt shot as it slept.

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Glossary: medicine chest

Small chests fitted for bottles and intended to hold medical supplies; of a type made in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Glossary: malaria

Parasitic disease transmitted by certain kinds of mosquito. Malaria is characterized by fever and enlargement of the spleen. Each year, there are approximately 515 million cases of malaria, killing between one and three million people.