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Medicine chest used by David Livingstone, Europe, 1860-1873

David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa. He used this medicine chest on his last journey to find the source of the Nile, beginning in 1866 until his death. He began by collecting men and supplies in India before travelling to Malawi, Africa. It was on this trip that his whereabouts became unknown until greeted by the explorer H M Stanley (1841-1904) with the now famous words “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” The chest contains seventeen glass bottles, with their original contents, a lancet, a plaster, a brass weight and a caustic pencil. Some of the bottles are labelled “Treacher of Bombay and Poona”, a druggist located in Bombay. Concentrated liquid ammonia purchased from Treacher was used to treat snake bites.

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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: lancets

A surgical instrument of various forms, commonly sharp-pointed and two-edged. The lancet is used in venesection (the act of opening a vein for bloodletting), and in opening abscesses.

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.