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Joshua Ward (1684-1761)

Joshua Ward was a notorious English quack in the 1700s who made a fortune selling patent medicines. He was also an unqualified doctor whose patients included King George II and Horace Walpole.

Ward briefly became an MP, and was involved in the Jacobin rebellion to restore the Stuart monarchy. He then lived in France for 16 years, where he invented his famous Ward’s Pill and Ward’s Drop. Made with poisonous ingredients, they produced violent sweating and other symptoms as the body tried to rid itself of the toxic substances. In humoral medicine this was considered to be a good thing.

Ward returned to London in 1734. He cured King George II’s dislocated thumb, and from then on he was in royal favour. His products became famous. In his massive advertising campaign, he claimed that his products would cure everything from gout to scurvysyphilis and cancer. His private practice amongst the aristocracy was popular. Though he became extremely wealthy, he gave much of his money to charity. He opened a dispensary for the poor and indigent, and threw money out of his coach in poor areas.

The medical profession despised Ward, and unsuccessfully tried to introduce new laws regulating the sale of medicine in 1748. Ward died in 1761, leaving a modest fortune.

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Bibliography

T A B Corley, ‘Joshua Ward’, Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004)

Glossary:

Scurvy

Disease caused by a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which is contained in fresh fruit and vegetables. Symptoms include weakness, painful joints, and bleeding gums.

Syphilis

A sexually transmitted infection resulting in the formation of lesions throughout the body.