Godfrey's Cordial (also called Mother's Friend) and Dalby's Carminative were among the most widely used patent medicines given to infants and children in England and the United States during the latter years of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries. Both preparations were used—almost always without a physician's advice—for a wide variety of symptoms ranging from run-of-the mill fretfulness and colic, to the severest forms of dehydration caused by explosive, bloody diarrhea. Despite their innocuous names, they were sinister preparations because of their opium content; Godfrey's Cordial contained one grain of opium in each two ounces; Dalby's Carminative contained ¼ grain of opium in the same amount.1

Opium was called the donum Dei by Sydenham.2 But this lavish praise without the addition of a strong warning of the serious consequences of opium overdose, especially when given to infants and children, led to a cavalier attitude for many years about the dosing of children with preparations which contained opium.

Many infants died from opium poisoning in the early 1800's, usually as a result of its surreptitious use by nurses to keep infants under their care in a deep state of sleep and thus of no bother to the nurse responsible for them.

Readers of the English novelist, Charlotte Yonge—if there be any left—will recall that Flora Rivers' baby in the novel, Daisy Chain (1856), is killed by an overdose of Godfrey's Cordial given for fretfulness by an ignorant nurse.3

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.