godfrey's cordial, early to mid 1800s

 godfrey's cordial

godfrey's cordial

active ingredients: morphine, treacle, spices

I obtained this bottle in a lot of apothecary items in April 2014 from Dr. Frank, a retired dentist from the dakotas, who has an extensive collection of medical items. He has sold me many items at a discount, and this bottle with a worn paper label of "Godfrey's Cordial" is one of my favorites. it is about 10" tall and has a 3.5" diameter base. It has a very rough pontil mark on the bottom so I estimate this bottle to be early to mid 19th century. I bought the lot of 19 bottles for $200 so I paid about $11 for this one.

Godfreys' Cordial (aka "mother's friend") is one of many morphine-based solutions used in the 1800s on children and adolescents to "quiet" them. A side effect of any opiate, besides pain relief, is sedation. In this solution, there was 1 grain of opium (~65 mg) in two ounces of medicine. The other ingredient, treacle, is just a fancy term for molasses. The spices helped to make the medicine go down easier and maybe to mask a foul odor and/or flavor.

This medicine was sold without prescription and since it worked (and why wouldn't it?! it would work on an elephant!), it sold in large quantities to overburdened mothers during a time where fussy children just got in the way of daily chores and necessary work. As a consequence, not only were many children addicted to the product, and could buy it without their parents and down whatever amount they chose without physician supervision, many also died as a result of an overdose. Many babies even starved to death since they were too doped up to have a proper appetite. In fact, in a book in 1856 called Daisy Chain, a baby is killed by an overdose of this exact product- Godfrey's Cordial! (see quote below). It may even have been used purposefully to murder unwanted children for those already impoverished families of early 19th century Britain. Moreover, it may have been used to harass and molest those sedated by its effects (see the ballad of Godfrey's Cordial below).

Also, since morphine is denser than the other ingredients, it sunk to the bottom. So whoever got the last few doses of the cordial really got their money's worth with a whopper of a dose.

Dr. May hardly paused to embrace his daughter, and she anxiously led him to the cradle, and tried to read his expression, as his eyes fell on the little face, somewhat puffed, but of a waxy whiteness, and the breathing seeming to come from the lips.

Flora had trusted that hope and confidence would come with him; but, on the contrary, every lurking misgiving began to rush wildly over her, as she watched his countenance, while he carried his little granddaughter towards the light, studied her intently, raised her drooping eyelids, and looked into her eyes, scarcely eliciting another moan. Flora dared not ask a question, but looked on with eyes open, as it were, stiffened.

”This is the effect of opium,” were Dr. May’s first words, breaking on all with startling suddenness; but, before any one could speak, he added, “We must try some stimulant directly;” then looking round the room, “What have you nearest?”

”Godfrey’s Cordial, sir,” quickly suggested the nurse.

”Carry her to her room,” said Dr. May. “I will come;” and, when George had borne her away, he kissed the lifeless cheek, and reverently placed the little corpse in the cradle; but, as he rose from doing so, the sobbing nurse exclaimed,

”Oh, sir! oh, sir! indeed, I never did—“

”Never did what?” said Dr. May sternly.

”I never gave the dear baby anything to do her harm,” cried Preston vehemently.

”You gave her this,” said Dr. May, pointing to the bottle of Godfrey’s Cordial.
— Charlotte Yonge's "Daisy Chain"

 

Other morphine-based children's medicines were: Atkinson's Royal Infants Preservative, Steedman's Powders, Dably's Carminitive, Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, Stickney and Poor's Paregoric

 an ad from 1770 england where a bookseller boasts of the products he sells, one being Godfrey's Cordial (see the italicized "Godfrey" in the left side about halfway down)

an ad from 1770 england where a bookseller boasts of the products he sells, one being Godfrey's Cordial (see the italicized "Godfrey" in the left side about halfway down)

 godfrey's cordial recipe from  the journal of Dr. John Davidson of Florida, 1843

godfrey's cordial recipe from  the journal of Dr. John Davidson of Florida, 1843

 english ballad of gofrey's cordial

english ballad of gofrey's cordial

  Godfrey's Cordial , early 20th century bottles manufactured in the U.S.A

Godfrey's Cordial, early 20th century bottles manufactured in the U.S.A