The University of Melbourne hides a treasure house of pharmacy history

Tucked away close to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Royal Parade lies the Brownless Biomedical Library, University of Melbourne, in a distinctive building with an upper level that houses the Medical History Museum. 

A prominent section of the museum features a reconstruction of the Savory and Moore Pharmacy that originated at 29 Chapel Street in London.

The pharmacy was opened in 1849 and serviced the fashionable inhabitants of Belgrave Square and Buckingham Palace nearby, chemists “By Appointment” to a long list of Kings and Queens from Queen Victoria onwards.

Leading up until 1968 a prominent sign in the window proclaimed the “Warrant of Appointment to his Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, complete with his coat of arms.

When this branch shop closed in 1968 Savory and Moore presented the fittings to the Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine in London.   The Director of the Institute,

Dr. F N L Poynter, offered these items to the University of Melbourne as a generous gift that also included the cost of packing and transport to Melbourne.

Reconstruction of the Pharmacy commenced in 1971 and was formally accepted by the University and officially opened by the Chancellor, Sir Robert Menzies on June 1st of that year.

The firm of chemists now known as Savory and Moore was established by Thomas Field Savory in 1797 at 143 Bond Street, London.  Savory was a friend of Edward Jenner and introduced to the public Dr. Jenners “Lozenges for Indigestion”, which were still being sold in the 1930’s.

Some of the original bottles and jars were sent out from London, together with the nest of drawers. 

The drawers have labels for many drugs that are now forgotten – even a number that were not included in the first edition of the British Pharmacopoeia.

It was Savory and Moore who patented the six-sided poison bottle in common use today. This is covered by patents issued to John Savory and William Robert Baker in 1859.

Most of the bottles and jars on display in Melbourne came from Palmer’s Pharmacy in Ballarat and replicate those that were on the shelves in London.

As can be seen from the accompanying photographs, the exhibit is a splendid illustration of the style of a fashionable 19thcentury London pharmacy. The entire Medical History Museum is well worth a visit.

Image courtesy of Andrew Ashton Photography. See the September edition of AJP for more images

Thanks to pharmacy historian Ralph Tapping for providing this article and other history pieces in AJP