Artifact of the Week: Turlington’s Balsam of Life

By: Hope Harwood
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This unique medicine became quite the hit 150 years ago. Robert Turlington was an English merchant and he invented this balsam in the mid 1700’s. He eventually obtained a royal patent for his Balsam of Life in 1744 from King George II. This meant that he could take legal action against whomever claimed this product as their own. This was one of the first ever medicinal patents.

Turlington claimed that his balsam contained 27 ingredients, both herbal and chemical and that it was effective in treating “kidney and bladder stones, cholic and inward weakness”. Eventually, he had a 46 page pamphlet printed that listed every health area that his balsam had the power of treating. Within ten years of his product being patented he changed the design of his bottle 4 times. Finally in 1754, Turlington settled on the unique tablet looking bottle that you can see here in the Hillary House Collection. His product rapidly became popular in England and in American colonies.

The medication would have likely been part of the doctor’s medical bag, like the ones that lived in Hillary House. With 46 pages worth of things you could use it to treat, who knows what they would have prescribed it for!