Sunday, September 28, 2014

Liza O'Connor investigates The Drugged Victorians

Today, we assess the common drugs used by the Late Victorians. Back then being addicted to a drug was considered unfortunate, but not due a flaw or weakness of the person. It just happened to some people.

While Sherlock Holmes was reputed to have a cocaine addiction, my character, Xavier Thorn [Who is not, nor never has been Sherlock Holmes] suffered on occasion from an opium addiction to no fault of his own. 
Seth Sojourn, one of the worst Crime Lords of the London Underworld, commonly addicted those he captured to opium. Not only did it keep them sedated and confused while a captive, but once released and returned to their government position, their addiction often kept them coming to Sojourn for the high quality Persian opium, which he would provide…for a favor or two.

Laudanum was the most common opiate consumed, mostly by the ladies and sadly, babies.

In 1860, a German chemist extracted cocaine from coca leaves. And for the record, this is not the same plant that gives us chocolate. Cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylaceae coca), whereas the cocoa bean is the seed of Theobroma cacoa.) 
In 1863, a French chemist made a fortune creating a drink with cocaine in it call Vin Mariani or Elixer Mariani. (Would you like to guess what his last name was? If you guessed Mariani, pat yourself on your head.)
This drink promised to refresh the body and brain. It became incredibly popular. 

In fact, Queen Victoria praised it highly. (2 glasses held the equivalent of 50 milligrams of pure cocaine.)

It was believed to cure a plethora of problems: indigestion, melancholia, lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability—pretty much any complaint you had.
Doctors and dentist claimed it an excellent painkiller.
Mass commercialization of cocaine began 1880.

Store shops druggists would sell cocaine drops, certain to ease the sore throat and would advise it to relieve morning sickness in pregnant ladies. Cocaine was also an ingredient is several patented medicines.
I have to mention one American commercialized product: 1885, Pemberton patented the French Wine Coca nerve tonic. Pemberton was addicted to morphine & possibly ordered Vin Mariani from France and decided to make his own tonic, which he claims broke him off his morphine addiction. When prohibition occurred in the early 20th century, he altered the formula, making it non-alcoholic and it was called Coca-Cola. Pemberton claimed Coco-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia headache and impotence.

As the popularity and dependence on Opiates and Cocaine spread, doctors tried to get stricter controls on the substances through professional ethics codes. Many began to use chloral and quinine for sleep disorders and restlessness.
Which naturally prompts me to research further.
Chloral was used not only for sleep deprivation, but during hypnosis as well. While not dangerous to the users, it is fairly lethal to those making it. 4 hour of breathing the fumes leaves you with a 50% chance of dying. 

I have to assume the manufacturers had to take precautions against the fumes. Otherwise, they’d constantly be hiring new employees as the old ones died.

Quinine was a terrible substitute to cure restlessness, unless the reason you were restless was due to malaria. In fact, one of the side effects of the drug IS restlessness. However, it does drop your blood sugar, which I suppose could make you very tired.
Then in 1898, heroine shows up as a cough syrup.
Seriously, I don’t know how Victorians got anything done. They were the most doped up people imaginable.
If I time travel back to Late Victorian era, I’m avoiding all opiates and cocaine. I’d take Nitrate Oxide or willow bark as my painkillers of choice. If I absolutely had to take a sleeping pill, I would use Chloral. I’m only taking Quinine if I have malaria (which I have had and let me say, you don’t want it.)
Now let us discuss Xavier Thorn and His addiction to Opium.

The Missing Partner
Liza O'Connor
Late Victorian Humorous Mystery Series.
London, England  March 1894
Vic Hamilton takes the reins of the investigation office, while Xavier Thorn disappears on an assignment for the British government. Her caseload is entirely ‘lost and recovery’ cases. In the midst of solving all her client’s problems, she learns that the government has lost Xavier. With the help of the gypsy pirate Jacko, and her driver Davy, Vic rushes against time to rescue everyone.

Most alarming, she befriends and hires a dangerous criminal as an employee of Xavier Thorn’s Private Inquirieswithout Xavier’s permission.

We start with a short conversation between Dr. Connor & Vic:
“Xavier was unconscious during my first exam. However, once the craving for opium takes control, he’ll claim pains he doesn’t have so we’ll give him the drug he craves.”
Not wanting to insult a man who had proven vital in saving Xavier, she held her tongue. Yet, she knew her dark haired, hawk-nose partner. Opium could not undermine his strong character.


Time proved Dr. Connors’ warning all too accurate. Xavier adamantly refused to reduce the amount of opiate, even though by the second week, his wound appeared on the mend. He insisted he was in worse pain than ever.
Vic had naively believed she knew the worst of his temper from her year of employment, but this new level of anger seared her soul. After Davy found her in the kitchen crying for the third time in one day, he knelt down before her and took her hands.
“Vic, you gotta let me care for him.”
“No, I’ll—”
“This ain’t good for either of you! He needs somebody he can yell at without hurting. He needs me. You pride yourself about picking the best skilled person for a task. Well, I’m the best person for this job.”
Vic shook her head. “He’ll bully you into giving him more opiate.”
“No, he won’t. I’ve done this before.”
“Done what?” Her head popped up as she tried to make sense of his words.
“Weaned him off the drug.”
“Through the years.”
“How many times?”
Davy sighed. “This will make five. And every time it gets harder for him. This isn’t a time for you to cut teeth. You need an experienced person.”
A swell of relief overcame her as she nodded in agreement, and then it turned to shame. She shouldn’t give in so easy. He was her partner. She should be able to go through hell for him.
The truth was she wanted out. Seeing him in torment left her so helpless. And now Davy wanted to save her from this hell. But was he telling the truth when he said he could do the job, or just trying to spare her. She met his eyes. “If you’ve known you were better, why didn’t you say anything before now?”
“I’d hoped you’d pull him out faster, but you aren’t. You’re just making him hate himself for the ugly things he says. I need to take over now and get the job done professional like.”
Vic threw her arms around Davy’s neck and sobbed in helpless frustration. Then she released him, breathed in deep and stood. Davy rose as well, his eyes filled with worry.
After two deep sniffles, and drying her eyes on a sleeve of her shirt, she looked up at him. “I’m going to go downstairs and get the office in order. Then maybe I’ll go out and rustle up some business.”
“That’s a good idea. And I’ll take care of Xavier. I’m good at this.”

Book 1
The Troublesome Apprentice
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Book 2
The Missing Partner


  1. I can't wait to read this. I do wonder what they got done with all those drugs in their system. Hopefully they were an easy going happy group of people though!

  2. I can see why women might drug themselves to get though the tedious day and men drug themselves to endure through another long boring ball.


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