Page 32 - Pharmacy History 37 Nov 2009
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JC Marconi 6
The exact ingredients of Marconi’s original wonder salve have remained a secret and they are as mysterious as the story of the man who made it.
Manufacturing and selling these types of products was no easy task and as it was with the quacks of the old world, a real ‘attention grabber’ was the secret to success.
On one occasion Marconi heard
a story from a fellow sideshow performer in which he claimed that he had discovered an antidote to snake venom.
Marconi befriended this man, Lyn Vane, and he showed Marconi how the Aboriginals made a decoction from some secret native plants, which was taken orally.
Vane was so confident about his discovery that he developed an act in which he allowed himself to be bitten by a deadly snake and then after swallowing some of the plant decoction, surprising the audience with his ‘amazing recovery’. 7
This performance by Vane drew crowds wherever he went and
Marconi seized the opportunity to promote his goanna oil products by appearing together with Vane.
Sales of Goanna Salve grew rapidly and Marconi, like Thomas Holloway before him, advertised widely and printed testimonials in newspapers with eye-catching headlines such
as ‘Man’s legs saved’, ‘Nasal catarrh cured’ and so on.
Marconi made a fortune during the First World War, as many people sent tins of Goanna Salve in parcels for their loved ones fighting overseas.
It was claimed that a tin of Marconi’s Goanna Salve was as welcome in the trenches as a hip flask of scotch. Diggers used it to fix their piles, their foot sores and lubricate their guns.
Any goanna that died between 1914 and 1918, Marconi said, ‘died for its country’.
In the early 1900s Marconi was able to obtain an abundance of Goanna Salve’s key ingredient by enlisting the help of children across Queensland who were perpetually on the lookout for goannas, the fat of which was cut out of the reptile, placed on sheets of iron in the sun, melted into bottles, and posted to Marconi for a princely sum. In northern Australia, monitor lizards can grow to more than 2 m in length, and that means a lot of fat!
It has been decades since Goanna Salve actually contained any goanna fat. Today’s salve is made from
eucalyptus oil, pine oil, peppermint oil, camphor, menthol and turpentine and the product comes in a little glass jar as you can see.
Marconi died in 1922 when he was the victim of an unlucky blow in
a bar room skirmish. His family
sold the rights to Goanna Salve to a pharmaceutical manufacturer and with it the stipulation that the name JC Marconi must appear on every jar.
Spotted monitor Varanus panoples
There are a number of fascinating common links between the stories of Eichorn and Marconi and the society of their times.
They were both showmen with
a product to sell and they also promoted their sales with the
well tried techniques of the quack medicine vendors. Eichorn and Vane both attracted their audiences with theatricals, but interestingly they did not appear to sell their snake bite treatments as such.
Maybe the market for their more miraculous cures was more profitable!
1. Cited in R.Porter, Health for Sale: quackery in England 1660-1850, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p3
2. Martyr Philipa, Paradise of Quacks. 2002. MacLeay Press. Paddington NSW.
3. Cited in environment/fauna_4.aspx12/05/2009.
4. Cited in pics/tiger_snake.jpg 12/05/2009.
5. Cited in www. environment/goanna.jpg 12/05/2009.
6. Marconi family records.
7. Low, Tim. Bush Medicine, A Pharmacopoeia of
Natural Remedies.Angus & Robertson 1990.
32  Pharmacy History Australia
volume 5 no 37 NOVEMBER 2009  

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