Fred Burnaby and Cockle’s Pills

Captain Fred Burnaby was a Victorian adventurer and balloonist, chiefly remembered today for his epic horse rides across Anatolia and Central Asia.

I’ve never quite made up my mind whether he undertook these rides with tacit approval as part of the Great Game, or whether he was simply a mad adventurer, but his ‘A Ride to Khiva’ remains an invaluable resource for anyone interested about life on the edge of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century.

He also has another claim to fame however – Cockle’s Pills which he took with him as part of his medicine chest on his adventures


His use of Cockle’s pills certainly captured the Victorian imagination with it being reused in advertiesments

advert linking a rid to Khiva with cockles pills

And in cartoons

caricature of Fred Burnaby with cockle's Pills

But what were Cockle’s Pills?

Well we have an unopened packet in the collection at Dow’s. and we can see that they were anti bilious or indigestion pills


Cockle’s pills weren’t unique – there were quite a few indigestion products around in the Victorian era, doubtless as a result of the heavy Victorian diet.

But what were Cockle’s Pills?

Essentially they were a laxative – again given the heavy Victorian diet, probably a useful product, especially, if as claimed, they did not contain any real nasties.

As Spike Milligan remarked in Puckoon, it was a case of make people shit and get rich…, and that was very much a trope of late ninettenth century and early twentieth century life when people appeared to be fixated on having healthy bowels …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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