Queensland Places – Thursday Island – John Turnbull, Chemist and Druggist

This advertisement, published in 1897, shows what would have been a very important  and familiar place for the residents of Thursday Island.  At a time when access to health care was limited in terms of modern medical knowledge, chemists and druggists such as John Turnbull played a vital role in terms of people’s well being.

John Turnbull, Chemist, Thursday Island, 1897. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

John Turnbull, Chemist, Thursday Island, 1897. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

John Turnbull’s Thursday Island shop operated from at least the early 1890s and he was elected a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Queensland in 1892.  The store itself was located on the ground floor of the building, with a large display window showing potential customers some of the products he sold and we can assume that his residence was in the upper floor.

Those who lived in the Victorian era tended to be suspicious of fake or poor quality products so Turnbull would have promoted the genuine or pure nature of his products and medicines.  As with other chemists of the time, he would have promoted his medicines as remedies for a wide range of ailments including gout, sciatica, tooth-ache, and neuralgia and hair restoration.  Many chemists also sold non-medicinal products such as soft drinks and confectionary.  A wide range of medicinal bottles were used by druggists to hold their own concoctions.  From very small to large and in a variety of colours, some of these may just be seen in his store window, in the pictured advertisement.  Chemists at the time were also starting to professionalise and broaden the range of services they offered, with some even offering a range of veterinary services in addition to their usual dispensing activities.  Many chemists were also starting to move into areas such as photography, supplying a range of photography Herbal remedies were also still very popular and we can assume that Turnbull offered a range of these as well.

Turnbull would have also acted as an agent for various southern or mainland companies, no doubt stocking and selling a range of their products.  Also, as a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Queensland, he would have been able to keep up to date with the latest advances in medicines and related health care services.

John Turnbull’s chemist shop, along with the other businesses and stores on Thursday Island, ensured that the island’s residents had access to a similar range of goods and services as well as standard of living as those in less isolated locations, particularly at this relatively early time.

Brian Randall – Senior Librarian, State Library of Queensland.