Regency Era Poisons: What They Were

Regency Era poisons were important to Regency people and because of their great interest in them, a lengthy article was published in 1828. It provided all sorts of information about poisons that included class III poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons.” These Regency Era poisons could be ingested or applied to the body and were reported to cause “drowsiness, stupor, paralysis or apoplexy, convulsions, and death when the dose [was] sufficiently large.”

regency poisons

Among this list of Regency Era poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons” were nine items from the vegetable kingdom — camphor, hemlock, henbane, laurel water, opium, prussic acid, stramonium, strong scented lettuce, and tobacco — and one mineral sedative and narcotic poison known as carbonic acid gas. To understand these Regency Era poisons and counter their deadly consequences, a list was provided for Regency people. Here it is almost verbatim:

A. Vegetable Sedative and Narcotic Poisons

CAMPHOR. This excellent medicine has occasionally been swallowed in doses so large as to cause very violent excitement of the brain and nervous system; such as vertigo, difficult breathing, fainting, cold sweats, convulsions, and, in some instances, death. When it is known or suspected that these symptoms have resulted from the administration of camphor, give wine in moderate quantities, with ten or fifteen drops of laudanum, at short intervals, until professional aid can be procured or the symptoms abate.

HEMLOCK (Conium maculatum). When this poison has been swallowed, either in the recent state or in the form of extract or of tincture, so as to produce high delirium or frenzy, or stupor, dilatation of the pupils, and convulsions, which frequently terminate in death, the stomach should be evacuated first by the stomach pump, if it be at hand, or by a scruple of white Vitriol, and acidulous fluids afterwards freely administered.

Regency Era Poisons - Hemlock

Hemlock. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

HENBANE. Poisoning by this plant, either in its recent state or prepared for medicinal use, must be counteracted in the same manner as a case of poisoning by Hemlock.

Henbane from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants, 1887. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

LAUREL WATER. This acts as a direct sedative, and destroys life without convulsions or any of the other symptoms which those substances which are regarded as simple narcotics, produce. It is distinguished by the strong odour of bitter almonds; and, in cases of poisoning by it, whatever steps are taken must be prompt. Brandy, containing in each glass from fifteen to thirty drops of solution of ammonia, or a teaspoonful or two of hartshorn, should be administered, at short intervals, until the habit is roused, and the influence of the poison is overcome.

OPIUM. As this medicine, in all its forms of preparation, is the poison most commonly of recourse by the suicidal, there is reason for suspecting that it has been swallowed when the following symptoms occur: drowsiness, followed by delirium, pallidness of countenance, sighing, deep and snorting breathing, cold sweats, and apoplexy. The first object in the treatment of such a case is to dislodge the poison still remaining in the stomach, either by means of the stomach-pump, if that valuable instrument can be procured, or by the administration of an emetic consisting of a scruple of white vitriol, or from five to eight grains of blue vitriol; and by irritating the upper part of the gullet and the throat by the finger introduced into the mouth, or with a feather. If no professional aid can be procured, even after the stomach is emptied, then give freely acidulous fluids, with strong coffee and cordials. The subsequent drowsiness should be averted by rousing continually the attention of the patient; by obliging him to walk about; and, when it can be done, by immersing him in a tepid bath.

Regency Era poisons - Opium pod

Opium pod. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

PRUSSIC ACID. When this poison is taken in a large dose, death almost instantaneously follows; but when the quantity is more moderate, it produces the same sedative effects as laurel water, and is to be counteracted by the same means. (One interesting murder that involved this poison was the Fontainebleau murder of 1867, click here to learn more).

STRAMONIUM or Thorn Apple: This poisons acts nearly in the same manner as opium; and, consequently, cases of poisoning by this agent are to be treated in the same manner as those by Opium.

STRONG SCENTED LETTUCE: This poison produces the same effects as opium; and persons poisoned by it are, therefore, to be treated in the same manner as those by opium.

TOBACCO. The symptoms which lead to the suspicion of poisoning by this substance are severe nausea, vomiting, and other sensations of drunkenness, great sinking of the strength, cold sweats and convulsions. If little time has elapsed from the swallowing the poison, clear the stomach by two or three grains of tartar-emetic; but, if some time has passed, administer purgatives, and afterwards acidulous drinks, with brandy, camphor, and other cordials.

Regency Era poisons - Tobacco

Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) flower, leaves, and buds. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

B. Mineral Sedative and Narcotic Poisons

CARBONIC ACID GAS. The utmost danger often arises from this gas being extricated by burning charcoal in close rooms; and from the gas accumulating in cellars and other places, which have been long kept closed, and into which individuals imprudently enter immediately after they are opened. No person ought to enter a cellar, pit, well, or other place in which this gas can accumulate, without carrying with them a lighted candle, the going out of which should be the signal for instant retreat.

When suspended animation occurs from this gas, remove the body into the open air; and, while friction is applied over the chest, let the lungs be inflated by means of a pair of bellows, closing and opening the nostrils and mouth alternately, and pressing on the chest after each inflation, so as to imitate, as nearly as possible, the action of breathing. The influence of hydrogen gas on the body is to be counteracted in the same manner.


  • The British Almanac, Vol. 1, 1828

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