James Morison (physician)

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Coloured lithograph (C. J. Grant, 1831) depicting a man who has overdosed on James Morison's Vegetable Pills. Wellcome Library collections.

James Morison (1770–1840) was a British quack-physician who sold Vegetable Universal Pills, a would-be cure-all.


Morison was born at Bognie, Aberdeenshire, in 1770, the youngest son of Alexander Morison. After studying at Aberdeen University and Hanau in Germany, he established himself at Riga as a merchant, and subsequently in the West Indies, where he acquired property. Ill-health obliged him to return to Europe, and about 1814 he settled at Bordeaux.[1]

After "thirty-five years' inexpressible suffering", and experimenting with every imaginable course of medical treatment, he accomplished "his own extraordinary cure" about 1822 by the simple expedient of swallowing a few vegetable pills of his own compounding at bed-time and a glass of lemonade in the morning. His success led him to set up in 1825 as the vendor of what he called "vegetable universal medicines", commonly known as "Morison's Pills", of which the principal ingredient was said to be gamboge. His medicines soon became highly popular, especially in the west of England, and in 1828 he opened an establishment for their sale in Hamilton Place, New Road, London, which he dignified with the title of "The British College of Health".[1]

He bought a pleasant residence at Finchley, Middlesex, called Strawberry Vale Farm, but later lived in Paris. It was said that the profits from the sale of his medicines in France alone were sufficient to cover his expenditure there. From 1830 to 1840, he paid £60,000 to the British government for medicine stamps.[1]

Morison died in Paris on 3 May 1840.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Morison married twice, and left four sons and several daughters. The only surviving child of his second marriage (with Clara, only daughter of Captain Cotter of the Royal Navy) was James Augustus Cotter Morison.[1]


Morison's writings were simply puffs of his medicines. They included:

  1. Some important Advice to the World (with supplement entitled More New Truths), 1825
  2. A Letter to ... the United East India Company, proposing a ... Remedy for ... the Cholera Morbus of India, 1825
  3. The Hygeian Treatment of the ... Diseases of India, 1836

His essays were collected together in a volume called Morisoniana, or Family Adviser of the British College of Health (2nd edition 1829; 3rd edition 1831), which was translated into several European languages. Prefixed to the volume is a portrait of the author from a picture by Clint.[1]

Popular culture[edit]

  • In Robert Wilkie's farce, the Yalla Gaiters (1840), the hero is fascinated by the vocal powers of a countryman who is singing a ballad in praise of Morison's "Vegetable Pills"; the verses are printed in Notes and Queries.[1]
  • Thomas Carlyle's Past and Present (1843) makes frequent scornful references to Morison's pills.[1]



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGoodwin, Gordon (1894). "Morison, James (1770-1840)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 39. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

External links[edit]