Ward was born in Yorkshire. He was the brother of John Ward who was MP for several years. At the 1715 general election Ward was returned as Member of Parliament for Marlborough, through the artifice of one of the Mayors, but was unseated on petition in 1717.
Ward went to France where he practiced as a quack doctor but returned to London in 1734. He invented a medicine called "Joshua Ward's drop", also known as the "Pill and Drop". It was supposed to cure people of any illness they had, gaining acclaim and notoriety for Ward. Ward is widely cited as an example of a quack. His pills which he claimed could cure any illness, are suspected of containing large amounts of antimony which is poisonous and could cause permanent liver damage. The pills were artificially coloured red, purple and blue. Historian Jeremy Black has noted that "his remedies killed as many as they cured."
A chemist Joseph Clutton published an analysis of Ward's pills in A True and Candid Relation of the Good and Bad Effects of Joshua Ward's Pill and Drop, 1736. He found that two of the pills contained antimony and cobalt and the other arsenic.
In 1736, Ward set up the Great Vitriol Works in Twickenham for producing sulphuric acid. It used a process discovered in the seventeenth century by Johann Glauber in which sulphur is burned together with saltpetre (potassium nitrate), in the presence of steam. As the saltpetre decomposes, it oxidises the sulphur to sulfur trioxide, which combines with water to produce sulphuric acid. This was the first practical production of sulphuric acid on a large scale.
Ward was generous to the those living in poverty. He opened hospitals for the poor in Westminster and City of London. His clinics did not charge money and it is estimated he gave £3,000 to charity.
- Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851, Rupert Gunnis
- "WARD, Joshua (1685-1761)". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
- Nicolson, Marjorie H. (1968). “Ward's ‘Pill and Drop’ and Men of Letters.” Journal of the History of Ideas 29 (2): 177–196.
- Archibald Clow (1992). The Chemical Revolution. ISBN 2-88124-549-8.
Whether Ward, or his partner, John White, was the chemist is uncertain, ...
- Lock, Stephen; Last, John M; Dunea, George. (2001). The Oxford Illustrated Companion to Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-19-262950-6
- Forbes, Robert J. (1970). A Short History of the Art of Distillation: From the Beginnings Up to the Death of Cellier Blumenthal. Brill. p. 244. ISBN 978-9004006171 "Joshua Ward (1685-1761) was a quack doctor famous for his "drop and pill", the efficacy or otherwise of which excited heated controversy."
- Regan, Geoffrey. (2002). Historical Blunders. Andre Deutsch. p. 18. ISBN 978-0233050652 "Ward died a wealthy man, but the secret of his drop and pill died with him. If, as suspected, they consisted of antimony taken internally, they were damaging to the liver and resulted in dangerous purgings of the stomach. Larger doses could - and did in the case of some of Ward's unfortunate patients — result in colitis and even death."
- Nash, Jay Robert. (2004). The Great Pictorial History of World Crime: Volume 2. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 364. ISBN 1-928831-22-2 "Ward fled to France, where he promoted a quack medicine known as "White Drop of Ward and the Pill," which, if used in excess, caused permanent liver damage. Ward advertised this noxious medicine as a cure for all diseases. He was spared imprisonment in the Bastille by his friend John Page, and traveled back to England to market the drop and the pill to the public."
- Kang, Lydia; Pedersen, Nate. Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. Workman Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-7611-8981-7
- Black, Jeremy. (2008). Eighteenth-Century Britain, 1688-1783. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-230-53749-1
- Hancox, Joy. (1994). The Queen's Chameleon: The Life of John Byrom: A Study of Conflicting Loyalties. Jonathan Cape. pp. 122-123
- Sulphur surplus: Up to our necks in a diabolical element, BBC, 18 July 2014
- Chapman, Allan. (2016). Physicians, Plagues and Progress: The History of Western Medicine from Antiquity to Antibiotics. Lion Books. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-7459-6895-7