‘Is your breathing embarrassed?’

Many of you will probably have heard of Baxter’s Lung Preserver, a local Christchurch product created in the 19th century and still sold today. Bottles of Baxter’s, with the name of the product embossed on the sides, are common finds on late 19th century sites throughout Christchurch.

A 19th century bottle of Baxter's Lung Preserver found at a site in central Christchurch.

A 19th century bottle of Baxter’s Lung Preserver found at a site in central Christchurch. Image: Jessie Garland.

As far as we know, the product originated in the late 1860s in Christchurch as the brainchild of a man named John Baxter, who set himself up as a chemist in the young city. The actual start date of the business is a bit unclear, as we have one advertisement from 1884 that claims over 25 years of operation (suggesting a date of 1859; Taranaki Herald 1/02/1884: 4) and another from 1939 that claims a 75 year history (suggesting a date of 1864; Evening Post 16/10/1939: 13). The 1864 date seems more likely, since we know that John Baxter died in 1895 at the age of 49 (Star 14/09/1895: 4), meaning he was born in 1846. It’s a little unlikely that a 13 year old would start a pharmaceutical business, but an 18 year old doing so isn’t quite so much of a stretch.

Advertisement for Baxter's Lung Preserver from 1939.

Advertisement for Baxter’s Lung Preserver (Evening Post 16/10/1939: 13). 

Whatever the start date, it’s clear that by the 1870s, Baxter was well established in Christchurch, with premises on Cashel Street in something called ‘Medical Hall’ (Star 13/08/1875: 4) as well as on the corner of Victoria and Durham Street. The business continued at the Victoria Street address well into the 20th century, with his sons taking over after Baxter’s death in 1895 (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903).

Advertisement for Professor Brown's herbal remedies, sold at Baxter's Chemist, Christchurch.

Advertisement for Professor Brown’s herbal remedies, sold at Baxter’s chemist, Christchurch (Press 17/04/1885: 4).

Like George Bonnington, John Baxter became well known for his own creations, and also sold products created by other chemists. Along with his lung preserver, Baxter advertised Baxter’s Anti-Neuralgic ‘magic pills’, Compound Quinine Pills, cures for indigestion and remedies for liver complaints. He was also known to stock herbal remedies and ointments from a Professor O. P. Brown, as well as non-pharmaceutical objects like the 1885 Shakespearian Almanac and various other things (Press 17/04/1885: 4).

Like so many pharmaceutical remedies of the late 1800s, Baxter’s was often advertised in local newspapers using testimonials from apparently satisfied clients. Just a quick scroll through 19th century newspapers from all over the country brings up countless enthusiastic letters and quotes from “faculty, clergy and others” who claimed that Baxter’s Lung Preserver had cured them of their ills and succeeded where other remedies had failed (Press 04/08/1873: 2).

Testimonials for Baxter's Lung Preserver, Press 4/10/1883.

Testimonials for Baxter’s Lung Preserver (Press 4/10/1883).

Other advertisements played on concerns of the time and offered to cure a range of complaints, most of which were respiratory illnesses or problems – cough, colds, bronchitis, congestion of the lungs. My personal favourite offers Baxter’s Lung Preserver as a remedy for “embarrassed breathing” as well as the more common respiratory problems (Evening Post 29/01/1887: 2).

Advertisement for Baxter's Lung Preserver.

Advertisement for Baxter’s Lung Preserver (Evening Post 29/01/1887: 2).

We’re not sure exactly how effective Baxter’s Lung Preserver would have been at curing the things it claimed to fix, since we don’t know exactly what was in it. The modern version, still sold today, uses the active ingredient ipecacuanha (a Brazilian plant used as an expectorant and emetic; API Consumer Brands 2013), but we have no way of knowing if this is the same as the Victorian recipe. Some anecdotal information suggests that it might have had a high alcoholic content, which would be in line with many of the other patent medicines of the time, especially those directed at coughs and colds.

Whatever its ingredients, it’s clear from the wealth of historical information and archaeological finds, that Baxter’s Lung Preserver was a hugely popular product, not just in Christchurch, but throughout New Zealand. It’s a testament to Baxter’s legacy and the tenacity of his products that his business lasted so long after his death and his products continue to be sold in shops today.

Jessie Garland


API Consumer Brands. 2013. [online] Available at <http://www.api.net.nz/brands/consumer-division/baxters-range>.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]. 1903. [online] Available at <http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/>.

Evening Post. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Manawatu Standard. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Press. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Star. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Taranaki Herald. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

West Coast Times. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

9 thoughts on “‘Is your breathing embarrassed?’

  1. Interesting that this was favoured seemingly exclusively by members of the United Methodist Free Church… I wonder what the Anglicans took for embarrassed breathing?

  2. Has anyone heard of Dr Ridgeways Creosote Lung Preserver? Rumor has it that my Grandfather was making it in Auckland in the early 20th century. Thank you.

  3. The earliest advertisement I could find for Baxter’s Lung Preserver was in The Leeds Mercury, December 20, 1862. John and his brother Robert William Baxter worked together as manufacturing chemists in Leeds until John Baxter travelled to New Zealand.

  4. That’s interesting information to add to what I have, Elizabeth. My understanding was that Baxter’s Lung preserver was produced in Leeds by Robert William Baxter until his early death, upon which John Baxter inherited his recipes and immigrated to New Zealand to start afresh in 1870, although reading through all of this it’s possible it may have been a few years earlier. It was commonplace for businesses to exaggerate claims of their establishment dates as marketing tactic as it seemed more wholesome.
    I wonder if this is the same John Baxter born 1846 Leeds with a brother Robert.

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