Chemists, druggists, and theatrics: a new donation for the KwaZulu-Natal Museum
Mr. Coyne holding one of the items donated: the ‘Dispensing Dept’ sign from the original shop.
Mr. Coyne, still residing in Pietermaritzburg, bought the oldest surviving pharmacy in the city some 40 years ago. The Medical Hall, as the pharmacy was called, was established in 1850 by a Dutch chemist, Nic van Zweel. The original building with its ‘Medical Hall’ sign is still standing in Church Street.
Mr. Coyne and his father were both pharmacists, known as a ‘chemist and druggist’ back in the day. The Medical Hall closed down two decades ago and Mr. Coyne has now decided to donate some of its surviving wonders, such as chemist bottles from the c1930s, later medicine bottles from c1967, and a green poison bottle.
(a) Medicine bottles from the c1930s (b) green poison bottle
Chemists in the past used to mix and dispense medicines themselves, unlike today where we have ready-made and packaged medicines. Pill (cachet) makers were used to form tablets from powders that they mixed in the shop while the customer waits. Mr. Coyne’s donation of a pill maker was stored in a lovely wooden Fry’s chocolate box from the c1920s, together with handwritten remedy recipes, which Mr. Coyne and his late father used as pharmacists. The Medical Hall was in the Bouttell family before Mr. Coyne took over. The Bouttells also donated medical items to the museum years before. Thanks to these donations of historical significant objects, we can provide the public with a close, almost identical, replica of businesses and homes from more than 170 years ago.
Fry’s Chocolate box containing the pill maker and associated accessories.
Not only did Mr. Coyne donate items from the last Victorian apothecary in PMB, but he also presented the museum with a wooden box filled with theatre wigs worn by his great (great) grandfather, Joseph Stirling Coyne, who was the most prolific playwright in England from 1835 up until his death in 1868. Joseph Stirling Coyne wrote more than 60 plays, 27 farces, and contributed to several newspapers and journals. He was also one of the editors of the popular Punch magazine. He sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 63, but his legacy lives on not only in theatre but through his great-grandson here in our very own Pietermaritzburg.
One of the many theatrical wigs donated