From London's Ghost Acres

A heavy, metallic element, mercury is curious in that it is liquid at room temperature. It is used in the production of gaseous chlorine and caustic soda. It was also used to make hats from animal furs.

Recorded as "Quicksilver" in the database

Mercury is included in a large number of remedies in the Pharmacopeia including ointments, lotions, and pills. In the Compendium mercury and the mercurial pill were both classified as aperients and purgatives. Calomel was also an important remedy that contained mercury, and was used as a purgative, alternative, and to treat children suffering from fever.

The Compendium does warn against extended use of mercury, as it had a tendency to build up in the system.

British Pharmacopoeia 1867

Mercury Hydragyrum


“A metal, fluid at common temperatures, brilliantly lustrous, and easily divisible into spherical globules. Volatiles at a heat below that of visible redness, leaving no residue.” Used in preparations of:[1]

  • preparations containing mercury chiefly uncombined
  • Hydrargyrum cum Creta
  • Emplastrum Ammoniaci cum Hydrargyro
  • Emplastrum Hydrargyri
  • Linimentum Hydrargyri
  • Pilula Hydrargyri
  • Suppositoria Hydrargyri
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri composita
  • preparations containing combined mercury
  • Hydrargyri Iodidum rubrum
  • Hydrargyri Oxidum rubrum
  • Hydrargyri Perchloridum
  • Hydrargyri Subchloridum
  • Hydrargyri Sulphas
  • Hydrargyrum Ammoniatum
  • Liquor Hydrargyri Nitratis acidus
  • Liquor Hydrargyri Perchloridi
  • Lotio Hydrargyri Flava
  • Lotio Hydrargyri Nigara
  • Pilula Hydrargyri Subchloridi composita
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri Ammoniati
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri Iodid Rubri
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri Nitratis
  • Unguentum Hydrargyri Oxidi rubri

Preparations of Mercury

Ammoniacum and Mercury Plaster / Emplastrum Ammoniaci cum Hydrargyro[2]

  • Ammoniacum (12 oz), Mercury (3 oz), olive oil (1 fl drachm), sublimed sulphur (8 grains)

Mercurial Plaster / Emplastrum Hydrargyri [3]

  • Mercury (3 oz), Olive Oil (1 fl drachm), sublimed sulphur (8 grais), lead plaster (6 oz)

Red Iodide of Mercury / Hydrargyri Iodidum rubrum [4]

  • syn: Hydrargyri Biniodidum
  • perchloride of mercury (4 oz), iodide of potassium (5 oz), boiling distilled water (4 pints)
  • “A crystalline powder of a vermilion colour, becoming yellow when gently heated over a lamp on a sheet of paper; almost insoluble in water, dissolves sparingly in alcohol, but freely in ether, or in an aqueous solution of iodide of potassium.”
  • dose: 1/16-1/4 grain
  • used in the preparations of: Unquentum Hydrargyri Iodidi rubri

Green Iodide of Mercury / Hydrargyri Iodidum viride[5]

  • syn: Hydrargyri Iodidum
  • mercury, by weight (1 oz), iodine (278 grains), rectified spirit (as needed)
  • “A dull green powder insoluble in water, which darkens in colour upon exposure to light.”
  • dose: 1-3 grains

Red Oxide of Mercury / Hydrargyri Oxidum rubrum [6]

  • syn: Hydrargyri Nitrico-Oxidum
  • Mercury, by weight (8 oz), nitric acid (4 ½ fl oz), water (2 fl oz)
  • “An orange-red powder readily dissolved by hydrochloric acid.”
  • used in the preparations of: Unguentum Hydrargyri Oxidi rubri

Perchloride of Mercury / Hydrargyri Perchloridum [7]

  • syn: Hydrargyrum Corrosivum Sublumatum, Hydrargyri Bichloridum, Sublimatus Corrosivus, Sublimatum Corrosivum, Corrosive Sublimate
  • Sulphate of Mercury (20 oz), Chloride of Sodium, dried (16 oz), Black Oxide of Manganese, in fine powder (1 oz)
  • “In heavy colourless masses of prismatic crystals, possessing a highly acrid metallic taste; more soluble in alcohol, and still more so in ether, than in water.”
  • dose: 1/16-1/8 grain
  • used in the preparations of: Liquor Hydrargyri Perchloridi, Lotio Hydrargyri Flava

Subchloride of Mercury / Hydrargyri Subchloridum [8]

  • syn: Calomelas, Hydrargyri Chloridum, Calomel
  • sulphate of mercury (10 oz), Mercury (7 oz), Chloride of Sodium, dried (5 oz), boiling distilled water (as needed)
  • “A dull-white heavy and nearly tasteless powder, rendered yellowish by trituration in a mortar; insoluble in water, spirit, or ether.”
  • dose: ½-5 grains
  • used in preparations of: Lotio Hydrargyri Nigra, Pilula Hydrargyru Subchloridi composita, Unguentum Hydrargyri Subchloridi

Sulphate of Mercury / Hydrargyri Sulphas [9]

  • Mercury, by weight (20 oz), Sulphuric Acid (12 fl oz)
  • “A white crystalline heavy powder, rendered yellow by affusion of water. Entirely volatilised by heat.”
  • used in the preparations of: Hydrargyri Perchloridum, Hydrargyri Subchloridum

Ammoniated Mercury / Hydrargyrum Ammoniatum [10]

  • syn: Hydrargyri Ammoni-Chloridum, Hydrargyri Praecipitatum Album
  • Perchloride of mercury (3 oz), solution of ammonia (4 fl oz), distilled water (3 pints)
  • “An opaque white powder on which cold water, alcohol, and ether have no action.”
  • used in the preparations of: Unguentum Hydrargyri Ammoniati

Mercury with Chalk / Hydrargyrum cum Creta [11]

  • Mercury, by weight (1 oz), prepared chalk (2 oz)
  • “A powder of a light-grey colour; free from grittiness; insoluble in water; partly dissolved by diluted hydrochloric acid.”
  • dose: 3-8 grains

Liniment of Mercury / Linimentum Hydrargyri [12]

  • ointment of mercury (1 oz), solution of ammonia (1 fl oz), liniment of camphor (1 fl oz)

Acid Solution of Nitrate of Mercury / Liquor Hydrargyri Nitratis acidus[13]

  • mercury (4 oz), nitric acid (5 fl oz), distilled water (1 ½ fl oz)
  • “A colourless and strongly acid solution, which given a yellow precipitate with solution of potash added in excess.”

Solution of Perchlorise of Mercury / Liquor Hydrargyri Perchloridi[14]

  • syn: Liquor Hydrargyri of Mercury
  • Perchloride of Mercury (10 grains), Chlroide of Ammonium (10 grains), distilled water (1 pint)
  • dose: ½ - 2 fl drachm

Yellow Mercurial Lotion / Lotio Hydrargyri Flava [15]

  • perchloride of mercury (18 grains), solution of lime (10 fl oz)

Black Mercurial Lotion / Lotio Hydrargyri Nigra [16]

  • subchloride of mercury (30 grains), Solution of Lime (10 fl oz)

Mercurial Pill / Pilula Hydrargyri [17]

  • mercury (2 oz), confection of roses (3 oz), liquorice root, in fine powder (1 oz)
  • dose: 3-8 grains

Compund Pill of Subchloride of Mercury / Pilula Hydrargyri Subchloridi composita [18]

  • syn: pilula calomelanos composita
  • subchloride of mercury (1 oz), sulphurated antimony (1 oz), guaiacum resin, in powder (2 oz), castor oil (1 fl oz, or as needed)
  • dose: 5-10 grains

Mercurial Suppositories / Suppositoria Hydrargyri [19]

  • ointment of mercury (60 grains), benzoated larf (20 grains), white wax (20 grains), oil of theobroma (80 grains)

Ointment of Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri [20]

  • Mercury (1 lb), prepared lard (1 lb), prepared suet (1 oz)
  • used in the preparations of: Linimentum Hydragyri; Suppositoria Hydrargyri; Unguentum Hydrargyri compositum

Ointment of Ammoniated Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri Ammoniati[21]

  • syn: unguentum hydrargyri ammonio-chloridi, unguentum praecipitati
  • ammoniated mercury (62 grains), simple ointment (1 oz)

Compound Ointment of Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri composita[22]

  • ointment of mercury (6 oz)m yellow wax (3 oz), olive oil (3 oz), camphor (1 ½ oz)

Ointment of Red Iodide of Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri Iodid Rubri [23]

  • Red Iodide of Mercury, in fine powder (16 grains), simple ointment (1 oz)

Ointment of Nitrate of Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri Nitratis[24]

  • syn: Unguentum Citrinum
  • mercury, by weight (4 oz), nitric acid (12 fl oz), prepared lard (15 oz), olive oil (32 fl oz)

Ointment of Red Oxide of Mercury / Unguentum Hydrargyri Oxidi rubric [25]

  • syn: unguentum hydrargyri nitrico-oxidi
  • red oxide of mercury, in very fine powder (62 grains), yellow wax (1/4 oz), oil of almonds (3/4 oz)

Ointment of Subchloride of Mercury / Unuentum Hydrargyri Subchloridi [26]

  • syn: unguentum calomelanos
  • sunchloride of mercury (80 grains), prepared lard (1 oz)

A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 1865

Entry for Quicksilver:

“Was known to the ancients, and employed by them in the art of gilding, and for other purposes in the arts. It is the basis of all mercurial preparations. In the time of Charles the Second’s reign, quicksilver was celebrated as an alternative, and was much used by the ladies of that period, in doses of a small teaspoonful night and morning, to beautify the complexion, remove freckles, and to produce the same effects as cosmetics.” [27]

Mercurial pill and mercury with chalk both classified by Savory as Aperients and Purgatives[28]

“It should, however, also be kept in mind, that medicines such as the mercurial salts, arsenic, digitalis, &c. are apt to accumulate in the system, and danger may hence arise if the doses too rapidly succeed each other.”[29]

Remedies Containing or to be used with Mercury

  • Calomel: “This mercurial preparation is more extensively and more usefully employed that most any other article of the Materia Medica.” Primarily used as a purgative, but is also an alternative and can have a positive impact of the effectiveness diuretics. It is commonly used in children suffering from fever (Savory states this is because fevers in children are regularly caused by “a disordered states of the stomach and intestines”). [30]
  • Cretaceous Powder: used in combination with calomel and other mercurial, to prevent any disruption to the bowels[31]
  • Iodine: combined with mercury to treat “chronic engagements of the liver.”[32]
  • Mercurial Pill (Blue Pill): “Is a most useful medicine in diseases connected with a diminished secretion of bile, in dyspepsia, scrofula, jaundice, syphilis, and cutaneous eruptions, and is by far the best form for the internal exhibition of mercury.” [33]
  • Mercury with Chalk: given to children “to correct the biliary secretion… and especially to increase it when deficient in quantity.” Combined with rhubarb to treat diarrhoea in children. It can be used to treat skin problems in infants and children when combined with dried carbonate of soda.[34]
  • Ointment, Mercurial, Strong: “Is in very general use for mercurial frictions. It may be employed in almost all cases where mercury is indicated, but it required the direction of a medical man.”[35]
  • Sasparilla (152/131): used to restore the constitution after a long course of mercury. [36]

Diseases Treated with Mercury

General Diseases

  • Jaundice: mercury should be given in small doses (Savory recommends a five-grain blue pill)[37]
  • Typhus Fever: mercury with chalk can be given if diarrhoea occurs during the disease[38]
  • Wen, or Goitre: a camphorated mercurial ointment can be externally applied [39]
  • Scald-head: alternative like sasparilla, mercurial, &c. are to be used to “assist the cure”[40]

Prescriptions Containing Mercury


  • Alternatives in the form of Pill, Powder, &ct.: mercury with chalk, “a child from one to three years old may take one of these powders at bedtime.”[41]
  • Alternatives in the form of Pill, Powder, &ct.: mercury with chalk, “in fevers”[42]


  • Compound Rhubarb Powder: mercury with chalk, given to children six months old during diarrhoea[43]


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 154
  2. GMCGB, 104
  3. GMCGB, 107
  4. GMCGB, 150
  5. GMCGB, 150-51
  6. GMCGB, 151-52
  7. GMCGB, 152
  8. GMCGB, 153
  9. GMCGB, 154
  10. GMCGB, 155-56
  11. GMCGB, 156
  12. GMCGB, 173
  13. GMCGB, 189-90
  14. GMCGB, 190
  15. GMCGB, 201
  16. GMCGB, 201
  17. GMCGB, 238
  18. GMCGB, 238
  19. GMCGB, 307
  20. GMCGB, 355
  21. GMCGB, 355
  22. GMCGB, 356
  23. GMCGB, 256
  24. GMCGB, 356
  25. GMCGB, 356
  26. GMCGB, 357
  27. Savory, John. A Compendium of Domestic Medicine (London: John Churchill and Sons, 1865), 122-23.
  28. Savory, 390
  29. Savory, xvi
  30. Savory, 35
  31. Savory, 45
  32. Savory, 85
  33. Savory, 101
  34. Savory, 102
  35. Savory, 110
  36. Savory, 131
  37. Savory, 245
  38. Savory, 259
  39. Savory, 262
  40. Savory, 279
  41. Savory, 289
  42. Savory, 289
  43. Savory, 321

Imported from