Written by Terry Prue
‘Undoubtedly the beard of man was designed to perform certain offices; one was to protect the Lungs from dust and dirt in drinking and breathing, a second to afford warmth, a third to regulate the elastic condition of the body, a fourth to act as sentinels over the tender sensitive capillary surface, and to warn them of abrupt changes – these are a few significant points quite sufficient to condemn the absurd usages of society about beards…. Wear your beards then by all means, ye, at least, who in very truth require it’
These claims about the supposed medical benefits of wearing a beard reflect one of the lesser-known causes supported by John Collis Browne (1819 – 1884) and are quoted from a souvenir booklet to mark the unveiling of a plaque on Mount Albion House (aka 22 Victoria Rd on the East Cliff) on May 8th 1973. This unveiling marked the 100-year anniversary from the date he sailed into Ramsgate harbour in his yacht ‘Kala Fish’ and came to make the town his home.
Collis Browne’s fame, as indeed his fortune, was based on the invention of ‘chlorodine’ – a patent medicine that originally (but no longer!) contained a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), tincture of cannabis and chloroform. He had first used the preparation in 1848, while serving with the army in India. In 1854, when on leave in England, Collis Browne was asked to go to the village of Trimdon in County Durham to fight an outbreak of cholera and achieved encouraging results. Buoyed with this success and on leaving the army in 1856 he went into partnership with J. T. Davenport, a chemist practising in Great Russell Street, to mass produce his ‘compound’ as a remedy, not just for cholera, but also for coughs, colds, influenza, diarrhoea, stomach chills, colic, flatulence, bronchitis, croup, whooping-cough, neuralgia and rheumatism!
Collis Browne’s originally lived in 15 Nelson Crescent before moving to Mount Albion House. He praised Ramsgate for the quality of the air but it seems the big draw for him was the harbour. He was a prolific inventor but after coming to Ramsgate his many patents concentrated on nautical applications, from a new design of propeller to ideas for lowering boats into the water. He died at Mount Albion House on 30th August 1884 and left the equivalent of over £1/2 million to his widow, Harriet, with a request for his friend, Captain Berkeley, to ‘aid and assist her in the development of my several patents’. He is buried in the churchyard at St Laurence in Thanet.