Goannas, papaws and household remedies

Thomas  Pennington Lucas was born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 15, 1843, the son of Samuel Lucas a Wesleyan Methodist minister and Elizabeth Broadhurst.

He forever held a deep interest in natural history and botany and qualified in England and Scotland. He was elected a fellow of the Entomology Society, London and as a Fellow of the Linean Society NSW.

In 1868, Dr Lucas (pictured) married Mary Frances Davies and they had six children, three of whom survived infancy. Mary died aged 30 in 1875. Thomas then married Mary Bradbury Ironside and they had one daughter. His third wife was Susan Draper in 1889, and they had no children.

Lucas suffered from TB so for the sake of his health, he migrated to Australia and arrived  in Melbourne in 1875. He worked as a doctor for 10 years before moving to Brisbane, living   firstly in South Brisbane, then Acacia Ridge and finally at New Farm from 1911.  Thomas Lucas wrote and published several volumes of fiction and non-fiction and pursued his interest in natural history, studying more than 10,000 plants as he sought their use in natural remedies.

He became enamoured of the properties of the papaw plant and its fruit and formulated his famous Papaw Ointment, which was packaged in a distinctive red container.

Dr Lucas’ Vera Hospital, at New Farm, where he treated many kinds of skin conditions, is still illustrated on the packaging.

After his death on November 15, 1917, his widow Susan was bequeathed the formula for his remedy. Descendants of the Lucas family continue to produce the ointment in the Acacia Ridge factory, where there is a small museum.

Countless mothers remain grateful to Dr Lucas for a soothing cream which can be used on children who react to other types of salve.

On the other hand, Joseph Cornelius Marconi, the maker of Goanna Oil, was more showman than doctor.

Born in London on April 21, 1876, the son of Cornelius Mahoney, a cooper, and Eunice Proud, he arrived in Australia with his family in about 1886.

Joseph first worked with his father in Sydney dealing in building materials before he became a member of a marionette show in a travelling vaudeville troupe and changed his name to Marconi. 

He based  himself in  Brisbane.Through his experience with the Lyn Vane Snakebite act he learned of the properties within native plants which prevented goannas from succumbing to the bite of venomous snakes.

From 1910, he manufactured and sold ointments compounded from distilled plant oils and goanna fat. A born entertainer and entrepreneur, he employed comic advertising and testimonials to sell his products.

In 1918, the Queensland Government proclaimed goannas a protected species and prohibited his patent application, but he continued to manufacture from a small factory beneath his home, Astra at Bulimba, and to sell from an inner Brisbane shop from 1920.

In 1922, he opened the Marconi Curative Institute offering herbal treatments. He was particularly interested in the treatment of children suffering from polio and his home became a mecca for local children.

Marconi died on October 21, 1922, soon after being admitted to the Brisbane General Hospital following an altercation in Elizabeth St, where he suffered a fractured skull.  He was remembered by school children who would chant “Old Marconi’s dead, knocked on the head. Goannas are glad, children are sad, Old Marconi’s dead”.

His wife, Mary Theresa O’Neill, who he married in Sydney in 1904, had predeceased him. Joseph and Mary are both buried in the Balmoral cemetery.

They had four daughters and three sons who kept the business in family hands until the 1980s.

Unlike Dr Lucas, the Marconi collection of goanna memorabilia was destroyed with the demolition of Astra.

Other well-known household products initially made and sold in the USA but later made and sold door-to-door in Australia were the salves of William Thomas Rawleigh, a farm boy from Minnesota born in 1870.

 Diana Hacker is archivist for the Queensland Women’s Historical Association based at Miegunyah in Bowen Hills. Tours are available. Visit miegunyah.org