The Story of John Williams the Oculis and his career in quackery

“Mr. Williams the celebrated English Oculist, has arrived in Town, and will be found at Mrs. Baymon’s private Boarding House, School Street. The poor will be received every day at 12 o’clock, at the Town Hall.”

Chronicle and Gazette (kingston) October 20th, 1841

This was the advertisement in Kingston’s Chronicle and Gazette, which ran on October 20th, 1841, heralding the arrival of Mr. Williams. His visit to Kingston came near the end of his illustrious career in quackery, preceded by nearly forty years of travelling in Europe and the United States, treating patients and selling his so-called miracle cure for blindness.

Caricature of John Williams (Notorious Characters)

Mr. Williams’ remedy was most likely made of belladonna, which can dilate a person’s pupils enough that it may be possible for them to see past cataracts in their eyes. In this way, Mr. Williams’ mixture may well have been able to help some, but certainly not all, of those who received it.

Museum of Health at Kingston

On side of box: “Properties // Mydriatic and anti-spasmodic. Poisonous in overdoses. Useful in eye-diseases, in asthma, and as an addition to cathartics to aid their action and prevent their griping. Give 1 to 2 grs. of the powdered leaves. Antidotes, emetics, stimulants and opium in small doses.”

Museum of Health Care at Kingston

Printed on label: “Homeopathic Tincture // of // BELLADONNA // CONTAINS 46% ALCOHOL // POISON ! // Average Dose of Tincture: 3 to 10 drops // Prepared By // P. H. MALLEN COMPANY // CHEMISTS AND PHARMACISTS 125 North Wabash Ave. CHICAGO”;

Not long before he came to Kingston, Mr. Williams ran into trouble with the law in Washington D.C., winding up in court for being paid to practice medicine without a license. It was there that he met two of the many famous characters he encountered throughout his life– his lawyer was none other than James Hoban Jr., the son of the White House architect, and the prosecution was Francis Scott Key, writer of the American National anthem!

To find out how the trial ended and to learn more about Mr. Williams and his exploits in Kingston and beyond, visit the Museum of Health Care’s blog at 

Shaelyn Ryan<br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2020-2021)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2020-2021)

Shaelyn Ryan is an undergraduate student Queen’s University, currently completing her forth (and final) year in the Bachelor of Arts History Program. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018).

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