OPINION: Yesterday Today with Alan McRae

STANDING TALL: Bernard Holtermann, better known for the Holtermann nugget, had plenty of fans of his "Life Preserving Drops" herbal remedy.

STANDING TALL: Bernard Holtermann, better known for the Holtermann nugget, had plenty of fans of his "Life Preserving Drops" herbal remedy.

THE image for this week is a copy of a poster used by Bernard Holtermann to advertise his “Life Preserving Drops” – another success story for him.

With some of his money, Holtermann paid a Hill End photographer, Henry Beaufoy Merlin, to go around a number of towns, including Hill End, Tambaroora, Bathurst, Carcoar and Gulgong, to record life at the time.

After Merlin’s death in 1873, Holtermann spent much of his time at his Sydney lodgings with his wife and daughters. He was to build an impressive mansion in North Sydney. Holtermann wanted to take photographs of NSW and display them around the world – and he achieved this aim.

By the time he arrived home from overseas exhibitions, Holtermann had a display of his photos in the Sydney International Exhibition in the famous Garden Palace in 1879. He went into NSW politics and became a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly.

Holtermann believed in his Life Preserving Drops herbal remedy. His trademark was the Holtermann nugget image, with a bearded Holtermann in his shirtsleeves and elegant vest beside it, and this was the image he used on his advertising posters. The image had been produced using some photographic skulduggery.

Holtermann made the medicine from ingredients he ordered himself. This, his most famous mixture, supposedly came from a German doctor he once knew. Later, he produced a liniment and even his own cough mixture to sell.

The drops were so popular that there seemed to be no end of people who would write to him talking about the drops’ virtues.

One letter came from “The City Bank, Bathurst, June 14th, 1875”:

“B.O. Holtermann, Esq., St Leonards. My Dear Sir, I write with the object of testifying to the value of your drops for asthma. I have as you know suffered from this complaint for years and spent large sums of money in endeavouring to obtain a cure. That cure I strongly believe is in your drops and I recommend any person afflicted as myself to try your remedy first. Your drops always give me fast relief in a few minutes, Yours Faithfully, J. Ashe.”

Mr. J.J. Ashe was the manager of the City Bank in Bathurst during 1874/75, until Mr F. Strachan took over. Testimonial letters often meant “samples” would be sent to them, asking for further testimonials which could be used in advertising.

Another local letter still existing states: “Bathurst, March 6th, 1876, Mr. Holtermann, Many, many thanks for that bottle of ‘Life Preserving Drops’ which you so kindly left me on your last visit to Bathurst. It has effected a complete cure, for that very painful weakness of the digestive organs, and almost total loss of appetite from which I suffered so long, has completely left me, and I now enjoy my meals, as much as anyone can do. Hoping that all sufferers from stomach complaints will give your medicine one trial, and thus realise its great value, I Remain, Yours Truly, William Shiels.”

The Town and Country Journal in 1882 carried this advertising: “Holtermann’s Life Drops are retailed through all respectable chemists. For wholesale contact B.O. Holtermann and Company, Bridge Street, Sydney. Agents wanted everywhere.”

Few bottles of Holtermann’s Australian Life Preserving Drops exist these days, so are very rare. Malcolm Drinkwater’s History Hill Museum at Hill End has two small Life Preserving Drops bottles. One is a champagne style and the other a square schnapps style. Both bottles are embossed (in raised glass) with the words “Holtermann’s Australian Preserving Drops”.

Holtermann died on April 29, 1885 on his 47th birthday. He was fortunate to have lived that long. He was once down a mine, 110 feet from the surface, and hanging onto a rope about 20 feet from the bottom of the shaft when 14 pounds of blasting powder exploded beside him!

Alan McRae is with the Bathurst District Historical Society

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