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The story of quinine

The story of quinine

The story of quinine
The story of quinine


A brief history of quinine - one of the most essential medicinal drugs in the tropics.

Quinine was first recorded by the Jesuits in 1633 but it was hard to come by in significant quantities. The British tried to establish plantations to produce it on a large scale but the yields had been disappointing. Then in 1840, a British trader named Charles Ledger got hold of some seeds of a subspecies of the plant while on an expedition in Bolivia.

Recognizing their potential economic value, he tried to sell them to the British; when they declined, Ledger sold his seeds instead to the Dutch who planted them on Java. The yields were spectacular and as a result, quinine’s proven efficacy as an antidote for malaria was firmly established by 1850. The wide scale availability of this drug would make travel in the interior of Africa survivable for the first time in history.

As the British Empire spread to all corners of the globe, quinine became an essential medication. It was usually taken in the evening with a dash of soda water and, to mask its bitter taste, a teaspoon of sugar. Along the way someone added a slice of lemon and a slug of gin and the Gin and Tonic was born! Charles Ledger died in obscurity and was never acknowledged for the critical part he played in making possible the greatest empire that the world has ever seen, and the world’s most popular sundowner - the G&T!

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more on David Livingstone from the Zambezi Traveller:
The Life of David Livingstone - Part VI: David Livingstone – the final journey (ZT14, Sept 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part V: Dr Livingstone, I presume? (ZT13, July 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part IV: The dream to open up Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
Slavery – the scourge of Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part III: David Livingstone’s early missionary years and first expedition (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The ‘discovery’ of Victoria Falls (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part II: David Livingstone – the training (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The life and times of David Livingstone – the Sunday schoolboy (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part I: The ‘Scramble for Africa’ (ZT09, July 2012)
The story of quinine (ZT09, July 2012)