Gin & Tonic – Part 4 – Tonic Water

Gin & Tonic Teil 4 - Titelbild.

Let us now turn to the history of tonic water containing quinine. How long has it been produced, what are its characteristics and what interesting things can be said about it?

The first indication that quinine was mixed with soda water is an advertisement published in the Bristol Mercury in 1835. It advertises a soda water containing quinine produced by Hughes & Co. [2-84]

Erasmus Bond

The next reference to tonic water is from 28 March 1858, when Erasmus Bond described in his patent “an improved aerated liquid, known as Quinine Tonic Water“, made from water, carbon dioxide, sulphuric acid and quinine. [2-84] This tonic water was then advertised in many ads as Pitt’s Patent Tonic Water. [2-84] If you look at the ads, you can see that it was not advertised as a medicine for fever, but as a quinine carbonated drink to be consumed as a digestif. [1-44] [1-46] [2-85]

Pitt’s Tonic Water

Advertisements from 1861 describe Pitt’s Patent Tonic Water. The text of one is also cited at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London, and we go into more detail about it later. [27-48]

The Lancet Central Advertiser. 22. June 1861, after page 626.
The Lancet Central Advertiser. 22. June 1861, after page 626. [15-627]

The other appeared in The Lancet: “PITT’S PATENT TONIC WATER. Testimonial from Dr. Margeston and Dr. Medlock. “HAVING with my friend Dr MEDLOCK carefully examined the composition and general characters of the beverage known as ‘PITT’S PATENT TONIC WATER’, I have much pleasure in expressing my high opinion of the merits and valuable qualities of this agreeable beverage, both as regards its hygienic properties, and also as a remedial agent. “The chemical composition of this preparation – viz, carbonic acid in a nascent state, diffused through the purest water, and holding QUININE in solution, renders the same light, grateful, and easy of digestion; and every medical practitioner is aware of numbers of people who from idiosyncrasy of constitution, or otherwise, cannot digest QUININE in the various forms of pharmaceutical preparations in which we usually find this valuable material. “In cases where the use of QUININE or a light tonic plan of procedure is specially indicated, as in slight derangement of the digestive organs, in constitutional debility, with or without the strumous diathesis, this beverage would be found a most beneficial agent in imparting appetite, promoting assimilation of food, and invigorating the system at large; and especially where wines and the various forms of malt liquor, either still or effervescent, are apt to produce flatulence, acidity, headache, feverishness, &c., and my opinion is, that the use of this Water might be continued from day to day as an ordinary beverage with great benefit to health in cases where fermented drinks are contra-indicated or disagree, and even where soda-water or other effervescent beverages cannot be employed for any length of time without inducing debility. “Again in febrile, nervous, epileptic, hysterical patients; in the neuralgic, rheumatic, and gouty temperaments, especially in a chronic form; and in tropical or hot climates, in which very often stronger beverages are quite inadmissible, the ‘TONIC WATER’ will be found a most valuable diet drink, in promoting appetite and digestion, and would be found of peculiar value to patients convalescing from the fever or dysentery of India and other hot climates. “In cases of sea sickness, it will be found of great service in allaying the more distressing symptoms. “N.B. – In some cases a small portion of wine or French brandy may be required to be added to the ‘Tonic Water:’ wine in those more easily stimulated, and brandy where a more potent adjunct is requisite, as in some instances all effervescent beverages are apt to produce a sense of weight and coldness in the stomach, with flatulency or spasms. (Signed) “PARKER MARGESTON, M.R.C.S.L., L.A.C., 34, George-street, Hanover-square, London. “HENRY MEDLOCK, PH.D., F.C.S., M.P.S., 20, Great Marlborough-street, London.” – Manufactory – 28a, Wharf-road, City-road, London, N.” [14] [15-627]

The Age, 2. March 1861, page 2.
The Age, 2. March 1861, page 2. [24]

Pitt’s Aerated Tonic Water was also available in Australia from at least 1861. The Age from Melbourne reports: “TUESDAY, 5th MARCH. 10 Casks Pitt’s Aerated Tonic Waters. To Chemists, Druggists, Storekeepers, and Others. GREIG and MURRAY are instructed to sell by auction at their rooms, on Tuesday, 5th inst., at twelve o’clock, 10 casks Pitt’s aerated tonic water. Now landed and in good order. The auctioneers beg to call the especial notice of chemists and others to the above celebrated tonic water, which has met with the unqualified approval of the London physicians, being highly recommended for its invigorating qualities. For testimonials of its efficacy apply to the auctioneers.” [24]

This is an interesting advertisement, because it can be used to prove that the tonic water was not only bottled, but also filled into barrels. These were then apparently purchased by chemists, druggists and shopkeepers, from whom one could then buy the product in smaller quantities.

The Sidney Morning Herald, 5. October 1861.
The Sidney Morning Herald, 5. October 1861. [23]

On 5 October 1861, a similar advertisement appeared in the Sidney Morning Herald: “JUST RECEIVED, thirty Cases Pitt’s Patent Aerated Tonic Water. W. J. JENKINS, chemist, 252, George-street North.” [23]

The tonic was thus exported not only by the barrel, but also by the case. [23] Once again, it is evident that only relatively small quantities of tonic water were imported. As will be shown, tonic water was more of a stimulant than a medicine against malaria.

Launceston Examiner, 11. March 1862, page 1.
Launceston Examiner, 11. March 1862, page 1. [25]

This tonic is also advertised in the Tasmanian newspaper in 1862 with the lines: “PITT’S AERATED TONIC WATER, recommended as a gentle tonic and fine bitter and stomachic, containing a minute quantity of citrate of quinine, far superior to soda water, for sale by WILLIAM JOHNSTOWN. St. John-street, March 6.” [25]

Anonymus: The International Exhibition of 1862, page 79
Anonymus: The International Exhibition of 1862, page 79. [29-79]

A bottle of Pitt’s Aerated Tonic Water is pictured in the exhibition catalogue of the Great Exhibition in London of 1862. This is advertised as: “Pitt’s Aerated Tonic Water. This Aerated Water is the result of extensive chemical research, and has been submitted to several London physicians, from whom it has met with unqualified approval. It is considered by the proprietor to be of sufficient importance to patent, that being the only means by which the public can be protected against fraudulent imitations, and it is now offered under the most flattering testimonials. Its properties are antacid, cooling, and refreshing, combined with all the advantages of Soda Water; it gives strength to the stomach and tone to the whole nervous system, and is especially adapted to persons feeling depressed from mental or bodily excitement, imparting strength to those who suffer from nervous irritation, indigestion, or loss of appetite. TESTIMONIAL FROM DR. HASSALL. „Chemical and Microscopical Laboratory, 74 Wimple Street, Cavendish Square, W. 19th December, 1860. „I have carefully analyzed PITT’S TONIC WATER. The idea of combining a tonic like quinine with an aerated water is a good one, and the practical difficulties in the way of carrying it out have been entirely overcome in this preparation. „It is a pleasant, refreshing tonic, and invigorating beverage, strengthening to the digestive organs, and calculated to promote appetite; it is also an excellent restorative to the stomach weakened by any excess or indulgence. „From its composition and properties, PITT’S TONIC WATER ought to a great extent to supersede the use of soda and other aerated waters.“ „ARTHUR HILL, HASSALL, M.D., Lond.“ Author of the Lancet Sanitary Commission; author of „Food and its Adulterations,“ „Adulterations Detected,“ and other works. The tonic water may be obtained of Messrs. Veillard & Co., Eastern Area of the Exhibition. Numerous medical testimonials may be had on application.” [29-79]

Once again, this shows that tonic water was not intended to treat malaria.

Tonic Water? A definition of the term.

James Henderson: Shanghai hygiene. 1868, page 31.
James Henderson: Shanghai hygiene. 1868, page 31. [10-31]

In 1868, James Henderson wrote that in the climate of Shanghai “tonic water is good and wholesome, but care should be taken that it is prepared by a respectable House or Company. Schweppe‘s tonic water is best, but much is manufactured by speculators in all parts of the world, that will tend to any thing rather than healthy tone in the system.” [2-87] [10-31]

This is a very important source. It talks about Schweppes Tonic Water. One might assume that this refers to Schweppes’ Indian Tonic Water, which contains chinine. However, this was only brought onto the market in the 1870s. [18-45] Further study of sources solves the mystery. Generally speaking, tonic water is simply a medicinal water. If it also contained quinine, this was probably made clear in the name, for example as Quinine Tonic Water or Indian Tonic Water, referring to the quinine used in India. This evidence may suffice for this statement:

The North-Carolinian. 7. August 1841, page 2.
The North-Carolinian. 7. August 1841, page 2. [13]

In 1841 it was written: “In the morning, those who choose it will find many lark-like companion on the path to the Spring whose fine tonic waters render the sound of the Breakfast Bell …[13]

New-York Daily Tribune. 17. August 1843, page 1.
New-York Daily Tribune. 17. August 1843, page 1. [11]

In 1843 it was said: “I had to content myself with a draught from the tonic waters of the Colubia spring hard by.[11]

The Daily Dispatch. 6 August 1853, page 2.
The Daily Dispatch. 6 August 1853, page 2. [8]

In 1853 it was reported:”... and then come in the tonic waters of the Sweet Springs.[8]

The Weekly American Banner. 1. February 1856, page 2.
The Weekly American Banner. 1. February 1856, page 2. [7]

In 1856, it was noted: “The water is composed of Iron, Magnesia, Soda and Sulphur and is perfectly satuated with Carbonic Acid Gas; making one of the finest tonic waters ever discovered.[7]

Weekly Standard. 12 October 1859, page 3.
Weekly Standard. 12 October 1859, page 3. [6]

In 1859 it is described: “We paid a visit on Saturday afternoon to the Manly mineral spring, about two miles from the City, to the Northeast. … We noticed one carriage filled with ladies, and a gentleman and lady on horseback, enjoing its tonic waters.[6]

As we can see, tonic water was understood to be a medicinal water. A medicinal water, in turn, is understood to be “a natural water containing minerals, which is said to have a healing, soothing or preventive effect“. [5]

Mrs. D. D. Mutter: Travels and adventures of an officer’s wife in India, China, and New Zealand. Volume 2. 1864, page 49.
Mrs. D. D. Mutter: Travels and adventures of an officer’s wife in India, China, and New Zealand. Volume 2. 1864, page 49. [9-49]

What must we conclude from this? When the old sources speak of a “tonic water”, it will usually simply be a medicinal water, without quinine. Based on this, we understand that Elisabeth Muter was most probably offered a medicinal water in China in 1864, not a water containing quinine. She writes in her book “Travels and Adventures of an Officer’s Wife in India, China and New Zealand” how she was offered tonic water in China: “Allow me to offer you any wine you may fancy this hot day, and let me order lunch. There is hock, sauterne, moselle, claret, champagne; iced soda, seltzer, potass, or tonic water. Ah! you think I am joking – name your wine, and see.” [2-86] [9-49]

From 1863 at the latest, tonic water was also advertised in Indian and Chinese ads. [2-85] The London and China Telegraph also writes what was made with it: a “ginger brandy and tonic water cocktail“. [2-85] Here, too, it will probably simply have been a medicinal water.

Tonic water was marketed wholesale and consumed in the tropics in the 1860s as a refreshing and healthy drink, according to Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt. [2-87] However, without having seen the original sources for this statement, we have doubts as to whether it was really always a medicinal water containing quinine.

Schweppes & other suppliers

Other imitators of water containing quinine were not long in coming.

Schweppes launched its tonic water in 1870. As quinine is poorly soluble in water, Pitt’s tonic water used sulphuric acid, as solubility improves in the presence of acid. Schweppes used citric acid instead. [1-44] [2-85]

There were other producers. An advertisement we found for J. H. Cuff’s Quinine Tonic Water from Manchester dates from 1873. [26] In 1874, R. Hogg from London advertised his Quinine Tonic Water. [26] Bond’s tonic water was not only bottled and marketed in Britain, but the technology to produce it was exported to India. [2-101] In 1879, Aerated Quinine was advertised by Cantrell & Chochrane of Belfast and Dublin. [4-51]

How much quinine was in the tonic water?

Anonymus: The Confectioners‘ Hand-Book. 1883, page 119.
Anonymus: The Confectioners‘ Hand-Book. 1883, page 119. [22-119]

The question inevitably arises as to how much quinine was added to tonic water in the 19th century. Fortunately, recipes can be found. One of them appeared in “The Confectioners’ Hand-Book” in 1883: “Tonic water is quinine dissolved in aerated water, in the proportion of half a grain to each bottle; but some waters will not take it up unless it is dissolved in a small portion of sulphuric acid; this does not injure it, but it will keep longer if the water will take it up without it. If requisite, however, to use it, proceed as follows: after dissolving the quinine in water, add sulphuric acid by single drops, stirring it all the while with a glass rod. The quantity of sulphuric acid used should be about one eighth that of quinine.” [22-119]

This source must also make us sit up and take notice. Obviously, around 1883, people were no longer quite so precise about the delimitation of terms. In this source, tonic water is not just ordinary medicinal water, but water in which quinine has been dissolved. Since a grain is just under 64.8 mg, according to this recipe, a bottle of tonic water in 1883 contained around 32.4 mg of quinine. Unfortunately, it does not specify how large the bottle to be used should be. We do not know what kind of quinine should be added. In the recipes for quinine wine we found, it was mostly “sulphate of quinine”. As we have shown, 121 mg of quinine sulphate is equivalent to 100 mg of quinine base. Thus, with 32.4 mg of quinine sulphate, a quinine base of 26.8 mg should be applied here.

The Chemist and Druggist. 15. August 1882, page 46.
The Chemist and Druggist. 15. August 1882, page 46. [21-46]

Perhaps an advertisement from “The Chemist and Druggist” from 1882 will help with further estimation. A “Mineral Bitter-Water”, which is a natural bitter water from Budapest, is sold there in litre bottles and in half-litre bottles. Above it is an advertisement for “Vallet’s patent improved stoppered bottles”, which are filled with mineral water or gaseous liquids. Unfortunately, there is nothing about the bottle size, but there are “bottles” and “half bottles”, so maybe a litre and a half litre? [21-46]


The Chemist and Druggist. 15. June 1883, page 55.
The Chemist and Druggist. 15. June 1883, page 55. [20-55]

In 1883, an advertisement for “Codd’s Patent Soda Water Bottle” was published in “The Chemist and Druggist”, unfortunately without any indication of quantity, but with an illustration from which one may assume that these could be litre bottles. [20-55] A photo of “Codd’s patent aerated water bottle” confirms this. [16]

Schweppes has also used similarly sized bottles, as an example from an Australian museum shows. The bottle is about 21 cm high and has a diameter of about 7 cm. [19] A detailed documentation of historical soda bottles also shows that the numerous bottles used held approximately between half a litre and one litre of liquid. [17]

This means that, based on these considerations, we can assume that, according to the 1883 recipe, around 26.8 mg of quinine base were added per bottle, which would correspond to a quinine base quantity of around 26.8 mg/l to 53.6 mg/l, depending on the bottle size. This is by no means more than is permitted today, because in the USA a maximum of 83 mg of quinine base per litre is permitted, in Germany 85 mg/l. [1-72] [2-92] [12] [28]

At least according to this recipe, the statement that tonic water used to contain more quinine than it does today must be regarded as a myth. How credible is the statement that Gin & Tonic was drunk for malaria prophylaxis or even to treat fever?

Let us look back at the analysis of quinine wine. There we found that for prophylaxis an average of 228 mg was taken, but for the treatment of fever 849 mg. If we take our historical tonic water recipe as a basis and assume that its quinine base content was 53.6 mg/l, one would have had to drink over 4 litres of it as prophylaxis – enjoyed as Gin & Tonic, about 2 litres of gin would have to be added. For fever treatment, it would be almost 16 litres of tonic water – which would have to be mixed with about 8 litres of gin for Gin & Tonic. The only conclusion is that tonic water containing quinine was not drunk for medicinal reasons, but as a bitter stimulant, for example as an apperitif or digestive. Even based on today’s maximum values for quinine, no other picture would emerge. It should also be pointed out in this context that we have not been able to find any historical sources according to which tonic water containing quinine was taken as a malaria prophylaxis.

This conclusion is also supported in principle by the testimony of Schweppes’ SBFE R&D Technical Centre Director: In 1870 “Indian Tonic Water and Ginger Ale were launched that still exist today. The unique taste of Indian Tonic is inspired by the Britain colonial practice of preventing malaria in India by using quinine as an antidote. As quinine gives a bitter taste to the drink, the English colonists who settled in India mixed it with lime and gin. The mix gin tonic was born. … Quinine is used in Schweppes Tonic Water at a level of up to 80 mg per litre and this value has been used since many years (but we don’t have registers).[3]

People took quinine, probably dissolved it in gin and added a little lime and sugar – the equivalent of a bitter Punch. Inspired by this, people found a taste for the bitter notes, because they didn’t have to resort to nutmeg, and with the availability of a tonic water containing quinine, they could quickly prepare a punch-like drink. The story sounds plausible and we also think it is possible. But what do the old records have to say about it? We will look into this in the next part of this series, which deals with the origins of the Gin & Tonic.

  1. Camper English: Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF. Second Printing, Rutte Distillery Edition, 2016
  2. Kim Walker & Mark Nesbitt: Just the Tonic. A natural history of Tonic Water. ISBN 978 1 84246 689 6. Kew 2019.
  3. E-mail from Steffen Zimmermann, Brand Ambassador of Schweppes, dated 16.3.2020, including responses from Schweppe’s SBFE R&D Technical Centre Director.
  4. https://archive.org/details/b19974760M0254/page/n49/mode/2up?q=%22Aerated+Quinine%22 The Chemist and Druggist. 15. February 1879.
  5. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heilwasser Heilwasser.
  6. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045706/1859-10-12/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1865&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=11&words=tonic+waters&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=tonic+water&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 Weekly Standard. 12 October 1859, page 3.
  7. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065698/1856-02-01/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1865&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=7&words=tonic+waters&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=tonic+water&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The Weekly American Banner. 1. February 1856, page 2.
  8. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024738/1853-08-06/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1865&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=6&words=tonic+waters&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=tonic+water&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The Daily Dispatch. 6 August 1853, page 2.
  9. https://books.google.de/books?hl=de&lr=&id=MEkNAQAAIAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR1&dq=%22tonic+water%22&ots=JwntWSdr6I&sig=B83f-X8MKk___XlC8QTnakqoYbQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22tonic%20water%22&f=false Mrs. D. D. Mutter (Elizabeth McMullin): Travels and adventures of an officer’s wife in India, China, and New Zealand. Volume 2. London, 1864.
  10. https://archive.org/details/cu31924023608460/page/n39/mode/2up/search/tonic James Henderson: Shanghai hygiene, or, Hints for the preservation of health in China. Shanghai, 1868.
  11. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1843-08-17/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1865&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=2&words=tonic+water&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=tonic+water&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 New-York Daily Tribune. 17. August 1843, page 1.
  12. https://web.archive.org/web/20210310224005/https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/aromv/BJNR016770981.html Aromenverordnung.
  13. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020750/1841-08-07/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1865&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=1&words=tonic+waters&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=tonic+water&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The North-Carolinian. 7. August 1841, page 2.
  14. https://www.centerforhomeopathy.com/blog/diathesis Diathesis.
  15. https://books.google.de/books?id=rRdAAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA626-IA1&dq=%22French+brandy+may+be+required+to+be+added%22&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjYko26tefnAhVR_aQKHc_eCdUQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=%22French%20brandy%20may%20be%20required%20to%20be%20added%22&f=false The Lancet – The Lancet Central Advertiser. 22. June 1861. After page 626.
  16. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bottle,_aerated_water_(AM_2014.24.16-7).jpg Bottle, aerated water.
  17. https://sha.org/bottle/soda.htm Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes: Soda & Mineral Water Bottles.
  18. Douglas A. Simmons: Schweppes. The First 200 Years. Springwood Books, London, 1983.
  19. https://web.archive.org/web/20160807115430/https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1613205 Item LL 74851 Aerated Water Bottle – Glass, Light Green, Schweppes, London, England, after 1821
  20. https://archive.org/details/b19974760M0310/page/54/mode/2up/search/%22tonic+water%22+recip?q=%22tonic+water%22+recip The Chemist and Druggist. 15. June 1883.
  21. https://archive.org/details/b19974760M0299/page/46/mode/2up/search/%22tonic+water%22+recipe?q=%22tonic+water%22+recipe The Chemist and Druggist. 15. August 1882.
  22. https://archive.org/details/b21506164/page/118 Anonymus: The Confectioners’ Hand-Book. London, E. Skuse, 1883.
  23. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13066686?searchTerm=%22aerated%20tonic%22&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc The Sidney Morning Herald, 5. October 1861.
  24. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/154887941 The Age, 2. March 1861, page 2.
  25. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/41451867 Launceston Examiner, 11. March 1862, page 1.
  26. https://books.google.de/books?id=Ol5kAAAAcAAJ&pg=RA43-PR13&dq=%22tonic+water%22+recipe&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjcjseJiOPmAhXEDewKHesdArYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=%22tonic%20water%22%20recipe&f=false The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions Advertiser. 2. May 1874, page xiii.
  27. https://archive.org/details/adulterationsdet00hassuoft/page/48/mode/2up/search/%22tonic+water%22+recipe?q=%22tonic+water%22+recipe Arthur Hill Hassall: Adulterations detected; or, Plain instructions for the discovery of frauds in food in medicine. 2nd edition. London, 1861. Included in the appendix: Advertisements.
  28. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinin Chinin.
  29. https://archive.org/details/internationalexh01lond/page/n293/mode/2up/search/%22quinine+water%22?q=%22quinine+water%22 Anonymus: The International Exhibition of 1862: the illustrated catalogue of the Industrial Department.

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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