This poison was prepared by the Macusi, an Amerindian tribe, for use on their blow pipe arrows when hunting. Curare paralyses the body of the victim leaving them unable to breathe for themselves.
Physicians in Europe were keen to learn more about the poison because of its potential use in medicine but few samples were available to perform tests, and most samples which had previously come into Europe were weak. In 1812, Waterton not only brought back a powerful sample but also observed how it was prepared. He was even able to perform an experiment with it: he gave some to a female donkey (which he named Wouralia) and using bellows to keep her breathing, he showed that she made a complete recovery, living for another 24 years.
|Waterton's experiments on the donkey with curare were detailed in this booklet, published in 1839.|
So today Waterton is recognised as bringing curare to Europe to be used in operating theatres around the world.
His discoveries are to be part of a new BBC series on the History of Medicine which Wakefield Museum is helping to research.
A quiver of curare tipped arrows and a bowl used by the Macusi tribe to prepare the poison will be on display in the new Waterton gallery at Wakefield Museum.
|Bowl used by the Macusi tribe to prepare curare|