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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February 2005, 08:44 GMT
Stomach upset innovator honoured
Blue plaque
The plaque was erected near where his old premises stood
One of Northern Ireland's most illustrious sons is being honoured for his work in soothing millions of upset stomachs for more than 150 years.

Sir James Murray invented Milk of Magnesia in the early years of the 19th century, but his name is not as widely known as other innovators from the province.

Now a blue plaque bearing his name has been erected in Belfast city centre, near where his old premises once stood.

A chemical compound of magnesium, Milk of Magnesia is used as an antacid or as a mineral supplement to maintain the body's magnesium balance.

Dr James Hawthorne of the Ulster History Circle says Sir James was a "real character".

"He was a surgeon, an apothecary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and he was knighted, presumably for his contribution to the alimentary canal," he says.

Ulster is full of very interesting people who made a great contribution to history
Dr James Hawthorne
Ulster History Circle

Milk of Magnesia was eventually sold worldwide, and Dr Hawthorne says its early marketing campaigns made some interesting promises.

"It claimed to do everything, including the lovely phrase 'it tends to regulate the action of the bowels and is peculiarly adapted for females' - how about that!"

He says that although more than 70 blue plaques have been issued in Northern Ireland, it is a "private enterprise" rather than a government-funded project.

"You've got to be dead for 20 years before being commemorated, and Ulster is full of very interesting people who made a great contribution to history," he says.

This newest blue plaque is located on the corner of Bridge Street and High Street, above a pawn shop.

Other figures honoured with blue plaques in the province include Israeli president Chaim Herzog, comedian James Young, artist John B Yeats, poet Louis MacNeice, wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi and the author CS Lewis.

Blue plaque location, on corner of High Street and Bridge Street
The plaque is on the corner of High Street and Bridge Street

It is not the first time that Sir James has been immortalised in the city, as Murray Street beside Belfast Institute is named after him.

Born in 1788 in County Londonderry, Sir James trained as a doctor and after qualification, he began work as an apothecary and physician at Belfast Dispensary and Fever Hospital.

His career flourished under the patronage of the Marquis of Donegall, who owned Belfast Castle.

During this time he experimented with electrical apparatus, and in about 1809, he developed and marketed Murray's Fluid Magnesia.

It was sold as a palatable laxative and a remedy for acidities, indigestion, heartburn, and gout.

Antacid

One early patient cured by his elixir was the Lord Lieutenant, the Marquis of Anglesey, who came down with an upset stomach while visiting his friend, the Marquis of Donegall.

Sir James had been experimenting with liquid magnesium, and tried it out on the Marquis with successful results.

He must have been impressed because in 1831, the Lord Lieutenant appointed him as his resident physician in Dublin and knighted him two years later.

Sir James maintained a lifelong interest in electrotherapeutics until his death in 1871.

His most famous discovery has reportedly been put to other more unorthodox uses including mouth ulcer treatment, skin toning face masks and even helping a young actor to whiten his hair for a play.


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