In 1921, James Roy Kinghorn wrote an article for the first issue of The Australian Museum Magazine, ‘Snakes, their fangs and venom apparatus. The action of venom and the treatment of snake-bite.’ Packed full of detail, the feature is complemented by illustrations and information graphics showing the skull shapes of various snakes, the pattern of their bite marks, details of their fangs and practical steps on how to deal with a snakebite.

Part of diagram titled ‘Poison Apparatus of Rattle Snake’
Part of diagram titled ‘Poison Apparatus of Rattle Snake’ From 'Snakes, their fangs and venom apparatus. The action of venom and the treatment of snake-bite', The Australian Museum Magazine, Vol 1, No 1, April 1921. Author: J Roy Kinghorn. Image: Illustrator unknown
© Australian Museum

Take the example of the diagram above, ‘Poison Apparatus of Rattle Snake’ shown as parts A and B.

Part A steps through the muscles of the snake’s anatomy which squeeze out the venom along the upper jaw. The poison flows through the canal attached to the fangs and the hollow which makes contact with the unlucky victim.

Part B is a first-aid kit popular with early 20th century gadget guys venturing outdoors. It was invented by Scottish physician Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton. The snakebite was treated with what looks like the pointy nib of a pen - the shaft coated in “permanganate of potash” or Condy’s crystals. The CSL (Commonwealth Serum Laboratory) has since pioneered numerous antivenom treatments.

And although Kinghorn suggests downing a “brandy or whisky etc or strong tea and coffee” as part of the remedy – no illustration required – we certainly wouldn’t recommend it for snakebites these days.

Additional information
James Roy Kinghorn was a zoologist, museum curator, writer, lecturer and broadcaster, (1891-1983). His publications include Snakes of Australia, 1929.

The illustrator for the afore-mentioned 1921 article is unknown, although Ethel King who was an artist and scientific illustrator specialising in snakes and fish created watercolours for various publications, including Kinghorn’s Snakes of Australia, 1929.

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Kinghorn, James Roy (1891–1983)

Snake-Bitten: Eric Worrell And The Australian Reptile Park, Nancy Cushing, Kevin Markwell, 2010