• Full Name:
    Robert Palk
  • Role:
    Unregistered practitioner
  • Occupation/s:
    Mineral surveyor, lay homœopathic practitioner
  • State:
  • Date first identified using homoeopathy in Australia:
palk-feb 2013 pics 065b-s
                                Robert Palk

  Photograph courtesy Larry Palk of Sth Africa,

                    a descendant of Robert Palk.



(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


[1813 - 1890]


Robert Palk was born on 19 November 1813 at Ashburton, Devon, the son of Robert Palk and Mary Carrington.  On 14 November 1838 he married Jane Smerdon (1820 - 1865). According to the 1841 census, Robert, his wife and his first child, Mary, were living in Waverley Cottage, Lower Bowdley, Ashburton, Devon, occupation "Ind" - meaning "independent means". According to the 1844 edition of Pigot's Directory for Ashburton, Devonshire, Robert Palk was living at Waverley Cottage and was listed under the category of "Nobility, Gentry and Clergy".


Robert and Jane eventually had seven children.


In December 1852, Robert Palk arrived in Melbourne aboard the Posthumous. Accompanying him was his wife Jane, his widowed mother Mary, and his four surviving children. According to the shipping lists, daughter Mary Jane was 12, Elizabeth Vaughan was 8, Eliza Camilla Carrington was 4, and young Robert was 1. (Two other daughters and a son, born before the move, did not survive to make the journey. Camilla died in 1846; another son, also named Robert, died in 1847; Frances died in 1850. Sadly, the second young Robert died soon after his arrival in Melbourne, in 1853.)


It appears that Robert Palk's first occupation in Victoria was as a mineral surveyor, as there is a reference to him in Melbourne's newspaper, The Argus of 27 October, 1853, under the heading "Good News for Everybody". The notice was from Mr Charles Terry, manager of the Ovens Mining Company, stating that his mineral surveyor, Mr Palk, had returned and that "the colony is in possession of a valuable workable coal field." The coal seam had been discovered by a Mr Davis and Charles Terry had hired Robert Palk to investigate further and provide a full report. At a public meeting to announce the discovery of the coal seam, Mr Palk stated that he had been "connected with coal mines before his arrival in this country". (According to the 1850 edition of White's Directory for Ashburton, Devonshire, there is an entry for Robert Palk, mine manager. According to the 1851 Census, Robert was a tin and copper mining agent.)


By August 1854, Robert had taken on the title and occupation of ‘Doctor’. The first evidence for this change in occupation is found in a published list of undelivered mail, with an entry for Dr Palk and subsequent entries for Dr Robert Palk.



 Map of Emerald Hill 1857

Showing location of R. Palk residence in Coventry Street

Map courtesy State Library of Victoria

By 1855 Robert and his family were living in the Melbourne suburb of Emerald Hill.  (Note - Emerald Hill is now called South Melbourne.)  According to the 1855 Rate Records for Emerald Hill, they were living in York Street in a rented property described as being a 'shop' made of zinc, consisting of two rooms and a small kitchen.  In the following year the Rate Records show that the family occupied a 'tile and wood house' in Coventry Street, which consisted of six rooms and a shop.  This was on the North side of Coventry Street near the corner of Cecil Street.  The property was owned by G. Warren and its location is shown on the 1857 map of Emerald Hill produced by Clement Hodgkinson (refer map at left).   In the Electoral Roll of 1856 he was listed as a surgeon in Coventry Street, Emerald Hill.  In addition, in the 1857 Tanners Directory of Melbourne (businesses in operation in 1856) he was listed as Robert Palk MD (homœopathic) at Coventry Street, Emerald Hill.


Although Palk was listed as R. Palk MD, he did not appear under the separate listing for medical practitioners, probably because he did not have formal medical qualifications. It should be noted that at this stage in Victoria's history it was not illegal for anyone to assume the title of "doctor", even if the person did not have formal medical qualifications.  However, the Medical Act of 1862 altered this situation.  Practitioners were required to submit evidence of their qualifications, and it became illegal for non-registered practitioners to use the title 'Doctor'.


In 1859 Palk attended the first meeting of people interested in establishing the Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary, and was appointed to the committee. This was only one of the many committees to which Robert Palk was appointed during his years in Melbourne. In fact, he made a considerable impact on the early development of Emerald Hill.


Prior to 1855 Melbourne's inner suburbs were controlled by the Melbourne City Council, although these suburbs did have local committees. In 1854, Palk was a member of the Local Committee for Emerald Hill. When the Melbourne Council fought against the legislation which would enable those suburbs to form their own municipal councils, in April 1855 Robert Palk took part in a meeting of local delegates which voiced their concerns and protests. As a representative for Emerald Hill, he seconded one of the motions. A few months later, he was appointed as one of Emerald Hill's first municipal councillors. He remained a councillor until 1862 and was Chairman from 1859 to 1860.


Palk was very active in the Emerald Hill community, with positions on several committees, resident magistrate for the Emerald Hill police courts, and as mentioned above, a councillor on the municipal council.


The following were some of these appointments as listed in the post office directories of the time:

palk-feb 2013 pics 063b-s

Photograph caption:-


Accompanying text:                                       

Presented to Lieut Palk, No 3 Battery, Emerald Hill, RVV Artillery; -  As a token of the esteem and respect of his Sergeants, on his retiring from the command of the Battery; and as a recognition of the eminent services rendered by him in the Volunteer Movement during the last Seven Years.

April 5th 1862


                      Photograph courtesy Larry Palk of Sth Africa, a descendant of Robert Palk
  • 1857 & 1858 – 2nd Lieutenant of the Victoria Volunteer Artillery Regiment, R. Palk is listed as 2nd Lieutenant . (He helped establish the Eastern Hill regiment.)
  • 1858 & 1859 - In addition to the above, also listed as a Councillor of the Emerald Hill municipality
  • 1859 - Also listed under the heading of Police Courts, listed as one of the four magistrates resident within the district of Emerald Hill.
  • 1860 - 2nd Lieutenant R. Palk is listed under the Victoria Volunteer Artillery Regiment, Emerald Hill Division (He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant during 1860.);
  • Also listed as a Resident Magistrate for Emerald Hill, Robert Palk, MD;
  • Also listed as Chairman of the Municipal Council for Emerald Hill, Chairman - R. Palk MD, JP.
  • 1861 - Vice President of the Emerald Hill Choral Society, R. Palk, JP;
  • President of the Emerald Hill Dramatic Club, R. Palk, JP;
  • President of the Mechanics Institute, R. Palk JP; (He was appointed to the committee which originally established the Institute in Emerald Hill.)
  • Police Courts Resident Magistrate for Emerald Hill, Robert Palk MD;
  • Municipal Council for Emerald Hill, Councillor R. Palk, MD JP


In 1855, at a meeting of local members of the Church of England, Palk was appointed as one of five trustees who were given the job of actively working towards the erection of "a handsome stone church" on Clarendon Street, eventually called St Lukes Church. 


Mrs Palk was appointed to the committee of the Emerald Hill Ladies' District Visiting Society, run by the local Church of England. The aim was to provide "relief for the needy and suffering".


The local council was progressive in its operation and in its plans for improvement of their surroundings and conditions. Robert took an active part in all these activities, sometimes leading delegations to the State Parliament on behalf of the people of Emerald Hill, for example, when requesting a new bridge to connect Emerald Hill across the Yarra River to Melbourne.


In January 1860, when Robert was Chairman of the Municipal Council of Emerald Hill, the Council voted that all future municipal contracts would be conducted under the principle of eight-hours' work per working day, except where this was impracticable or where the worker wished to work longer hours.


In December of the same year Palk put forward a proposal (which was accepted by the Emerald Council) that the destruction of snakes would be accelerated if a reward were paid for each snake destroyed. This recommendation was also sent to other municipal councils in the colony, as it was considered that there was a rapidly increasing number of these reptiles in the vicinity of townships and inhabited areas.


begraafplaas potch alexandrapark _137_

                         Headstone of Robert Palk

                                 Located in South Africa


Mrs Jane Palk died of typhoid fever in September, 1865.  However Robert was not present to support his wife and family at that time.  He had already sailed to England in April 1862 aboard the Suffolk, leaving behind his wife, his mother and children.  Shortly after Jane's death, a report of the Emerald Hill Burrough Council's fortnighly meeting appeared in The Age:


The Mayor mentioned that the children of Dr Palk were in great distress being for a long time now deserted by their father, and having been recently deprived of their mother by death.  On the Mayor's recommendation the Council agreed to allow them the sum of £10 from the Burrough funds.


According to a news item in The Record & Emerald Hill & Sandridge Advertiser in December 1876, Robert had not corresponded with his friends and relatives since his departure. 


In England, he opened a homœopathic chemist establishment at Henley-upon-Thames, where he was the dispenser. On 16 April 1866 Robert married Jane Hilton Syme, widow of newspaperman Ebenezer Syme who had died in Melbourne in 1860. According to the wedding certificate, Robert was 48, a widower and homœopathist. Jane and Robert had five children - two boys and three girls. By 1871 they were living on a farm property in Sussex, with Robert's occupation being recorded as a retired homœopathic practitioner and living on "income from foreign sources". It appears that he did not remain retired, however, as in 1874 he was listed as a homœopathist in Horsham, Sussex.


In 1877 Robert married Anne Sophia Helmore (1844 - 1936) in England.  Anne was born in South Africa. His occupation was documented as "MD", and he claimed to be a 'widower'.  However, his second wife Jane was still alive at that time, and in 1881 her marriage to Robert was dissolved on the grounds of bigamy and adultery. 


Robert and Anne emigrated to South Africa.  They had two children, both male. Anne kept a journal of her experiences during the Boer War, which was published in 1980. ("Annie's War - A personal account of the Boer War from the journal of Anne Sophia Helmore".)


Robert died at Potchefstroom, South Africa on 11 October, 1890.


A street named after Palk was constructed in Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) on the west side of Moray Street, between Coventry Street and Dorcas Street. It first appeared in the street directory of 1862, although it was first mentioned in a newspaper advertisement of 1858. The street has since been demolished, replaced by the houses of Emerald Hill Court.


©   Barbara Armstrong     


  • Created:
    Tuesday, 22 March 2011
  • Last modified:
    Thursday, 10 August 2017