Bérigny

  • Full Name:
    Thiennette de Bérigny
    Alexandre Thiennette Bérigny
    Dr Th. Bérigny
  • Role:
    Unregistered Practitioner
  • Occupation/s:
    Homœopathic physician
  • State:
    Victoria
    America
    France
    India
    South America
  • Date first identified using homoeopathy in Australia:
    1855
berigny

                              Dr Bérigny

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)

 

[ ?1823 - 21 June 1868]

 

Thiennette Bérigny (also called Alexandre Thiennette Bérigny) was born in France. Several books and websites have given him the credit of being the first practitioner to introduce homœopathy in Victoria in the 1850s (this information is incorrect).

 
In 1850 Dr Bérigny graduated from the University of Paris as an 'ordinary medical student', and obtained his knowledge of homœopathy in the United States of America.  In 1860 he stated that he had been in practice for ten years, and that he was a Member of the Medical Society of Homœopathic Physicians, France, and Licenciate from the Western Homœopathic College in the U.S.A.
 

In 1855 Dr Bérigny stated (in the Homœopathic Echo) that he had "practised homœopathy these last three years in Central and South America, where my success in the treatment of Yellow Fever is known all along the Western Coasts of Southern America".

 

Bérigny came to Australia via New Orleans, U.S.A. (where his wife, Catherine Etienne died on 31 December 1852, shortly after the birth of their child, Clara Marie Thiennette, on 16 December), and then via Lima. During the years from 1853 to 1855 Yellow Fever prevailed in New Orleans.

 

An editorial article from the Herald, a South American newspaper from Lima, stated (February 1854):

 

“Notice to those who are unwilling to die with Yellow Fever – Whilst the ravages of yellow fever hold us in that terror which naturally spreads the most violent death, the comforting Providence, in her immutable decrees, has sent us the celebrated practitioner, Dr. Th. Berigny. This learned Frenchman lately arrived from the United States, faithful observer of the nature of the epidemic which made such fearful ravages in New Orleans last year, and now reaches this country, is the one we wish to make known to the public. We ocularly witness the infallibility of his mode of treatment, hitherto unknown in this country: we who for the first time have been made acquainted with this medical gentleman, whose kind manners and charity will gain the sympathy of all those who will know him. We believe it to be our duty to publish this notice, not to favour his private views, but rather for the interest of the afflicted and needy, and confidently assert that his presence in the country has been a source of blessing to many Limanian families.”

 

Aged 31, Bérigny travelled from the port of Callao in Peru on the “Vernon”, and arrived in Melbourne in December 1854. On 2 February 1855, an advertisement stated that he had "just arrived", and that he provided consultations in English, French and Spanish. On the following day an advertisement announced that Dr Bérigny, experienced practitioner of homœopathy, was at 36 Lonsdale Street West and that he provided consultations every afternoon.

 

A Naturalisation Certificate for Australian Citizenship was issued to Dr Bérigny on 19 April 1855.

 

On the 9th February 1856, Rev. Dr Fletcher of St Kilda performed the marriage ceremony between Bérigny and Miss Adele Christine Lahou of Laeken, near Brussels, Belgium. Bérigny and his second wife, Adele, had four children:  Louise, born 1856; Victor Francis Thiennette, born 1858, died 1915; Charles Wickham, born 1860, died 1911; and Marie Nattalie, born 1862.

 

An advertisement from Dr Bérigny in the Tasmanian newspaper, the Hobarton Mercury in March 1856, stated that he was a “Member of the Imperial College of Surgeons of Paris and a lecturer on homœopathy, etc”. He advertised that he was able to provide homœopathic treatments and prescriptions by correspondence.

 

When Bérigny arrived in Melbourne he was disappointed at the general lack of knowledge about homœopathy, so he set out to educate the public. In 1855 he gave two lectures in the Protestant Hall in Little Collins Street, Melbourne. The announcement for the first lecture stated:

 

"A course of lectures on Homœopathy  is, we are informed, to be delivered in the Protestant Hall, by Mr Bérigny, a believer in this theory, who has been for some time engaged in reducing it to practice. The number of believers in this theory, and the high respectability of many of them, entitles the arguments of its supporters to a fair hearing and candid examination."

 

berignytalk1855s

Bérigny rebuked organised medicine for its profiteering and iatrogenesis. He stated that: “Homœopathic cures can never be a source of future chronic ailments, as those of the ordinary practice commonly are.” He also accused allopathy of quackery, where people, anxious to make money, advertised pills to cure every conceivable disease “although a member of the Medical Board”. These lectures were published as a pamphlet with the title:  "Medical Philosophy: an appeal to the people of Australia for the candid investigation of practical medicine. Lectures on Homœopathy delivered in the Protestant Hall, Melbourne".

 

He also wrote articles on homœopathy in Melbourne’s newspaper, The Age, and published numerous articles in the Medical Record of Australia.

 

In 1858, when one of his letters to the Editor in defence of homœopathy was not published, he instead wrote and produced a booklet "Chaos & order; or the orthodox practice of medicine unveiled, versus the medical heresy !"

berignytalk1858s
 

In 1859 Bérigny attended the first meeting of people interested in establishing the Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary, and was appointed to the committee.

 

In the same year, he wrote a letter to the Editor of The Argus newspaper regarding the homœopathic treatment of snake bites. He pointed out that the homœopathic law of similars "does not imply the idea that the effects of a snake poison are to be remedied by an increased administration of the same poison. This explanation of the operation of homœopathic medicines may do very well to suit some medical humorists, who substitute ridicule for reason in order to secure popular approbation; but in a serious and honest reviewer of our doctrine, it certainly manifests a lack of true knowledge of the fundamental principle of homœopathy."

 

Bérigny, along with other Melbourne personalities such as Dr Godfrey Howitt and Dr James Motherwell (both 'regular' medical practitioners), was a supporter of the growing Spiritualist movement in Melbourne. In 1870 this culminated in the formation of the Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists. Dr Walter Richardson (father of the author of The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson), Alfred Deakin (the future Prime Minister of Australia), and David Syme (the owner of The Age newspaper) were also committed believers. According to Alfred J. Gabay, who wrote a book about Spiritualism in Melbourne from 1870 to 1890, Spiritualists were 'men and women of their times', often highly intelligent people, who rejected orthodox religion in favour of scientific rationalism, seeking rational discoverable answers to life's mysteries.

 

As a result of Bérigny's interests in this area, in 1863 he wrote two tracts -  "Light for the million. The religion of God not of man",  and "Light for the million. The education of nature."  These contained the lectures which he had delivered to the Truthseekers' Free Debating Society.  These were not well-received by the general public, it appears mainly due to his objections and arguments about established religion.  One reviewer described the first publication as being "a weak, washy, and contemptible infidel publication".

 
berigny-front-s

                          Premises at 74 Colllins Street Melbourne, in 2011.

           Long known as the exclusive "Le Louvre" boutique in modern times.

                                    Occupied by Dr Bérigny in the 1850s

                 (this address was No 119 Collins Street, Melbourne in the 1850s)

                                                        Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy

Bérigny moved premises several times:
  •  In early February 1855 was located at 36 Lonsdale Street West. He advertised that he was able to provide consultations in English, French, or Spanish.
  •  Later in the same month he advertised that he was practising at 130 Little Bourke Street. There he ran a dispensary in collaboration with fellow homœopath, John Bell Hickson.
  •  By 28th February 1855 he advertised a homœopathic dispensary at 92 Collins Street East.
  •  His Tasmanian advertisement of 1856 stated that his practice was at 119 Collins Street East (now number 74 Collins Street). In the Melbourne Directories for 1857 to 1861 he was recorded as “MD, homœopathic”, practising at 119 Collins Street East.* These premises were initially built in 1855 as one of four adjoining townhouses, Number 119 being a three storey brick building which  Bérigny used as his surgery on the ground floor and his residence above. The other townhouses have since been demolished. These days, the rear entrance leads to to a former laneway. Alterations in the 1920s removed the entrance porch and the Victorian-era details from the front facade. (Note that this is the oldest remaining private house at this 'top end' of Collins Street.)
  • Advertisements in December 1860 stated that he had moved to 120 Collins Street East.
  • His letters to the Editor of July 1862 place him at 127 Collins Street East.

 

berigny-side-s
         Rear & left-side of premises at 74 Collins Street

                              Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy

 

berigny-back-s

                            Rear of premises at 74 Collins Street

            (showing the remains of the original 1850s structure)

                                  Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy

During 1860, the members of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows felt the need to publicly express their satisfaction with Bérigny and his skill and attention during the year-long period he had filled the office of Lodge Doctor.

 

Later in the same year, he applied for the office of Honorary Physician of the Melbourne Hospital, although he recognised that he would probably have little success because of the attitude of the medical establishment towards homœopathy and foreign-trained doctors. His letter of application to the hospital was published in The Age on 4 September 1860 as follows:

 

"To the Governors of the Melbourne Hospital in general, and its Contributors in particular, who, from personal experience and enlightened conviction, are favorable to the New School of Medicine called Homœopathy.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen - I beg to inform you that I am a candidate for the office of honorary physician to your institution, and suggest to your attention the propriety of appropriating a ward in the hospital where the merits of a medical reform may be fairly tested through its practical results upon the indigent sufferers who prefer the mild treatment of a Homœopathic physician.

 

I am aware that the actual bye-laws [sic] of your committee reject the candidature of a foreign physician, which I am, but as the superior power to have these regulations revised emanates from your majority, it devolve upon those supporters who comprehend the advantages, progress, and claims of Homœopathy to propose the removal of this obstruction to the access of a great boon in your charity.  Science having no predilection for any country, it is a deplorable anomaly, dictated by a spirit of monopoly and national pride, unworthy of the liberal community of an English colony, to banish a foreigner from candidature for an office of skill and knowledge.  Such sentiments should be consigned to the cloudy regions of society, where tyranny is contending against popular aspirations for liberty.  The British clergy give the example of toleration to the English Medical Profession - not a minister would repudiate the preacher of the Gospel ordained in a foreign land.  There should be medical freedom for the poor as well as religious liberty.  The consciousness of weakness and danger is made manifest through intolerance, whilst the friends of truth invite the whole world into competition.

 

Having been in practice for the last ten years, during six years of which I have enjoyed the most extensive practice as Homœopathic Physician in Melbourne, my experience enables me to declare that, if you elect me, it will be proved by statistical reports that you have deserved well of humanity in introducing Homœopathic treatment into the Hospital, as has been done in several similar institutions in Europe.

 

I have the honor to be,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your most obedient servant,

TH. Berigny, M.D.,

Member of the Medical Society of Homœopathic Physicians, France, and Licentiate from the Western Homœopathic College of the United States.

119 Collins Street East.

 

 

louvre1960s-s

            1960s streetscape - 74 Collins Street

           In the 1960s many of the original buildings

               around 74 Collins Street still stood.

In December 1863 he, his second wife and their 4 children travelled via the “Gaspard” to Calcutta, India, where he set up his practice and once again used his talents to work with other local homœopaths to help spread homœopathy. His decision to leave Australia and move to India may have been as a direct consequence of the passing of the new medical act in 1862, which made the registration of ‘properly qualified medical practitioners’ compulsory. This Act also made it illegal for non-registered practitioners to use the title ‘doctor’. Bérigny’s diploma from “a foreign college” was not accepted, and therefore he was not considered to be a legally qualified and registered medical practitioner.
 
Bérigny's possessions were put up for auction prior to his voyage. The list was impressive, including a pianoforte, a four-wheeled American buggy and a two-wheeled buggy, plus a horse and harnesses, and a cow in calf. All of his furniture was described as being superior, elegant, handsome, and first-class.
 
At a Homœopathic Conference held in 1881, Dr Sircar from India stated that Dr Bérigny had arrived in Calcutta in the beginning of 1864.  According to him:
 
"He was a very intelligent and well-informed man, and was a great help to Babu Rajender [Dutt] in the beginning.  He would have been instrumental in spreading the system in Bengal more than any other person, had he not been possessed with some crotchets which stood in the way of his own practice, and thus in the way of the progress of homœopathy.  The crochets were hydropathy, spiritualism, and fierce anti-Christian opinions.  Had it not been for the last, he would have found favor with the then Viceroy, and the law member of the Supreme Council, both of whom were devoted Christians, and thus, though homœopaths at heart, they were averse to extending their patronage to the man, notwithstanding that he practised the reformed system of medicine, was in their eyes an unbeliever and therefore undeserving of any favor".
 

According to Dr Sircar, the oldest and largest homœopathic pharmacy in Calcutta was established by Dr Bérigny in 1866.  This business was called 'Berigny & Co'.  The company produced homœopathic medicines and various publications, for example, 'Berigny & Co's, Bengali Homœopathic Series. No II Treatment of Fevers', Calcutta, 1871.

 

Dr Bérigny became very ill, and decided to return to France for the benefit of his health. However, a newspaper report stated that Bérigny died on 21 June, 1868 while at sea on his voyage from Calcutta to Bordeaux. His wife, Adele, and 4 children - Louise, Victor, Charlie and Marie - appear on the 1871 English census. Adele is recorded as 'Doctor's widow'.  Adele died at St Pancras London, England in 1891.

 

©   Barbara Armstrong

       www.historyofhomeopathy.com.au

 
  • Created:
    Monday, 25 May 2009
  • Last modified:
    Tuesday, 25 July 2017