Implausible: The history of homœopathy in Tasmania

  • Abstract:
    After arriving on Australias’s eastern and western shores during the 1840s, the practice of homœopathy, whilst maintaining a professional presence in all of Australia’s major cities, soon centred in Melbourne, Victoria. Tasmania soon followed Victoria, as a raft of immigrant physicians brought the new system to the island state. Many of these medically trained physicians became prominent members of the Tasmanian community, both in and outside the field of medicine. Within two decades of its establishment in Tasmania, homœopathy was enjoying historically unrivalled popularity, as witnessed by the burgeoning practices of the homœopathic physicians and the expanding trade of the homœopathic pharmacies in both Hobart and Launceston.

    Despite often venomous public debate between homœopathic and allopathic physicians, the new movement in Tasmania recorded its greatest achievements within a year: the establishment of the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital in 1899 and the Launceston Homœopathic Hospital in 1900, both state-sanctioned and partially state-funded. These institutions’ subsequent development and initial success and role provide a significant insight into a medical practice that combined both the services of the emerging scientific and technologically focused medicine of the 20th century and the seemingly increasingly therapeutics of homœopathy.




As with many other epistemological pursuits, one cannot truly understand homœopathy without first understanding something of its history and development. In Tasmania the “rise and fall” of homœopathy during the 19th and 20th centuries mirrored much of what occurred with homœopathy around the world at that time, especially in the United States of America. At the hight of its popularity, Tasmania nurtured successful homœopathic hospitals in both its major cities, Launceston and Hobart, and was actively pursued by many general practitioners whilst giving rise to a popular form of pharmacy and home-based self-medication. Throughout this period, the debate between allopathic and homœopathic medicine raged, with surprisingly little difference in composition from the debate today.



It appears that the first known physician to practice homœopathy in Tasmania was Dr Ebenezer Atherton, who arrived in the colony in 1866. He practiced from 59 Davey St, Hobart. Much of the insight into early history of homœopathy in Tasmania is contained in a small book published in Hobart in 1871 titled, Notes on Homœopathy. In 1871 Dr Atherton was stated as the sole representative of homœopathy in Tasmania, but Reverend Marcus Blake Brownrigg of St John’s church, Launceston, is noted as soon utilising homœopathy in the north of the island (1,14)


Whilst Dr Atherton appears to be the first practitioner, there appears to have already existed a fledgling homœopathic interest group, a “Messrs Walch & Sons” advertising regularly in ‘The Mercury’ newspaper as importers of homœopathic medicines for the public (14). Interestingly, Walch & Sons’ primary business was as a Stationer, and his original premises Macquarie St, Hobart, still bearing his business name and establishment date of 1836. The practice of Dr Atherton and indeed of homœopathy in general was brought into sharp focus in 1870 after a medical inquest was held in Hobart into the death of Herbert Burchett . Mr Burchett had been a patient of Dr Atherton who appears to have been suffering an acute onset of meningitis which lead to his death under Dr Atherton’s care. It is of some interest to look at the details of this case, as it highlights the prevailing medical practice of this time, allopathic and homœopathic. (Taken entirely from Notes on Homœopathy, 1871.)


Herbert Burchett came to Dr Atherton’s practice to have a splinter removed from his finger, which Dr Atherton obligingly did. Some time later Burchett returned to Atherton’s rooms complaining of a ‘cold’ , arthralgia and a headache. Atherton prescribed an unnamed homœopathic medication on the basis of a common cold. Twenty four hours later Atherton visited Burchett at his home in Sandy Bay. Burchett said that his headache had worsened , but his arthralgia had improved, however, there had been an onset of a sciatica on his left side. This time Atherton prescribed belladonna 1C and aconite 1C to be taken alternately. After another 24 hours consideration, Atherton replaced the Belladonna with Arsenicum 2C on the basis that the sciatica indicated a predominantly neuralgic condition, the aconite is commonly prescribed on rapid inflammatory conditions. Twelve hours later Atherton again visited Burchett at home. This time he noted that Burchett headache was better, his sciatica worse and he had an increased pulse and temperature. Atherton ordered an enema with castor oil and soap and prescribed colocynth and aconite again in an unknown dose to be taken alternately.


Atherton now allowed 30 hours to pass before once again visiting Burchett at home. This time Atherton found Burchett ‘ Lying on his back breathing very quickly, vomiting incessantly, frothing very much at the mouth and unable to speak.’ He recorded his pulse at 160, Twitching of muscles of the face and much perspiration. Atherton ordered Burchett hair be cut off immediately and the application of cold compresses to the head, he also asked that Burchett receive a mixture of brandy and egg to be taken in small quantities. He now returned to the prescription of belladonna 1C to be taken every hour. He then returned to his clinic rooms. A short time later some acquaintances of Burchetts came to Atherton’s rooms to inform him not to call again, Atherton told these gentlemen that in his opinion Burchett was suffering from acute inflammation of the brain and was sure to die.


A Dr Smart was now called to visit Burchett. He diagnosed a probable inflammation of the meninges and provided no other treatment than a cold compress to the abdomen. He noted that Burchett’s head remained unshaved. He informed Burchetts acquaintances that he also thought he was sure to die, which he did within 12 hours. At the subsequent medical inquest conducted by the state coroner, submission was made that ‘the universal treatment for such cases is by depletion or blood letting at the head; purgatives are also an acknowledged remedy. The head ought to be shaved and kept cold by pounded ice or similar. Blisters ought to be applied and the patient kept quiet.’ Submission was also made at the inquest that homœopathic treatment amounted to no treatment at all. In summing up the coroner noted that ‘mala praxis would not convey the idea of an error of judgement; there must be gross negligence or gross ignorance to warrant a verdict of manslaughter. If there has evidence sufficient to the minds of the jury they could form that conclusion.’ The Jury brought the following verdict:-‘That the man [Burchett] died from natural causes’ and no further charges were laid (19).


 This unfortunate case helps bring to light the gulf between the underlying philosophies of allopathic medicine and homœopathic medicine of the time. The former, in such cases, would practice a heroic form of medicine with purgings and blood letting, whilst the latter sought to rely on the self-healing notions of vis medicatrix. Whether one may have been superior to the other in Burchett’s case remains uncertain.


After the conclusion of the inquest, a public feud erupted in The Mercury in the form of a written slanging match between D. Atherton and a Dr Agnew, Honorary Secretary, Court of Medical Examiners, Tasmania, over the merits or otherwise of homœopathy and allopathy. Between December 1870 and June 1871 a monthly retort by either doctor was published in the newspaper. The underlying premise of the argument from Dr Agnew was that such small doses as are used in homœopathy could have no possible effect, whilst Dr Atherton replied that the system was not founded on the dose, which is often quite material, but on the principle of similars. Dr Atherton also went to great lengths to argue that the homœopathic system had introduced to medicine the entirely scientific notion of testing medicines’ effects in the healthy before applying them and that allopathy had in fact incorporated many of these medicines into their armament. In response, Dr Agnew charged that the opposite had occurred and that homœopaths were using drugs on an allopathic basis; and so the debate continued (14).


Dr Atherton and his wife are recorded as having a child in Hobart in 1871, at which time Atherton was well into his 60s. By 1873 he appears to have withdrawn from practice, and the newly arrived Dr. Benjafield took over his popular practice (1). [See also Note below]


Despite this initial controversy in the practice of homœopathic therapeutics, the popularity of this system amongst the Tasmanian community at large appears to have blossomed during the 1870s. From what is likely to have started as a dispensary, the emergence of a homœopathic pharmacy in Hobart during this decade had by decade’s end turned into a very profitable venture. Records in Tasmanian Archives, under the title of Gould’s pharmacy, begin in the year 1878, but it appears it was not owned outright by H.T. Gould at this time, as it is recorded that the pharmacy was actually initiated by Mr F. Styant-Browne who trained as a pharmacist at Westminster College, England (15). The pharmacy was located on Elizabeth St, Hobart, before Mr H.T. Gould bought the business out in 1881 and moved it to its current location on Liverpool St, Hobart, some time between 1914 and 1918 (1,3). Whatever the trading name of the pharmacy during the 1870s the volume of trade appears to have been good with 3535 homœopathic prescriptions recorded in 1878 and a total of 12,226 by the middle of 1882 (10).


During the years 1878-1879, the pharmacy recorded 1153 family names to which it had sold homœopathic medications. Often there were multiple family members recorded under the one family name; in the case of the Shoobridge family, 32 individuals are noted. This number fell slightly to 1140 family names for the years 1880-1882. Considering that the population for all of Tasmania in the year 1880 was 114,762 people, these figures show a quite remarkable uptake of this new medical system (10). They also suggest that the dispensary or pharmacy that had operated before 1878 had done so for quite some time, to build up such a client base.


After the sale of the pharmacy in Hobart to Gould, Mr F Styant-Browne then moved to Launceston where, during the 1880s, he set about establishing that city’s first homœopathic pharmacy, at 112 Brisbane St. (1) He remained operating his homœopathic pharmacy in Launceston until his retirement in 1932. The pharmacy remained operating under its original name well after his retirement and was still listed in the 1942 Post Office Directory (P.O.D.). His business must have received serious competition; the prominent pharmacy Hatton & Laws, located just down the road on the corner of Brisbane & Charles Streets, also strongly promoting Homœopathic medicines (P.O.D). Another was L. Fairthorne & Son, who in 1844 set up a pharmacy business in 1844 that at some point introduced the provision of homœopathic medicines.  Styant-Browne’s arrival in Launceston was followed in short order by the surgeon and homœopathic physician, Dr William Mathew Gutteridge, in 1887 (8). Despite his allegiance to homœopathy, Styant-Browne played a significant role on the board of the Pharmaceutical Society of Tasmania over many decades.


The fact that homœopathy had already gained considerable popularity in Tasmania prior to the 1880s is witnessed by the notable “gentry” of Tasmania who are recorded in 1870 as being both sympathisers toward and users of the new system. Such a pattern of utilisation by the governing classes and aristocracy mimicked homœopathy’s developing popularity in Europe. But, as in other states in Australia, the practice of homœopathy had become popular amongst laypersons especially in the regional areas of Tasmania.


It appears that by the middle years of the 1880s, quite a collection of homœopaths and sympathisers had collected in Hobart. This is witnessed by the small volume titled What is Homœopathy, authored by an “M.B.” and published during this period. It contains an interesting study that occurred during this time, comparing sickness and funeral benefits paid to members of a “club” (possibly the Workers Club) who were receiving allopathic or homœopathic treatment in Tasmania. The following data are presented in the book: (12)




Number of          Amount Paid          Average


 Members               Out


Under Allopathic Treatment                   385                     £534                    £1 7p 9s


Under Homœopathic Treatment            375                     £101                    £0 5p 5s


 The author claims that these figures imply that on average those members receiving allopathic treatment were paying five times as much, were suffering there illness for five times as long a period, and were five times as likely to die. Of course this does not appear to be a detailed analysis of the results obtained, and the veracity of the claim can no longer be tested. Perhaps the most striking data to come out of this small study was that equal numbers of members were choosing either allopathic or homœopathic treatment, indicating the broad popularity of the latter at the time.



Henry Thomas Gould arrived in Hobart in 1881 after studying pharmacy at the Westminster College of Pharmacy in London. Already an acquaintance of Dr Benjafield from England, he arrived in Tasmania under agreement to be his dispensing chemist (3). In 1883 he published a small but historically significant volume on self-help medical care with homœopathic medication, titled The Medical Telephone. In 1890, Gould went into partnership with Dr Gibson and fellow pharmacist Michael Mason. Gould was later credited with being the prime instigator in the formation of the Tasmanian Pharmaceutical Society between 1886 and 1891, which is noted as being a remarkable success in representing pharmacists and chemists across the state. (3) Furthermore, he is listed as the President of the Pharmacy Board of Tasmania in 1912, a role that his son J.H. Gould was also later to fill.


Henry Thomas Gould was to become a prominent member of the Tasmanian community. He served as a Hobart alderman, Trustee and chairman of the finance committee for the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital (of which he was a founding member), treasurer of the Tasmanian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and member of the Benevolent Society. Aside from his focus on homœopathic medicine, he, along with Mason pioneered the Tasmanian Eucalyptus Oil industry, producing initially under the Gould’s label then as the ‘Blue Finch Brand’. This product was exported to other Australian colonies, New Zealand, India, South Africa, England, Continental Europe and the U.S.A. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet is quoted as saying of the product: (3)


Further examination elicited the admirable purity of the product. Eucalyptus is an excellent, agreeable and effective antiseptic; and in view of the foregoing results, the suitability of this specimen brand for all purposes where antiseptic treatment is required can not be disputed.


Henry Gould died in Hobart in 1928, aged 73. He and his business were survived by his son John Henry Gould, who was one of three sons and two daughters born to Henry Gould and his wife Alice Oldman. (3)



In 1873, D. Harry Benjafield arrived in Hobart from Manchester, England. He had studied medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, a city that was to produce many of Britain’s most famous medical homœopaths. Some time during the middle years of the 1870s, Benjafield took over Dr Atherton’s practice on Davey St, Hobart. From these fortunate beginnings, Dr Benjafield was to become a leading community figure in Tasmanian history and a tour de force for homœopathy in the state. (8)


By 1882, Benjafield, Gould, and others were already agitating for a homœopathic presence in Her Majesty’s General Hospital, Hobart. They had managed to convince a member of the hospital board to raise the issue at the next board meeting. During the wait for this meeting, debate raged in print in Hobart’s Mercury as to the validity of the new medical system and its possible place in a public hospital. Benjafield added in a written response to the newspaper that he could call on “…10000 in Tasmania to testify..” as to the superiority of the homœopathic method. In August 1882, the issue of a homœopathic ward was raised at the hospital board meeting. A vigorous debate followed, but a decision was held over, as a number of board members were absent. The debate returned to the paper, where Benjafield attempted to make a case that the homœopathic ward would be a philanthropic enterprise for those who could not afford other treatment. The issue was raised at the September meeting of the board again, and this time defeated (8).


Not discouraged, Benjafield went on to promote homœopathy tirelessly. In addition to his practice, which he claimed was burgeoning, he went on to pioneer, in Australia, the production of the smallpox vaccine from calf lymph node, which he exported to mainland Australia (8). He instigated the pasteurisation of milk in Tasmania, after he determined an outbreak of typhoid in the state was due to unhygienic milk. He purchased land in Moonah and began the Tasmanian Milk Supply business. Above all, however, Benjafield was a prodigious and impassioned orchardist who is credited with introducing over 50 varieties of pears to Australia, the introduction of the Jonathan apple to Australia and the introduction of the variety Democrat. His properties at Nubeena on the Tasman peninsula were at the time the centre of the Australian pear industry, which exported back to London (1, 8).


He had been the appointed the first chief medical officer for the city of Glenorchy, a remarkable achievement for a homœopath and recognition of his valuable work. In 1899 his dream of a homœopathic hospital in Tasmania became a reality, due more to his tireless efforts than any other individual at the time. Sadly, he left the hospital in 1904 and retired from medical practice in 1906. In 1917, Benjafield passed away, aged 72, leaving behind him a litany of achievements for the betterment of Tasmania.



Dr. Gibson appears to be the first home-grown medical practitioner of homœopathy in Tasmania. Born in Launceston in 1861, he completed his studies in medicine and surgery in Edinburgh after commencing them at Hobart General Hospital (8). His persuasion towards homœopathic medicine probably occurred or as at least solidified through his studies in Edinburgh. After returning from Scotland, he immediately settled in Hobart and began to practise. He also formed a business partnership with Gould and Mason. Along with Gould and Benjafield, Dr Gibson is credited as one of the proponents and founders of the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital, where he continued as a medical officer and surgeon until his sudden death in 1924. (8)  His role at the Hospital was immediately filled by his son, Dr. Stuart Gibson (8).


The senior Dr Gibson appears to have had a crisis of conviction in regard to homœopathy late in his career; but, as we shall see, the British Medical Association’s local branch had put a lot of pressure on him to cut his ties with this alternative system of medicine.





Between the years 1882 and 1897, little further progress was made on incorporating homœopathic practice into Tasmania’s public hospitals. During this time, some notable homœopathic physicians, including Dr Philip Douglas Smith of Launceston and Drs Gibson and Clark of Hobart, had settled in the state. The practice of homœopathic medicine, whilst still at loggerheads with the medical establishment, seemed solidified within the Tasmanian community at large. The 1892 Post Office directory lists just 96 registered medical doctors for the entire state, of which it appears at least a dozen were advocates for homœopathy.


In 1897, the practitioners, sympathisers, advocates and benefactors of homœopathy in southern Tasmania came together to form the Hobart Homœopathic League. In October of the same year, a similar group of patrons from northern Tasmania formed the Launceston Homœopathic League. In a bid to consolidate the profession in Tasmania, these two groups came together to form the Homœopathic Association of Tasmania (H.A.T.) in May 1898. Initial membership numbered 101. Shortly after the amalgamation of the northern and southern leagues, a journal began publication, The Tasmanian Homœopathic Journal, which ran at 2000 prints for each free edition between 1897 and 1901. (8,11)


High on the association’s agenda was the formation of homœopathic hospitals in both Launceston and Hobart. (8,11)



Having finally conceded that establishing a homœopathic ward within an existing hospital was not a reality due to continued antithesis from the allopathic medical community, the members of H.A.T. began to push in earnest to establish an institution of their own. Private fund-raising measures began, and the crucial support of the state government was sought to help cement the project. A delegation consisting of Drs Benjafield, Gibson and Crouch; Colonel Hill; and H.T. Gould visited the then premier, Sir Edward Braddon, to state their case (8).


The delegation was seeking support for hospital facilities in both Launceston and Hobart, and they received it: a £ for £ subsidy to match private funds up to the value of £250 for both proposed projects. With this commitment secured, the association wasted no time in seeking a suitable premises in Hobart. The association advertised for a premises to rent with option of purchase. Their request was duly answered by a Edward Fisher, a prominent local businessman who had inherited his father’s estate, which included Wellington Grange, on Cascade Rd. Fisher agreed to an initial period of rental to be followed by purchase, and he subsequently became a founding Board Member of the Hospital (8).


On a damp day in 1899, the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital was officially opened by Premier Braddon in front of a 200-strong crowd (8). The hospital was heralded as only the second of its kind in all of the southern hemisphere, the first being the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital. The small cottage hospital began with three wards: men’s, women’s and children’s, containing three beds each. The first resident medical officer was Dr Bernard Thomas, who had emigrated from England after holding the position of resident medical officer at the Liverpool Homœopathic Hospital. Drs Benjafield and Gibson were appointed honorary medical officers and worked as VMOs (8). In the hospital’s initial years, Dr Gibson performed all surgical procedures conducted there.


Within the first 12 months, an extra eleven adult beds and three extra children’s beds were added to the hospital. In this period, 121 patients were admitted, 73 of whom were successfully discharged and 11 of whom had died. Six cases of typhoid were recorded in this initial year, with all recovering satisfactorily. It is of interest to note that  77 of these admissions were for rural residents; whilst the remaining 44, from Hobart itself. Fees were set on a sliding scale so that the poor could gain access. It appears the hospital continued with Dr Benjafield’s philanthropic outlook, who is recorded as saying, in the depression of 1890, that he would see anyone, whether they could afford to pay or otherwise (8).


Unfortunately this benevolence was a prophetic precursor to the latter failings of the hospital. Its second-year budget deficit of £300 was not an auspicious start. That year had seen inpatient admissions increase to 246, but 30 of these were unable to pay anything, and, for many more, only partial payments towards the full fees were paid. (8) As each year passed, despite initial financial difficulties, the hospital grew. Adding to the difficulties was the resignation of Dr Thomas, who it seems in requesting an annual salary of £50 for the upcoming contract was stretching the hospital’s budget and therefore released. Interestingly, this amount was just two thirds of the Matron’s annual salary (8).


In 1904, Dr Benjafield parted ways with the hospital. The reasons remain unclear, and it is not known if it was a resignation or a removal. (3) The fact that in a later autobiography he neglects to mention any reference to the hospital at all indicates it was not an honourable departure for the honorary medical officer and founding father.


During this period a schism in homœopathic prescribing arose between high-potency advocates, principally from America, and the low-potency medical fraternity, from the U.K. and Europe. (4) At this time, America was training thousands of homœopaths, many of whom were emigrating around the world. The Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital employed a number of resident medical officers from America during this period, and indeed there is record of at least one who joined the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps.  (17)


Whether this rift within the homœopathic movement generally, between low-potency pathological prescribing, as championed by many of the British Homœopaths at the time, such as Dr Hughes and Dr Burnett, and the emergent high-potency ‘constitutional’ prescribing, had infiltrated the Tasmanian homœopathic ranks we shall never know. One thing we do know for certain is that Dr Benjafield belonged very much to the low-potency school. We know this from carefully examining his prescriptions recorded in Gould’s records.


What ever the reason for Dr Benjafield’s sudden departure, it was not to be the last of the controversy at the hospital. After a decade or more of relatively stable operation, in which a second surgical theatre was added, the hospital was rocked by Dr Gibson’s move in 1914 to remove “Homœopathic” from the title of the hospital to appease the BMA. (8) Dr Gibson, who subsequently became a member of the BMA, was clearly under pressure to dissociate himself from the practice of homœopathy – or he may himself have been losing faith in the practice. The situation came to a head in 1917, when Dr Gibson tendered his resignation; some unknown concession was made to appease him, however, and he ultimately stayed on as resident medical officer until his death, in 1924, during which time the hospital remained a homœopathic institution (8).


The hospital’s success across a range of services from surgery to outpatient care was evidenced by the approval in 1910 of the hospital as an official nurse-training school for registration. It is important to remember the hardships experienced by nurses during this period, with the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital no exception: working hours at the hospital were recorded as 12 hours a day or night, 7 days per week. Their salary was £6 for their first year, £12 for their second, and £18 for their final year of training. Interestingly, once qualified, the nurses were allowed to conduct house calls to treat patients at home. Whether this included provisions to prescribe homœopathic medications is unknown (8).


As the hospital continued to operate throughout the second and third decade of the 20th century, the degree to which it still offered homœopathic therapeutics and to what extent it supplemented this with the emergence of the new biomedical drugs of the period are uncertain. It is more than likely that the hospital represented an eclectic mix of therapeutic applications, which is not surprising considering the fluid understanding of disease during the turn of the century as the principles of humours and blood letting, along with heroic polypharmacy, were being replaced once and for all with the new scientific approach to medicine.


By 1928 it was clear that the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital was failing financially. The budget of that year saw an operating deficit of £5000. Moves were already afoot to find a suitable buyer for the hospital’s continuation. The Anglican church showed interest from the outset, but it was not until 18 March 1931 that the hospital officially changed hands, to become St Johns Hospital, Hobart. (8)


Although the board of the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital had conceded that it alone could not operate a successful venture any longer, it was determined to keep an identity at the new Anglican hospital. After much negotiation, it was agreed that the new hospital would “incorporate”’ the old homœopathic hospital, and so it was that the new hospital continued to officially document itself as incorporating the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital right up until 1984. To what extent this meant that some level of homœopathic practice still continued at the hospital is unclear. If any, it would likely have been part of an outpatients service, as occurred at Balmain Hospital in Sydney. There are clear photographic records of the main-street signage of the hospital displaying “Hobart Homœopathic Hospital” right through the 1940s and 50s.   It is a likely bet, however, that, with the availability of medically trained homœopaths worldwide at its lowest ebb during the middle of the 20th century, and all official training avenues virtually extinguished, the provision of homœopathic services simply faded away during this period.



The purpose of forming the Launceston Homœopathic League in 1897 was principally to advocate for a homœopathic hospital in the city. This advocacy needed a united political voice. In just two years, the League, now amalgamated with its southern partner, achieved its initial aim with a promise from the then premier of the state, Braddon, to help fund the establishment of a hospital with a Grant of up to £250 on a £1 for £1 basis in private funding, matching his help to establish the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital (9).


The northern branch of the H.A.T. wasted no time in organising fund-raisers for the proposed hospital, and in short order its establishment became financially viable. In May 1900, a premises at 172 St John St, Launceston, known as Crosby Lodge, was leased at the annual rate of £70 for the establishment of the hospital. Just two months later, on the 2nd July 1900, the Launceston Homœopathic Hospital (L.H.H.) was officially opened by Premier Braddon in front of an estimated crowd of 400-500 people. (9) Crosby lodge cost £162 to fit out, and contained twelve inpatient beds divided between 4 wards: a male ward, a female ward, a children’s ward, and a typhoid ward. A mortuary was added to the hospital in August of 1900. (9)


The first two medical officers appointed to the hospital were Dr Gutteridge and Dr Smith. Dr Gutteridge promptly resigned in January 1902, in a move that appears to have mimicked Dr Benjafield’s fallout with the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital. The politics behind this remain obscured. Dr Gutteridge was not replaced until 1905, when Dr John Maffey was appointed as a medical officer. Alfred Hall was the first appointed dental surgeon to the hospital in 1900, soon followed by another, Dr H.B.H. McCristie, in 1903. In this same year, the hospital also employed the services of a masseuse and a masseur.  Whilst the hospital achieved a modest level of service in its first few years, 65 patients receiving inpatient care in the first 12 months, things were soon to improve dramatically (9)


From the outset, the hospital reported annual autumnal outbreaks of typhoid fever, which soon was reaching epidemic proportions and stretching the hospital’s facilities. In 1903, eleven cases of typhoid were reported as being treated, all successfully. This pattern continued up until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, during which, it appears, public-health measures controlled the typhoid outbreaks. (9) It was 1914 that also saw the establishment of an outpatient clinic at the hospital.


During the war years 1914-1918, the hospital set aside a small ward for returned servicemen to receive treatment and convalesce in. At the end of the war, 1918, the hospital purchased for £2450 a new premises at 24 Lyttleton St in Launceston in which it could expand. This new premises was officially opened on the 8th August 1918. (9)


During the initial decades of the hospital’s operations, suitably qualified matrons had to be sourced from Melbourne, where they had received appropriate training at the homœopathic hospital there. Whilst junior nurses were trained at the hospital, it wasn’t until 1930 that the hospital was recognised as an officially registered training school for nurses. (5)


Whilst the new premises was far better equipped for surgery than the previous one, within ten years it required upgrading to meet new standards and the ever increasing service levels of the hospital. So in 1928 a new theatre was built and an new X-ray plant established. The X –ray facility was not fully functional, however, until 1930. Between the years 1933 and 1938,  a new wing with a number of new wards were added, to bring the total number of wards to eleven; the kitchen was rebuilt; and new nursing quarters were constructed, at the cost of many of thousands of pounds, displaying the relative prosperity of the hospital during this period. This soon changed, however, with 1939 recorded as the first year the hospital operated on a budget deficit. (9)


In 1940, nurse Winwood and nurse King were the first two graduates of the hospital’s recognised training program, which included specific training in homœopathic therapeutics along with what one would imagine as a course of training highly analogous to any other nursing training offered in the state at the time. (8)


During the years of the Second World War (1939-1945), the hospital’s financial woes continued. Budget deficits were recorded throughout this period, probably indicating the scarcity of financial resources at the time, considering the hospital relied heavily on private donations. Despite this, another new X-ray plant was added in 1944.


The ever increasing financial burdens of modern medicine were to sound the death knell for the hospital as it stood. In 1945, the government mooted plans to turn the hospital into a public institution. This was met with a public outcry by supporters of the hospital and the homœopathic system, as such a move were sure to strip such a service away. The government responded by ceasing its subsidy to the hospital for the first time since its establishment 45 years previously. This move led to an increase in patient fees, and, whilst the hospital recorded a budget surplus in 1947, it returned to a deficit in 1948, signalling troubled times ahead. (9)


Perhaps one of the greatest blows to the hospital came in the form of Dr P. D. Smith’s retirement in 1946 after 53 years’ service to both the homœopathic and broader community in Tasmania, 46 years of which were served as honorary medical officer at the Launceston Homœopathic Hospital. It must not be underestimated how great a loss this was, as it was now almost impossible to find medically qualified practitioners with suitable homœopathic training to replace Dr Smith. Indeed it had always been extremely difficult to staff medical officers in Australian homœopathic hospitals as the British Medical Association refused to register such practitioners and Australian doctors required registration with the B.M.A. throughout this period.


The L.H.H. struggled on financially from 1948 to 1951 and was even granted another one-off subsidy by the state government in 1950. But the writing was on the wall. With no qualified homœopaths to replace ageing staff; a withdrawal of government support; and a general unwillingness by hospital administrators and sympathisers to hand the hospital over to public ownership, the end of the L.H.H. came in 1951, when the Anglican synod of Launceston agreed to take control of the L.H.H. On 18th of October 1951, the hospital was officially handed over and renamed St Lukes Hospital as it remains to this day. (8) As with Hobart Homœopathic Hospital, the Anglican church had inherited an institution that had established an extremely good will amongst the community, not least of which came, due to its benevolent philosophy and extended care to the poor, the foundations of which helped propel the hospitals into their present prosperity.


The L.H.H. was the last operating homœopathic hospital in Australia. More than any other similarly allied institution, it sought to marry the advancements of modern technologically based medicine and pathologically based therapeutics to the seemingly implausible therapeutics of homœopathy. The fact that it was able to do so with such success for so many decades is testament to the staff who worked there and their passionate belief in a therapeutic system that is still denied any meaningful acceptance today by mainstream medicine despite seemingly having shown itself to offer a relatively successful level of primary health care within Tasmania during the period from the middle of the 19th century through to the middle of the 20th.



The title of this paper, “Implausible: The History of Homœopathy in Tasmania”, is intended to convey two important considerations in the medical  and sociological history of homœopathy: first, that that the therapeutics of homœopathy are considered implausible by many of the medical fraternity; second, that in the face of this marginalisation, homœopathy and its institutions indeed experienced a period of medical and social significance throughout the world and within Tasmania during the 19th and 20th centuries. This occurred due both to a historical gulf in the dominance of polypharmacy and blood letting prior to the emergence of the biomedical paradigm of today, and a conviction by many physicians that the principle of similiawas the way forward for drug therapeutics. Perhaps one of the lasting testaments of homœopathy that have been incorporated into biomedicine is the primacy of drug testing on healthy individuals to help ascertain their therapeutic effects.


The rise and fall of homœopathy in Tasmania very much mirrors its expansion and regression throughout the world at the time. It appears that the homœopathic services and institutions of Tasmania, as throughout the world, were able to provide a meaningful and significant contribution to health care within the Tasmanian community at a time when medical knowledge was in a great deal of flux. Much of this success of homœopathy in Tasmania can be attributed to the dynamic medical proponents of the system who came to Tasmania to espouse their practice with great zeal. That the institutions were doomed to fail appears to be as much a mechanism of these institutions’ benevolence and financial woes, along with the attrition of medically trained homœopaths, as it was of the emergence of the new and effective biomedicine that was soon to take medicine into the 21st century – a paradigm that once again is beginning to examine the role of hormesis and micro-doses as a possible way forward in drug therapeutics.




Readers may be pleased to know that, after the “written slanging match” between Dr Atherton and Dr Agnew, Dr Atherton was not discouraged and did not withdraw from practice, although he did leave Tasmania. I have tracked his movements to Sydney, where in 1874 he is recorded as practising from 18 O’Connell Street. In the 1883 and 1886 editions of the Australian Medical Directory he was also recorded as practising from 139 Macquarie Street. He still advertised himself as being a “homœopathist”.


[Note provided by Barbara Armstrong]



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    15. Further information on this website.