Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary

  • Abstract:
    'In 1873 a homœopathic dispensary was launched in Ballarat, but apparently it was not successful for long as it disappears from the Year Books in 1876.'(1) So said Jacqueline Templeton in her book about the history of Prince Henry's Hospital, previously called the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital. This was her only reference to the Ballarat dispensary.

    What more can be discovered about this homœopathic dispensary in country Victoria? What was its story? Who were the key players? Where was it located? Why did it 'disappear'? This article attempts to answer these questions.

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)



'In 1873 a homœopathic dispensary was launched in Ballarat, but apparently it was not successful for long as it disappears from the Year Books in 1876.'(1) So said Jacqueline Templeton in her book about the history of Prince Henry's Hospital, previously called the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital. This was her only reference to the Ballarat dispensary.


What more can be discovered about this homœopathic dispensary in country Victoria? What was its story? Who were the key players? Where was it located? Why did it 'disappear'? This article attempts to answer these questions.



On 5 June 1873 both the Ballarat Star and the Ballarat Courier published advertisements announcing that a meeting was to be held in the Mechanics' Institute that same day 'for the purpose of Establishing a Homœopathic Dispensary for the Poor of Ballarat. All who are willing to co-operate are invited to attend'.(2,3)


According to the reports of the meeting, a large number of gentlemen were present and comprised 'most of the leading homœopaths of Ballarat'.(4) All agreed with the desirability of establishing such an institution. It was decided to call a public meeting on the following Thursday in order to finalise the arrangements for the homœopathic dispensary, and to elect the honorary officers and board of management.


At the public meeting it was unanimously resolved to establish an institution, to be called the Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary, its aim being the provision of homœopathic treatment for the poor of Ballarat and the surrounding districts. A provisional committee was elected. It would be their responsibility to formulate the rules and select a building where the patients could be attended to. Several subscriptions were handed in at this initial meeting, and by the beginning of the following month it was reported that 'subscriptions are freely coming in'.(5)



On 30 June 1873 the report of the provisional committee was read and adopted. The committee of management was then elected.(6) The Mayor of Ballarat, Mr Frederick Moses Claxton, was appointed President. Mr James Oddie, a local philanthropist and auctioneer who had been present at the time of the Eureka Stockade many years before, was appointed Vice President. Mr H. W. Sinclair, an accountant, became the Honorary Secretary. Mr J.B. Cathcart, who a few years later became the secretary of the Ballarat Water Commission, was elected as Honorary Treasurer. Included among the rest of the Committee were: William Henry Gaunt who was the local police magistrate, later to become a lawyer and then a judge; and Rev. A.W. Grant, a Baptist Minister, newly arrived from Tasmania.


Initially Dr W. Ray was appointed honorary medical officer to the dispensary, and Dr W. J. R. Ray was appointed honorary surgeon and dispenser. However, an advertisement in the Bendigo Advertiser of 31 May 1873 shows that W.J.R. Ray had moved to Bendigo where he provided consultations daily at 12 Barnard Street, View Street.(7)  Therefore Dr W. Ray was the sole practitioner who provided consultations at the Dispensary.


Mr C. Pleasance undertook to receive any donations or subscriptions. A few weeks later it was announced that Mr Pleasance was appointed dispenser in place of W.J.R. Ray.(8)



A year prior to the above meetings, on 8 May 1872, a notice appeared in the Ballarat Star advertising the opening of a new homœopathic chemist shop.(9) The advertisement had been placed by C. Pleasance. It informed the readers that he had previously worked with Messrs Gould and Martin in Collins Street, Melbourne, and that he would be commencing business as a homœopathic chemist on 11th May at 5 Sturt Street in Ballarat.


A later advertisement stated that he had been assistant to Gould and Martin for several years. He announced that he 'intends devoting himself to the preparation of homœopathic medicines only; that their purity can be thoroughly relied on'.(10)


This was Charles Pleasance, the person who later re-joined the firm in Collins Street and eventually took over ownership of Martin and Pleasance. (Later he became the third Lord Mayor of Melbourne.)


In fact, I discovered that his real name was Charles PLEASANTS. Charles was born in 1850 at Beccles, Suffolk, son of George and Emma Pleasants. According to England's 1851 census, George was a 'shoeing smith', a master who employed a man and a boy. In August 1853, at the age of 31, George arrived in Melbourne. His wife and three children, including Charles who was aged 4 at the time, arrived two years later. They arrived in Port Phillip in July 1855 aboard the Kent.


George Pleasants became a journeyman blacksmith at Malmsbury in Victoria and one of Malmsbury's pioneers. In 1867 his name appeared on a list of new insolvents. The cause of his insolvency was stated as being 'losses while in business as a publican and through bad debts'.(11)


By this time son Charles was about 17 years of age. According to his official biography in the Cyclopedia of Victoria 1903, Charles was educated at the Church of England Grammar School in Melbourne. After leaving school, he studied engineering at Langland's Foundry which was located in Flinders Lane in Melbourne, then decided to take up chemistry and became articled to the firm of Gould and Martin Homœopathic Pharmacy.(12) Kidner and Gould had established this well-known pharmacy in 1860 (NOT 1855 as stated on some websites - see Note below).


It is not known exactly when Charles commenced work with Gould and Martin. Given that he opened his own pharmacy in 1872 at about the age of 22, and he stated that he had been an assistant at Gould and Martin's 'for several years', it could have been around the time of his father's insolvency or soon afterwards. It is also unknown when Charles decided to change his name to 'Pleasance'. Perhaps this was also around the same time.


Contrary to statements on some websites, there is no evidence in his official biography that Charles 'studied medicine', implying that he intended to obtain qualifications as a medical practitioner. However, he would have studied the required subjects in order to pass the examinations necessary to be placed on the register as a pharmaceutical chemist in Victoria.


By 1872 Charles decided that he had sufficient qualifications, knowledge and experience to be able to establish his own homœopathic pharmacy in a large country town, away from the strong competition of the other homœopathic pharmacies in Melbourne. A year later, Charles became involved with the establishment of the Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary.


Drs William RAY & W.J.R. RAY

Following some genealogical research, I discovered that these two doctors were related. Dr William Ray was the father of Dr William Joseph Richard Ray. I also discovered William senior was the older brother of Dr Robert Ray, who had established a successful practice in Collins Street Melbourne and worked at the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital.(13) Robert was 17 years younger than William.


William and Robert were born at Horsham, Sussex. By 1851 Robert had emigrated to South Australia, where he married in 1854. Initially he worked as a butcher in Adelaide. He then moved to Clarendon where he farmed for a few years before returning to his original occupation in Adelaide.(14) His first five children were born in South Australia, although only two survived. In the meantime, William remained in England. The English census for 1851 shows that he was a schoolmaster.


By the time of the 1861 census, the two brothers were in England at West Square, Southwark, but living in different houses. Both were medical students. William and Robert came late to their medical studies. Robert was the first to graduate in 1862 at around the age of 34. William graduated in 1864 at around the age of 53. Robert emigrated to Melbourne in 1862, while William remained in England. According to the 1866 edition of the London and Provincial Homœopathic Medical Directory, William was practising in Southwark.(15)


William's son, William Joseph, obtained his medical qualifications in 1871. He arrived in Victoria in 1872, and became registered with the Medical Board of Victoria on 8 June 1872. He first advertised his practice in Ballarat on 10 June 1872. His advertisement stated that he was 'late House Surgeon Westminster Hospital' and that he could be consulted daily at the Homœopathic Dispensary (that is, Charles Pleasance's pharmacy), at 5 Sturt Street.(16)


A year later William senior joined his son in Ballarat, becoming registered with the Medical Board of Victoria on 7 March 1873. The advertisement for his practice stated that he was a homœopathic physician, surgeon and accoucheur 'recently from London'.(17) It was soon after his arrival that the idea of establishing a homœopathic dispensary in Ballarat was first proposed. It is possible that the dispensary was the inspiration and mission of William senior.




Protestant Hall, Grenville Street, Ballarat


The provisional committee of the proposed dispensary was given the task of choosing a building where patients could be attended to. On 24 June 1873 they reported that they had received an offer of rooms suitable for the dispensary 'in a central part of the city'.(18) This was at Albert House, 2 Albert Street, near Sturt Street, a building which was also advertised as being a first class boarding house and residence. Only two advertisements were published in each of the two local newspapers letting people know of the location of these rooms.(19,20) Therefore it appears that there was very little publicity for the dispensary, although it is possible that it was also advertised via leaflets or posters displayed around the town and surrounding districts.


The Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary opened on 9 July 1873. Within 2 weeks 28 attendances had been recorded, which was considered 'a most satisfactory commencement'.(21)


For some unknown reason, at the meeting of the committee held just 3 months later, it was resolved to move the consulting rooms to the Societies' Hall (later called the Protestant Hall) in Grenville Street.(22) This was a newly-built hall established by the Ballarat branch of the Order of Oddfellows which rented rooms to various organisations. Perhaps the owner of the boarding house felt that a dispensary for the poor was unsuited to be located in a 'first class boarding house and residence'.



On 15 September 1873 Dr William Ray presented the medical officer's report. He stated that 56 people had attended the Dispensary, chiefly for chronic cases. Seven were reported as cured. Ten had discontinued their attendance without reporting themselves, 'but it was assumed that these were benefited, such being the case with the remainder'.(23)


On 26 June 1874 Dr Ray reported the statistics from 13 September 1873 to 23 December 1873. There had been 770 attendances by 136 patients. Twenty-five were reported as cured. Others had not reported themselves to the Dispensary and therefore it was inferred that further attendance was unnecessary. More than 100 were still under treatment. The majority of cases were chronic. Dr Ray considered that nearly all received benefit, including those still under treatment.(24)


The first general meeting of the Dispensary was held on 2 July 1874. By that time 264 people had received treatment. Of the number treated, 69 had been discharged cured, 51 relieved. Seventy-six had not presented themselves after treatment and so 'no report' was recorded. Three had died, and 65 still remained under treatment.(25)


Assessment of the success or otherwise of the treatment provided was made difficult because many of the patients failed to comply with the condition that they should present themselves from time to time until discharged. The committee regretted that this was the case as 'the committee are thus deprived of the value of their cases in a statistical point of view'.(26) The majority of cases had been chronic of long standing, many of which had been under various other kinds of treatment without success. Therefore the percentage of cures out of the whole number were considered to be 'gratifying'.


While the committee members were pleased with the results, they also 'regretted the want of interest shown by the public'. Given the apparent lack of advertising for the Dispensary and its aims and objectives, this 'want of interest' was sad, but not surprising.(27)



On 20 July 1874 the Ballarat Star advertised for a 'collector' for the Dispensary. The particulars for the position could be obtained from No. 5 Sturt Street.(28)


The committee meeting of the Dispensary was held on the same day.(29) Because the Honorary Secretary, Mr Sinclair, had left the district, Mr John L. Reeves, bookseller and stationer, was elected in his place. Mr Pleasance had acted in the role of Honorary Secretary in the interim. At the meeting a man called Mr Perkins was appointed collector. Subsequent newspaper items reveal that Mr Alfred James Perkins worked as an assistant at Pleasance's Homœopathic Pharmacy.


Dr William Ray submitted his resignation. His son returned to Ballarat and was appointed honorary medical officer in his place. However, to-date I have found no evidence that he continued to provide services to the Dispensary. The meeting of July 1874 was the last meeting of the Ballarat Homœopathic Dispensary to be reported in the newspapers. Did the Dispensary close soon after the meeting, or did it gradually wither during 1874?


Although Templeton stated that the Dispensary disappeared from the Year Books in 1876, the Ballarat Dispensary and Victoria's other free dispensaries were not specifically named in the Victorian Year Books. The only reference was the number of dispensaries which had provided returns for the year, and the number of those which were homœopathic. Therefore the 'disappearance' of the Dispensary is inferred by the number of returns which are mentioned. There is no statement regarding whether the returns contained statistics, or whether the return might have informed the Government that the dispensary had now closed. In 1873 and 1874 when the Ballarat Dispensary was in operation, the number of free dispensaries providing returns was short by one. There is no indication as to whether the missing report was from Ballarat, Melbourne or Geelong. Therefore the information in the Year Books cannot be relied upon to determine the cessation of the Ballarat Dispensary.

William senior died on 5 June 1875. At the time of his death he did not have a Will. However, probate documents show that he was in debt to his younger brother, Robert.


By 1877 Dr W.J.R. Ray had left Ballarat and was practising in Tasmania, before moving to Seymour in Victoria by 1881. He died in Mentone in 1894.



Charles Pleasance's name was mentioned with reference to the Dispensary until July 1874. However, by March 1875 when he married his wife Carrie Gibblings at Ballarat, the wedding notice stated that he was living in Melbourne.(30) It is likely that he had re-joined the homœopathic pharmacy in Melbourne, now owned by Mr Martin and re-named Martin & Co. In 1878 he became a formal partner in the firm before eventually becoming the sole owner in 1886.


By 1876 the Homœopathic Pharmacy in Ballarat had been purchased by Robert Dixon Bannister. Despite the fact that Mr Bannister was on the register as a pharmaceutical chemist of Victoria, there is no evidence to show that he was at all interested in running the Pharmacy. Instead, he devoted his time to running an Australian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition, followed by working with the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880.(31)


While Mr Bannister was otherwise engaged, Mr Alfred Perkins, the pharmacy assistant, was left to run the business. The problem with this was that Mr Perkins was not a qualified chemist, although he had been studying for the last 5 years in order to pass the necessary examinations. In May 1882 Mr Perkins was charged under the Pharmacy Act of Victoria. The clause applied to 'any person not being a registered pharmaceutical chemist, who carries on or attempts to carry on business as a chemist and druggist or homœopathic chemist, or either'.(32)


During the trial Mr Perkins stated that Mr Bannister had not been carrying on business there personally for the last 2 or 3 years and had not been in Ballarat since the Melbourne Exhibition. He and was currently in Sydney where he was secretary to the Sydney Juvenile Industrial Exhibition. Mr Perkins also stated that the business was currently for sale.(33)


As the court case progressed, it became obvious that Mr Perkins had been 'set up', possibly with the assistance of a competing chemist. Mr Gaunt (previously mentioned as a supporter of the Homœopathic Dispensary) defended Mr Perkins, stating that the defendant had not filled a prescription from a medical practitioner and had not been acting as a chemist when he supplied the product to the customer. Homœopathic medicines were not solely procurable from a pharmacy. Any grocer or shopkeeper might sell homœopathic or ordinary medicaments. Mr Gaunt said that 'he was bound to say there was not a shop up country where there would not be seen Gould and Martin's homœopathic cases'.(34)


Mr Perkins was not charged, on the grounds that while he had sold the medicine, he had not dispensed the medicine. Mr Gaunt stated that Mr Bannister had been contacted by telegram. It was reported that 'steps would at once be taken to obtain the services of a qualified gentleman until Mr Perkins had qualified himself by passing the necessary exams'.(35)

In the event, it appears that the business was sold. On 5 July 1882 Martin & Co announced that they had taken over the business at 5 Sturt Street. They assured the public that they would have a qualified and competent manager to run the pharmacy.(36) Several other advertisements for the pharmacy appeared over the months, the last one being on 7 April 1883. Subsequently No. 5 Sturt Street was taken over by a jeweller.


So ended the story of the Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary, and the Ballarat Homœopathic Pharmacy.



The Ballarat Free Homœopathic Dispensary was established in a climate of enthusiasm. Its formation was possible because key members of the community supported it and were willing to join the committee or provide subscriptions. Drs William Ray and W.J.R Ray had arrived in Ballarat and it appeared that there would be two homœopathic practitioners who would be able to provide the services to the community. Also, a specialist homœopathic pharmacy was already established under the expert management of Charles Pleasance. Everything seemed to point to the institution being a success.


However, right from the beginning there seemed to be very little publicity about the Dispensary, its aims and objectives, the services which were available, or the criteria for treatment. Even its location was not advertised extensively in the local newspapers.


The medical support was reduced to one person when Dr W.J.R. Ray moved to Bendigo. Although he was appointed as medical officer of the Dispensary after his father's resignation, subsequently no more was heard of the activities of the institution. It appears that the Dispensary was his father's passion, not his. He eventually left Ballarat.


At the same time, Charles Pleasance moved away from Ballarat and the Homœopathic Pharmacy was left in the hands of a person who was disinterested in the business, and an assistant who was unqualified to dispense or provide expert advice on the use of homœopathic medicines.


Ultimately, the success of the Dispensary relied on the dedicated support of qualified homœopathic doctors and dispensers. Without the health professionals to provide the services, it was inevitable that the Ballarat Homœopathic Free Dispensary would eventually cease operation.



It has been proved conclusively that Mr Kidner did not arrive in Melbourne until 1858, and Mr Gould did not arrive until 1860. Therefore they could not have established the pharmacy in 1855.


For the correct information see Martin & Pleasance, History.


©   Barbara Armstrong


  • References:
    (1) Templeton, J. Prince Henry's: The evolution of a Melbourne Hospital 1869 - 1969. Melbourne: Roberton & Mullens Pty Ltd; 1969. p.14.

    (2) Ballarat Star. 1873 Jun 5: 3.

    (3) Ballarat Courier. 1873 Jun 5: 3.

    (4) Ballarat Courier. 1873 Jun 6: 2.

    (5) Ballarat Star. 1973 Jul 1: 2.

    (6) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (7) Ballarat Star. 1873 Jul 14: 4.

    (8)Bendigo Advertiser. 1873 May 31: 3.

    (9) Ballarat Star. 1872 May 8: 3.

    (10) Ballarat Star. 1872 May 18: 3.

    (11) The Argus. 1867 Apr 17: 5.

    (12) Smith, J. (ed). The Cyclopedia of Victoria 1903. Melbourne: The Cyclopedia Co; 1903. p. 315.

    (13) Armstrong, B. Dr Robert Ray.

    (14) Statton, J. (ed.) Biographical Index of South Australians 1836 - 1885. Marden, South Australia: South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society; 1986. p.1333.

    (15) Bayes, W. (ed.) London & Provincial Homœopathic Medicine Directory 1866. London: H. Turner & Co; 1866. p.41.

    (16) Ballarat Star. 1872 Jun 10: 3.

    (17) Ballarat Courier. 1873 Mar 24: 3.

    (18) Ballarat Star. 1873 Jun 24: 2.

    (19) Ballarat Courier. 1873 Jul 7: 4.

    (20) Ballarat Courier. 1873 Jul 8: 3.

    (21) Ballarat Star. 1873 Jul 22: 2.

    (22) Ballarat Star. 1873 Oct 7: 2.

    (23) Ballarat Star. 1873 Sep 16: 2.

    (24) Ballarat Star. 1874 Jan 26: 4.

    (25) Ballarat Star. 1874 Jul 3: 2.

    (26) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (27) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (28) Ballarat Star. 1874 Jul 20: 3.

    (29) Ballarat Courier. 1874 Jul 24: 2.

    (30) Ballarat Star. 1875 Apr 17: 2.

    (31) Ballarat Star. 1880 Aug 24: 2.

    (32) Ballarat Star. 1882 May 20: 2.

    (33) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (34) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (35) Ballarat Star. ibid.

    (36) Ballarat Star. 1882 Jul 1: 3.