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The History of Homeopathy in New Zealand

by Christopher Simmonds NZRN R. HOM
with additions by Bev Brown and Alicia Lee

Homeopathy in New Zealand officially began in 1849 with the arrival in Dunedin of William Purdee MD (Glasgow), New Zealand’s first homeopathic physician.  However it is probable that early pioneer settlers brought homeopathy to these shores prior to 1849.  Many families brought their own homeopathic medicine chest consisting of much the same remedies that are found in a modern homeopathic home kit.

These were brave people who, because there was no-one else to do it for them, began a noble tradition of do-it-yourself homeopathy, a tradition which continues to the present day amongst our modern “pioneer” homeopaths living in remote rural areas.

Last century (1800’s) Auckland boasted not only homeopathic physicians, but several homeopathic pharmacies, a homeopathic hospital and the homeopathic association.

Many of the earlier achievements revolved around the activities of Carl Frank Fischer MD.1  Dr Fischer arrived in New Zealand around 1853.  In 1855 Dr Fischer established New Zealand’s first medical journal, the Homœopathic Echo.  The first copy was published on 1 March, 1855, the 12th & final one on 1 February, 1856.  Circulation of the Echo reached as far as Australia, with articles on homeopathy and its history, materia medica, domestic practice, letters, notes on health and veterinary practice.

In the October 1855 Echo, an unsigned letter (which Gluckman suggests was probably written by Fischer) suggests a meeting be convened to consider establishing a Homœopathic Hospital and Dispensary.  The Hospital opened in Princes Street, Auckland, September, 1858, in a building owned by the Provincial Government.  Its services were much in demand as its records indicate.

During the period the Hospital was open, from September, 1858 to November, 1862, a total of 1047 patients were treated, of which 154 were inpatients.  70% of these inpatients were cured.

Of the 893 outpatients for the same period 61 % were cured.  The overall mortality rate was 2.2%.

The Homœopathic Hospital was forced to close its doors in November, 1862 through want of good nurses and lack of funds – The Homœopathic Association could not afford larger premises when the Government asked for its building to be vacated.  However in 1866 Dr Giles MRCS (England), a homœopathic physician of Wellesley Street, proposed that a homœopathic hospital again be established in Auckland.  He had the somewhat sceptical support of one J. Wood, Surgeon, late of the medical staff Bengal Army, who wanted the theory and practice of homœopathy “put to the test” (as if the results of the first hospital had not been sufficient!)  There are no records of a second hospital being established.

Dr Fischer also edited New Zealand’s second, albeit short-lived, medical journal “Fischer’s Magazine of Homœopathy.”  The first edition contained an interesting account of the London Life Assurance Company’s conversion to homeopathy by the statistical evidence of its success.  The Directors of the General Provident Assurance Company were so impressed with the increased longevity of people under homeopathic treatment that they charged a lower premium to people who were treated homeopathically.  It has been estimated that one in ten New Zealanders have tried or use some form of alternative/complementary medicine regularly.

Dr Fischer was also supported by other homeopathic physicians and pharmacists.  The Homeopathic Echo was published with the sponsorship of John Bell’s Homœopathic Pharmacy which was in Shortland Crescent.  Geo. T. Chapman, bookseller of Queen Street, also supported homoeopathy, stocking several homeopathic text books as well as homeopathic medicines and homeopathic chocolate! (This is a misnomer – the chocolate had medicinal herbs added, but was not homeopathic.)

The homeopathic community in 19th century New Zealand wielded a surprising degree of influence.  The most notable instance was their successful and sustained opposition to the medical registration system proposed in 1860.

The second example of homeopathy’s influence was the recognition of the validity of the homeopathic system of medicine in the Pharmacy Act in 1880.  This acknowledgement may have been due to the work of Mr J Pond.  Mr Pond also seems to have started the tradition of mail order homeopathic medicines.

The early decades of the 20th century saw New Zealand a decline in homeopathy (along with the rest of the world.)  With the advent of mass production methods, the social climate for an individualised system of medicine was no longer needed.  Pharmaceutical companies were able to produce large quantities of antibiotic and other medicines which could be dispensed quickly and easily on a one medicine for one disease basis without regard for individual patterns of illness.

Homeopathic practices also succumbed to this overwhelming trend.  The decline from the classical standards of last century allowed indiscriminate use of polypharmacy and pathological prescribing.

One man prevailed against this decline in standards, a lay practitioner named Alfred George Grove who can be rightly termed the father of homeopathy in New Zealand.  He generated enough interest in homeopathy to bring about the foundation of the New Zealand Homœopathic Society in February 1951.  The first meetings were held at Mr Grove’s premises at 193A Symonds Street, Auckland.  Mr Grove acted as president of the Society as well as chief librarian, Chief Consultant, lecturer and advisor.  He also imported homeopathic books from India, thus beginning the Society’s formidable collection of books.

The Society continued to grow slowly and quietly over the next two decades.  It was given its first constitution in 1957 (100 years after the founding of the Homœopathic Association) and became incorporated in 1962.  Its objects were twofold; to promote the use of homeopathy in NZ and to ensure the adequate supply of homeopathic doctors for this country.

Mr Ron Male, patron of the society, recalls that in the early 70’s Dr Chand “put homeopathy back on the map in New Zealand.”  In 1973 Mr Male and Mr Grove met with the Minister of Health to discuss the labelling of homeopathic medicines, which at the time were subject to the same labelling requirements as conventional prescription medicines.

An exemption was granted for potencies of 6x or 3c upwards, allowing non–prescription labelling.  Seminars in homeopathy were organized at the Auckland Building Society.  Dr Wesley Newport, a homeopathic physician, from Titiahi Bay, Wellington, featured on radio programmes promoting homeopathy.  His efforts inspired a new wave of interest in homeopathy.

In 1974 Alfred Grove died, leaving behind an enduring legacy in the homeopathic tradition of this country.  His contribution is acknowledged in the naming of the Society’s centre The Grove Memorial Centre.

After his death The Society floundered for a while but new leaders emerged and new life was breathed into the Society with a growth of membership.

The late Dr Lambert Mount, a homeopathic physician & Fellow of the Faculty of Homœopathy in Great Britain, emigrated to NZ and commenced a very successful practice in Auckland.  His dedication to the Society and drive sparked the next wave of interest in homeopathy.  His lecture series were available in Audio and in print.


 

Additions by Bev Brown and Alicia Lee 2017

Derek Briggs opened one of the first Homœopathic College in New Zealand in 1984 (Alisha Norry opened the very first.)  Derek had an “incurable skin disease” which was healed with the assistance Mr. Grove.  On the strength of this cure he became a great advocate of homeopathy.

He studied under Jayesh Shah and subsequently invited Jayesh to NZ to lecture wherewith he introduced New Zealanders to Rajan Sankaran’s teaching; Rajan was first developing his ideas and coming into prominence.  Derek went to India to study under him and later invited both Rajan and Divya to lecture at the college in 1994.  Derek and Rajan became, and remained, fast friends. Derek’s wife Pat began doing seminars in 1989 – Bill Gray was the very first speaker.  Roger Morrison came twice.  Amanda Zaren came, Rajan and Divya Chhabra also came along with many others.  These important seminars continued held for many years.

The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths was formed in 1999 it is an amalgamation of three former registers: the registers of the New Zealand Homoeopathic Society, the New Zealand Institute of Classical Homeopathy and the New Zealand Accreditation Board of Natural Therapies unifying all the practitioners, both physicians and trained professionals, under one banner.

Bruce Barwell was president of the Homœopathic Society from 1995 until 2007, and he was editor of the Society’s magazine for 11 years.  Bruce assisted in producing the emerging NZ Qualifications Authority.  He also made several submissions to parliament on the Medicines Act, and Health & Disabilities Commission.  Bruce passed away suddenly in May 2008.

The president’s role was taken on for a short time by Monty Firmin.  And today our current President is Den Illing who has been very involved with the Homeopathic Society for a number of years.

Den has made huge changes in the Society Centre by refurbishing, modernising and opening up the Library and lecture area, re-organising our book displays, updating computer software and creating a website for our members.

Our future looks promising with more talks and seminars to be given at the society, and more involvement with the Community.

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1 He claimed to have gained the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the Martin Luther University of Halle in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1848, and a degree from the University of Berlin but I am unable to confirm this – the university has no record of him attending. Alicia Lee, 2017


 

Additions by Rebecca Stirrup 2023

Den Illing was president from 2009 to 2019. Den refurbished the Society building in Mt Eden, reorganised the reference library and bookshop and created a new website with an online bookshop and members area. Den continued to enhance Homœopathica, the Society’s quarterly journal.

Rebecca Stirrup is the Society’s president, since 2020. Rebecca and her team have continued to enhance the building. Offices were refurnished in 2021 and a new kitchen installed last year. A new conference room was created and painted. Our online bookshop was moved to new premises at Naturo Pharm in Rotorua in October 2020 which has proved highly effective. Naturo Pharm post out all orders on the Society’s behalf. The Society’s reference library moved to Rotorua in October 2021 and is housed in a beautiful dry and secure room. The room is available for meetings and conferences as well as study and research.

Other innovations in recent years include a free downloadable Ebook on common illnesses which the public can use. Technology is important and we now have a successful social media presence as well as our online quarterly Ehomœopathica.

The premises at 320 Mt Eden road are currently rented to other organisations. This has provided a good income for the Society and means we are able to continue the work started many years ago by our forebears. Our role is to educate the public of New Zealand about homeopathy. We have a network of homeopaths who continue to inform the public through talks, education, and even a radio show. We also have research funding available.