South Australia: History of Homœopathy - Part 2

  • Abstract:
    History of homœopathy in South Australia - Part 2. This article introduces the reader to the history of the free Homœopathic Dispensary in Adelaide: the social context and reasons for its establishment, some of the key founders and supporters, and its mode of operation. The possible reasons for its eventual demise are also discussed.

 (Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


The Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary


                      Dr Allan Campbell, c. 1880

                Reproduction courtesy of State Library

                        of South Australia.  SLSA: B 22103/93




On 8 May 1867 several key figures of Adelaide society met to discuss the establishment of a free homœopathic dispensary in Adelaide.9 The meeting was held at E.S. Wigg’s Homœopathic Pharmacy. By this time the pharmacy was at 34 King William Street (later re-numbered 38), north of the Beehive building, and just around the corner from his other shop in Rundle Street. This was the shop which Wigg had eventually established as a separate business to his bookseller and stationery activities.


About fifteen gentlemen attended the meeting, including the three people who had helped to introduce homœopathy to Adelaide: Thomas Magarey (by now Member of the Legislative Council of South Australia), E.S. Wigg, and Adelaide’s first homœopath, Samuel Kidner, listed as “Doctor” Kidner.7 (It should be noted that at that time there were ordinances to define the qualifications of a ‘legally qualified Medical Practitioner’ in South Australia, but there was no restriction on the use of the title ‘doctor’. 14) Kidner’s prior experiences as a member of the original planning committee for the Melbourne Homoeopathic Dispensary would have helped them in their deliberations.7


It was during this meeting that the rules and regulations of the dispensary were finalised and the Committee of Management was appointed for the following year. In addition, Wigg reported that he was willing to allow them the use of the rooms at his pharmacy at King William Street, the assistants, medicines, light, and everything required, for 100 pounds a year.9


The Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary opened on 14 May 1867.




 The formation of the Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary was the outcome of several factors which came together at that time:


  1. Continuous complaints about the insanitary conditions of Adelaide and resultant deaths.
  2. A world-wide movement of social and medical reform, and religious revival and religious philanthropy.
  3. The association of a group of people of like minds – people who had family, business and church connections, and who believed that it was their duty to ensure that something positive was done to improve the health and welfare of the poor in Adelaide.


Insanitary Adelaide

Within a short time of Adelaide’s formation, there were already complaints about the lack of sanitation in Adelaide and the resultant number of deaths, particularly among the poor.


“There are scores of large families that exist and transact all the mysteries of cooking, washing, sleeping, etc., in two small rooms - in these two aromatic rooms where sick and healthy, not forgetting pigs, goats and poultry, are squeezed together, and quarrelling in heat, rum and dirt, a large number of infants are brought crying into the world.


No wonder they weep, poor little things, but few remain long to enjoy life under such disadvantages - their little lights are soon put out like candles down foul wells - they soon find themselves in West Terrace Cemetery...”13


In 1867 it was stated that:


At present we are simply allowing dirt to accumulate, thus justifying the remark that the whole town is being built on a foot or two of dung.4


One of the usual treatment methods of the period was recorded in 1852:


The present extraordinary prevalence of sickness in Adelaide has almost entirely cleaned out the druggists of leeches. It is usual for the dispensers of "doctors' stuff" to lay in a stock of these exceedingly useful animals at this time of the year, but the recent floods of the Murray... has operated to prevent the customary provision being made.6


Reform movements


As a result of the effects of industrialisation, there were world-wide reform movements in the following areas:

  • social reform – in order to improve the conditions of the urban poor;
  • religious reform via worker-based revival movements – resulting in the formation of non-conformist groups such as the Primitive Christians and Wesleyan Methodists;
  • medical practice reform – attempting to reduce the barbarity and ineffectiveness of the prevalent allopathic treatment methods, and to improve public health.
                  Thomas Magarey, c. 1840

            Reproduction courtesy of State Library

                        of South Australia.  SLSA: B 56079

People of like minds


Homœopaths and supporters of homœopathy were often involved with the above reform movements, and in particular in fighting for medical and religious causes. And South Australia was a perfect ground in which to plant these seeds. According to political analyst, Dr Dean Jaensch:


South Australia was born on the idea that regardless of what people were, what their beliefs were, what their religion was, that they were welcome in South Australia, as long as they fulfilled the sort of ethos Wakefield [Edward Gibbon Wakefield] devised in his land settlement policy. So we were ‘A paradise of dissent’, a yeoman propriety and also I think a society in which it was the social aspects that were given some importance. 15


It is interesting to note the number of supporters of homœopathy who were also strong members of the “non-conformist” or “dissenting” churches. For example, some of the key figures in Adelaide were Baptists, Primitive Christians, Bible Christians (a small Methodist denomination), Wesleyan, or members of the Churches of Christ.


A number of the people were related by blood (brothers or sons), by marriage (brothers-in-law or sons-in-law), or via business interests (for example, people who also worked in printing, publishing, stationery or pharmacy businesses). Their supporters also included George Fife Angus, rich pastoralists, businessmen, members of parliament (Sir John Colton, CH Goode and T. Reynolds), a high court judge (Sir S.J. Way, whose sister was married to Dr Campbell, one of the homœopathic doctors), and several ministers of religion including the Archbishop of Adelaide.



                      Dr H. Wheeler, c. 1865

            Reproduction courtesy of State Library

                         of South Australia. SLSA: B 45153


By 1864 the use of homœopathy in Adelaide was so popular that, in a Letter to the Editor of the Adelaide Observer, a writer who was supportive of homœopathy reported the fact that even allopathic doctors were using homœopathic remedies to a large extent, “exhibiting thereby the prudence and liberality of the members of that liberal profession.” 8 In response to those who wanted to tighten legislation to prevent people who were not allopathically qualified from treating patients, the writer took a sly dig with the following comments:


But is it not sad to think that so many thousands of our fellow colonists should have become indoctrinated with homœopathy.




The evil should be remedied; but I fear that most of the members of the Legislature are converts or favourably inclined to that “medical heresy” …8


The groundwork for the acceptance of homœopathy in Adelaide had already been laid by Magarey, Wigg and Kidner. Samuel Kidner had commenced a highly successful practice in 1860. By 1862 there was also another homœopath in town, Dr Wheeler.


Dr Henry Wheeler had gained his medical qualifications in London in 1860/1861 and had been an Honorary Physician at the London Homœopathic Hospital. In 1862, when he applied to be registered with the South Australian Medical Board, his credentials were questioned because he practised homœopathy. However, he had “orthodox” qualifications in addition to his homœopathic knowledge, and so his registration was approved.12




Free public dispensaries, both allopathic and homœopathic, were designed as a part of the solution to the health needs of the poor. These organisations dispensed medicines and also provided medical treatment. In England they started to gain popularity in the 1840s and reached their peak in the late 1870s.


Dr Allan Campbell (1836-1898) arrived in Adelaide in January 1867, where he joined the practice of Dr Wheeler. Campbell had gained his medical qualifications in Edinburgh in 1864 and held the position of House Surgeon at the London Homœopathic Hospital. He would have been well aware of homœopathic dispensaries in England and the increasing number of these organisations which were being established there. Campbell’s arrival in Adelaide provided an additional driving force behind moving homœopathy to this next level of service and public awareness. His obituary reports:


 He began to help in the cause of the poor and the suffering as soon as he arrived in the colony, and he continued in that noble enterprise until he drew the last breath of life. 3


Doctors Campbell and Wheeler became the first Honorary Medical Officers for the Adelaide Dispensary, with Mr Wigg as dispenser.


                                                 The Beehive - Artist S.T. Gill

                        Corner King William and Rundle Streets, Adelaide,  c. 1849

                                                                   E.S. Wigg's shop at 4 Rundle Street

                                            is immediately to the right of Pearce the Tailor.                      

                                       Reproduction courtesy of State Library

                                                                    of South Australia, SLSA: B 60076




The aim of the Dispensary was “for the purpose of affording Advice and Medicine to those who are unable to pay for Medical attendance”.11


Like other dispensaries, the Adelaide Dispensary was run by a committee of local dignitaries, appointed annually. Funds were obtained via subscriptions from wealthy donors. However, the responsibility of the donors did not end there.


For their subscriptions the donors were given “subscribers’ cards” or tickets, and were expected to issue these tickets to those individuals or families whom they knew were in need of medical attention. The “Dispensary Regulations” included in the annual report stated that in order to be eligible for advice and medical treatment, applicants (that is, poor people who had been given tickets by their wealthy benefactor) had to present one of these tickets.


This appears to have been a form of medical patronage perhaps reminiscent of the type of personal care once provided by the lord of the manor to his local countrymen and women – a type of noblesse oblige where privilege entailed responsibility to those less fortunate.


Subscribers and donors of one guinea were entitled to three “Ordinary” and two “Home” tickets, or six Ordinary tickets. Subscribers of half a guinea were entitled to three Ordinary tickets.


The Ordinary ticket entitled a sick person to obtain advice and medicine by attending at the Dispensary for a period not exceeding two months. The Home ticket entitled a sick person to receive seven visits at home, and was intended for people who lived within the City of Adelaide, “and who, from the nature of their malady, are unable to attend at the Dispensary”. Home tickets had to be left at the Dispensary before 11 o’clock if the patient wanted to be visited the same day.


The first year of operation showed that this system worked reasonably well. “Through it the poor of Adelaide, in proportion to the general amount of destitution, have gladly availed themselves of the opportunity of obtaining advice under the Homœopathic system.” 11 Dr Campbell stated that they had made many visits to homes outside the intended circuit of Adelaide, which had caused extra work for the medical officers, but that this was to some extent unavoidable. However, it was noted that many more of the poor “were anxious to avail themselves of the benefits of the Institution, [but] were debarred in consequence of the difficulty experienced in obtaining Subscribers’ cards”.11


Subscribers were not necessarily aware of those individuals in their community who could benefit from treatment, and therefore had not passed on the tickets to those in need. Subscribers were asked not to hold on to the tickets, but to either leave them at the Dispensary or forward them to the Medical Officers who could then ensure that suitable applicants would not miss out on treatment.


                   The Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary to the left of the photo

               Operating from Wigg's Homœopathic Pharmacy in King William Street.
                                                     Reproduction courtesy of State Library

                                                          of South Australia, SLSA: B 61268

By 1871 the Committee of Management reported that the Dispensary continued to be favourably supported, although the number of applicants far exceeded the number of cards purchased by subscribers.


As the object is simply to relieve the sick and suffering, the Committee would commend the institution to the support of the benevolent public.1


They wanted to make it more generally known that single tickets could be purchased by anyone who might not be in a position to become a full subscriber, “but who may still be desirous of helping some poor family or sufferer.”


In 1872 they reported that


… the institution continues to be a means of great good to many poor people, many families making it the source of all the medical assistance they require.2


The system of issuing single tickets had worked well in one way. However, the Committee noted that unfortunately this change had also had the effect of diminishing the funds, “by leading some, who might otherwise subscribe, simply to purchase a ticket for the case then before them.”2




In the first year an annual report was produced and the annual general meeting was reported in the newspapers.10 The report stated that 62 patients were visited at their homes, representing 340 visits. There were 349 patients treated at the Dispensary, representing 1,653 prescriptions. The annual report provided an index which was a summary of the results of treatment of these 349 patients.


The conditions were classified according to the following categories:

  • Zymotic or contagious diseases
  • Sporadic or non-contagious diseases
  • Diseases from external causes


The “Sporadic or non-contagious diseases” category was further divided into diseases of each body system.


All the patients were then tallied according to outcome: cured (59%), much improved and improved (13%), no report (18%), died (2%), the remainder being still under treatment. The following year the results were fairly similar, but with a “cure”’ rate of 63% and a lower “no report” rate. There were also fewer deaths. The “no report” outcome was explained as being those who failed to call and let the medical officers know of their state. However, the Chairman stated: “They might … fairly estimate that of such cases 75 per cent were cured.”10


Adelaide’s insanitary conditions always made it susceptible to epidemics, and the Committee’s annual reports always made reference as to whether or not a particular epidemic had prevailed during the year.


By far the majority of diseases treated were those of the stomach, liver, etc (79 cases – 22.6%), followed by diseases of the skin, cellular tissue, etc (45 cases – 12.9%) and then diseases of the lungs and organs of respiration (41 cases). Dr Campbell reported that


the success of the treatment had been quite up to their expectations. They had many serious cases to deal with, and amongst them two which had been discharged from the Hospital as incurable. These persons were in a very bad state, and quite unfit for work, but in a short time they were cured and able to resume their labours. 10


Interestingly, Dr Wheeler commented that he believed that “this was the first time that anything like a statistical account of diseases in this colony had been put before the public.” He also stated that he “should like to see such a tabulated statement issued from the Hospital once a week or so”.10


The meeting expressed the desire that at some future time the Dispensary would merge into a large and important hospital. This was met with the acclamation: “Hear Hear”.



The Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary (by this time re-named as the Adelaide Homœopathic Medical Charity) was listed for the final time in the South Australian Directory of 1893. The reasons for its demise have not been documented; however several suggestions can be made.


Replacement by Hospitals


As mentioned above, in England dispensaries reached their peak in the late 1870s. After that time there was a gradual decline in the number of such institutions. Many dispensaries were transformed into hospitals, or were replaced by hospitals. Therefore there was a general decline in the number of dispensaries of all sorts, whether allopathic or homœopathic.


A similar pattern occurred in Australia. Some, like the Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary, were transformed into homœopathic hospitals, at least for a period, while others were eventually replaced by allopathic hospitals.


As stated above, one of the early desires of the Adelaide Dispensary’s Committee of Management was that one day the Dispensary would merge into a large and important hospital. In a way this was achieved because many of the same people who supported the Homœopathic Dispensary went on to establish the Adelaide Children’s Hospital which opened on August 6, 1879. The leading figure in that story was also Dr Allan Campbell. The Chief Justice, S.J. Way, who was also a supporter of the Dispensary, was appointed as first President of the Hospital. Three of the Hospital’s six doctors were homœopaths (Allan Campbell and his brother W.M. Campbell, and S.J. Magarey, son of Thomas).


There was some consternation about this fact from the bulk of the medical profession at the time. At the annual meeting of the subscribers to the Hospital, Way congratulated the Hospital


... as having accomplished the difficult task of making the allopathic lion lie down with the homœopathic lamb; and the remark was not without point, as a slight misunderstanding did at first prevail as to the nature of the treatment to be adopted in the institution. I merely wish to impress upon the  public mind that the circular issued by the Hospital authorities and published with the last report distinctly states that it is not the purpose of the committee to conduct the Hospital exclusively according to the system of any particular school of medicine, but simply with one object, and that the welfare and happiness of the inmates. 4


Way denied suggestions that the Hospital was to be dominated by one particular school of medicine (i.e. homœopathy), but that it aimed to embrace all forms of medicine. Therefore in the early days of the Hospital, many of the aims of the Dispensary were met by the treatment provided by the homœopaths at the Hospital, although it was not a “homœopathic hospital” per se.


Lack of Funds


While for many years the Dispensary ran at a profit, the subscriptions being greater than the disbursements, in later years it had difficulty in raising sufficient funds to be able to continue. The advent of many other good medical causes, such as the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, would have been competition for the same donations from the same supporters.


Other Factors


Eventually all such homœopathic institutions were disbanded or taken over by allopathic practitioners. In addition to the above, other factors included:

  • the lack of medical schools in Australia for people who wished to study medicine and become homœopathic doctors. Some sons of homœopathic supporters wished to become doctors. However, because they studied in Britain, or in Australia’s own medical schools based on the British model (Melbourne established in 1862, Sydney in 1883, and Adelaide in 1885), they were all trained according to the accepted “orthodox” practice of allopathic medicine;


  • the increased educational requirements for medical practitioners in Australia (based on the British model) and the rejection of American qualifications which were seen to have lower standards. (By this stage the source for qualified homœopaths was increasingly from America.)


  • official recognition by the British Medical Association (BMA) of branches in Australia during the late 19th century (1880 in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne). The BMA ran campaigns against “quackery” and patent medicines, and vigorously opposed homœopathy. With the increasing numbers of British-trained doctors, and Australian doctors trained via the British model, the BMA’s power base increased and there was a concerted effort to exclude homoeopaths from registration with the Medical Boards. Therefore, over time, it became virtually impossible for homœopaths to take up positions in any officially recognised settings such as hospitals.


As a result of the above, there were few, if any, practitioners available to take over the roles of the pioneer homœopaths as they grew older.


                                   Samuel Kidner's headstone

                               Adelaide's West Terrace Cemetery

                                             Photo courtesy of Alison Hicks



During the 1880s and 1890s, several medical incidents in South Australia again raised the issue of the lack of qualifications of some people who were treating patients. There was also increased effort on the part of the BMA to discredit all alternatives to their mode of treatment, and to brand all competitors “quacks”. Stronger registration standards and laws were put in place, which in turn affected homœopaths. Lists of “non-registered practitioners” were published and distributed.


By the 1890s, support for homœopathy was waning in Adelaide, and it became unfashionable and “politically incorrect” (to use a modern term) to be associated with homœopathy.


Most of the dispensary’s supporters and donors had held important positions in Adelaide society by the time they died; they had become part of “the establishment”. Their families wished to retain their status. It is interesting to note that the obituaries of even the most ardent supporters of the Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary deliberately excluded any mention of the person’s association with homœopathy or the institution they had created. This included the obituaries for Sir S.J. Way (who eventually became Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia), and Sir John Colton (who became Premier of South Australia).

                         Allan  Campbell's gravestone

       North Road Church of England Cemetery (Adelaide)

                                   Photo courtesy of Alison Hicks


Surprisingly and sadly, it included even Dr Allan Campbell. Campbell was recorded as working at “a” London hospital, not the London Homœopathic Hospital, and his long list of philanthropic achievements omitted any mention of the dispensary. This was despite the fact that the dispensary was probably his first project and achievement after his arrival in South Australia, where he devotedly provided his services for 27 years until its closure, just five years before his death.3


Through this deliberate re-telling of people’s lives and events, the Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary and the history of homœopathy in Adelaide eventually became almost lost to living memory.


It is my hope that this article has helped bring some of the facts to light once again.




Research Assistant: Alison Hicks – without whose assistance with “on the spot” research in Adelaide, this article could not have been written.





©   Barbara Armstrong


  • References:
    (1) Adelaide Observer. April 1, 1871.

    (2) Adelaide Observer. August 24, 1872.

    (3) Adelaide Observer. November 5 1898.

    (4) Adelaide Register. April 10 1867.

    (5) Adelaide Register. January 3, 1880

    (6) Adelaide Times, 9 December 1852.

    (7) Armstrong, Barbara. The Introduction of Homœopathy to Adelaide. Similia. 18:2, 2006.

    (8) “Caustic”. Letter to the Editor, Adelaide Observer August 6 1864.

    (9) The Express and Telegraph 8 May 1867

    (10) The Express & Telegraph, June 17, 1868.

    (11) The First Annual Report of the Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary for the Year Ending May 22, 1868. Adelaide: Andrews, Thomas & Clark, 1868.

    (12) Fraenkel, G.J. & Wilde, D.H. The Medical Board of South Australia 1844-1994. Adelaide: Medical Board of South Australia, 1994.

    (13) Manning, Geoffrey. A Colonial Experience.

    (14) Ordinance No. 17 – 1844; Ordinance No. 1 – 1846. Ordinances enacted by the Governor of South Australia, with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof.

    (15) South Australia, Federation and the Twentieth Century. Episode One: Utopia and the Great Southern Land.