Hobart's Homœopathic History - A Personal Tour

  • Abstract:
    Prior to a visit to Hobart in October 2014, I took several months to research and update my knowledge of Tasmania's homœopathic history, making many new discoveries in the process. (1) While in Hobart, I conducted a personal tour of various sites which had been used by Hobart's pioneer practitioners and chemists.

    One piece of information eluded me. Where were the Davey Street consulting rooms of Drs Atherton and Benjafield? Was it possible to discover their location, and had the building survived the demolitions of the 19th and 20th centuries?

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


The Hobart Homœopathic Hospital


Dr George Harry Gibson

Displayed in St John's Hospital, Hobart

(Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy)


Plaque in St John's Hospital, Hobart

(Photo courtesy Peter Torokfalvy)

Outside the Anglesea Barracks I took the Davey Street bus to St John's Hospital - originally the Hobart Homœopathic Hospital. The Homœopathic Hospital was established in 1899 with Dr Harry Benjafield as one of its founders, along with Dr George Harry Gibson. The tour of the hospital, kindly provided by Dr Philip Thomson, helped me to correct my understanding of the layout and orientation of the current hospital compared with the original photographs of the site. (The old photo had been taken from the Cascade Road, not from the car park as I had first thought.)


After Dr Gibson's death in 1924, in 1926 the Mayor of Hobart unveiled a tablet to the memory of  Dr Gibson and his work. (2) It was heart-warming to see that the plaque is still there, and in 1996 the Gibson Unit was opened by the Governor of Tasmania.


Gould's Homœopathic Pharmacy


Press for tincture preparation

(Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy)

Naturally, my tour included visits to Gould's Pharmacy - both the current site at 73 Liverpool Street, and the original site at the corner of Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets. Mr Roger McLennan kindly showed me around the Liverpool Street location, which was opened in 1914. There I saw the professional shingle for Dr Gibson who had provided consultations from the Pharmacy, as well as other memorabilia from the early days of the business.


The original site of The Homœopathic Pharmacy

cnr Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets, Hobart

(Photo courtesy of Peter Torokfalvy)


Most people (and some National and State Government websites) mistakenly record that Gould's Pharmacy was established by either Henry Thomas Gould or Frank Styant Browne. However, during my research I discovered that the original business in Elizabeth Street (at that time called 'The Homœopathic Pharmacy') was in fact established by Dr Harry Benjafield in January 1878, several years before the arrival in Tasmania of Gould or Browne. (3) Prior to their arrival, Dr Benjafield hired managers to run the pharmacy side of the business on his behalf. At the same time that the pharmacy opened, Dr Benjafield's consulting room was re-located from his home to the pharmacy. Because the pharmacy arose out of Dr Benjafield's pre-existing medical practice, and the medical practice of Dr Ebenezer Atherton before him, there was already a large client base. This is reflected in the existing prescription books for the first year of the pharmacy which are held by the State Library of Tasmania, showing over a thousand family names, and over three and a half thousand homœopathic prescriptions.


In 1884 the Elizabeth Street building underwent a major redesign and upgrade under the direction of Dr Benjafield. (4) A bust of Dr Hahnemann looked down on Hobart from a niche on the first floor, in the corner of the building. That niche is now covered over by a large board and signage.


Benjafield's Second Residence

'The Willows'

Part of the reason why Dr Benjafield created the pharmacy and new consulting rooms was that he had decided to move his home away from the city of Hobart to the suburbs. The new house was called 'The Willows' (subsequently called 'Mimosa') on New Town Road (now Elizabeth Street). In his memoirs, Dr Benjafield stated:


.... as the [previous] house was in the city, and I always hated cities, I after five years of residence here purchased a two acre block of land in the suburbs and built [a house]. (5)


Mid-way between the city and New Town, it is a two storey sandstone Victorian mansion. On the opposite side of the road he built two houses as quarters for his staff.


In addition to his desire to live away from the city, a larger house was also required because of Dr Benjafield's expanding family. Four children had been born at his previous residence. (One infant died of pneumonia in 1879, just prior to the move to the new house.) Six more children were born at The Willows.


According to newspaper reports at the time, the main house was designed with large, lofty rooms, to secure abundant fresh air throughout. One unusual feature was the way the upper and lower floors were separated.


On entering the main hall from the front door, one is struck by the absence of the staircase usually seen. At the end of the hall there are, however, glass doors, and on passing through them the staircase leading to the second floor rooms is reached. The advantage of this arrangement is at once apparent. When the glass doors at the end of the hall are closed, the ground floor rooms are entirely separated from the rest of the house. There may be illness or fever in the lower rooms, but the family can live in the upper ones, passing in and out of the building by the staircase without ever coming into contact with the poisoned air which may be in the ground floor apartments, and vice versa. (6)


The Willows was constructed to allow for a private hospital on the ground floor with the residence above. The layout and design was intended to help separate the two activities and to prevent the spread of illness.


Benjafield's First Residence

When Dr Benjafield arrived in Tasmania in April 1873 he took over the practice of Dr Ebenezer Atherton.


Dr Atherton had arrived in 1866 and was the first known qualified homœopath to practise full-time in Tasmania. Dr Atherton first advertised his location as 'Mrs Wilson's, 115 Macquarie Street, Hobart'.  (7) At 'Central House', 4 doors beyond Harrington Street, Mrs Wilson provided board and residence for gentlemen and families in 'superior accommodation'. Dr Atherton only stayed there a short time, as in March 1866 he moved to 82 Macquarie Street.  It was described as being a 'genteel private residence', part of Victoria Place (or VictoriaTerrace), five doors above Barrack Street.  (8) It was here that Mrs Atherton gave birth to their first two daughters. Dr Atherton continued to practise from that location until he moved to Davey Street in April 1868.  (9) It was this last residence which became Dr Benjafield's home and consulting rooms when Dr Atherton left Hobart in May 1873 and moved to New South Wales.


Dr Atherton's advertisement for the sale of the Davey Street residence is informative, as it not only lists the number of rooms, but details of their contents. The list even included the titles of the paintings on the walls. Key items for sale included 'superior household furniture, valuable pianoforte, magnificent harmonium, carriage horses, buggy, silver-plated buggy harness, patent chaff-cutter, milch cow, saddles and bridles'. The house contained a drawing room, dining room, hall, two bedrooms, dressing room, a nursery, study, kitchen, and a consulting room. (10) (Note that there is no mention of there being a bathroom, these being extremely rare in private homes during this period through to the 1890s. If a house had a bathroom, this warranted a special mention in advertisements.)


The location of the practice was somewhere in Davey Street, but where? At that time most newspaper advertisements did not contain a street number, and unlike other colonies, Tasmania did not produce regular post office directories. Even if a street number could be found, Hobart's street numbering system had been altered at least three times, so it would be very easy to identify the wrong house. What would be the house number in 2014? With so much demolition of Hobart's old buildings over time, did the residence still exist?


The Search

My starting point was Dr Benjafield's obituary of 1917 which stated that he had purchased the practice of Dr Atherton, and had resided in his house in Davey Street 'now occupied by Mrs Charles Walch'. (11) I then found that at that time the house was number 67 Davey Street. Later items gave the new street number as number 97.


I then checked other advertisements for Dr Atherton and found one which stated that Sydney homœopath, Dr Le Gay Brereton, was attending to Dr Atherton’s practice at 59 Davey Street. (12)


A search for all references to people residing at numbers 59, 67, then 97 Davey Street, provided a list of the occupants and the changes of street number. I had originally assumed that the Davey Street location would have been close into Hobart Town. However, one advertisement mentioned that the house was located opposite the Barracks, which are a bit further away from the centre of town. The real breakthrough came when I discovered that during the time that Charles Walch and his family occupied the building, the house was named 'Cananore' or 'Cannanore'. Charles Edward Walch was born at Cannanore, Kerala, India.


Walch and Sons


Walch's Corner circa 1905

(Image from The Biggest Family Album of Australia,

Museum Victoria)

The Walch family ran a stationery and bookselling business, trading as Walch and Sons. Charles joined the family business as a partner in 1854. From 1855 they advertised several new books related to homœopathy. They also advertised regularly in The Mercury newspaper as importers of homœopathic medicines for the public.


Walch & Sons were obviously very keen to promote homœopathy in Tasmania, as the monthly publication Notes on Homœopathy (printed from September 1870 to August 1871) stated that all communications were to be addressed to the Editor, care of Messrs Walch & Sons, Hobart Town. (13) Their business was on the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets on the side of the Elizabeth Street mall. This was often called 'Walch's Corner'.




Cannanore, 2015

(Photo courtesy of I. Kearsey)

Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, I came to an amazing realisation. When I was standing outside the Anglesea Barracks waiting for the Davey Street bus to travel to St John's Hospital, the old two-storey Victorian Regency residence across the road, which I had admired so much, was in fact the building I was searching for! It was the building


Cannanore, 2015

(Photo courtesy of I. Kearsey)

once used by Drs Atherton and Benjafield as their residence and consulting rooms. Originally built around 1848 for Hobart merchant William Watchorn, the residence passed through several hands before being owned by Atherton and Benjafield in the 1860s and 1870s, and by the Walch family from the 1880s. It is now part of the Senior School Campus of St Michael's Collegiate School and no longer has its own street number.


Hobart contains a wealth of sights (and sites) for those who love Australia's history and architecture. For today's generation of 'homœopathists' - practitioners and supporters of homœopathy - the above sites should be on your personal tour of places to visit. As a result of this latest research, you can now add the home and consulting rooms of Drs Atherton and Benjafield at Cannanore in Davey Street to your list.


1. Armstrong, Barbara. A Brief History of Homœopathy in Tasmania.

2. The Mercury. 24/9/1926

3. The Mercury. 28/1/1878

4. The Mercury. 4/9/1884

5. Benjafield, Dr Harry. The Tasmanian. Hobart, Tasmania. January 30, 1914.

6. The Mercury. 24/4/1879

7. The Mercury. 31/1/1866

8. The Mercury. 28/3/1866

9. The Mercury. 25/4/ 1868

10. The Mercury. 20/5/1873

11. The Mercury. 14/6/1917

12. The Mercury. 25/3/1872

13. Anonymous. Notes on Homœopathy. Hobart Town: The Mercury, Sept 1870 - August 1871.


©   Barbara Armstrong