New lease of life
Later this year, people will have the opportunity to look at rare, homeopathic artefacts simply by visiting a website. It’s all thanks to a new online museum which will exhibit pieces from the Hahnemann House Trust Collection and includes items that once belonged to homeopathy’s founder Samuel Hahnemann, along with other pieces from the 19th century.
Most of the collection was donated by the sons of Peter Stuart, a lay homeopath who studied with Dr John Epps, one of the earliest followers of Hahnemann in this country. Peter bought a number of Hahnemann’s belongings, including furniture, jewellery and art, when they came up for sale in 1878, following the death of his widow Melanie.
The treasures were inherited by Mazzini and Orsini Stuart when their father died a decade later and, in his memory, they bought No 2 Powis Place, London–known as Hahnemann House–to exhibit them.
Following an agreement between the British Homeopathic Association (BHA) and the Hahnemann House Trust, the running and maintenance of the Trust’s deed became the responsibility of the BHA’s trustees, and the collection was later moved to the BHA’s former offices in Luton. The Hahnemann House Trust remains a charity in its own right.
Over the years the collection has been added to by people leaving items in their wills, or bought thanks to donations given to the Hahnemann House Trust. Today it ranges from Hahnemann’s mahogany bed, to paintings, photographs and jewellery. Many items are a reflection of the time during which Hahnemann lived; for instance, a thesis, written in Latin, for which Dr Frederick Foster Hervey Quin–founder of the London Homeopathic Hospital–received his doctorate in medicine. The collection even includes a drawing of Hahnemann’s death mask–a cast made of his face when he died–as well as a jewellery chain made from what is believed to be Hahnemann’s own hair. Although these customs are considered morbid by modern standards, they were very popular in Victorian times.
“You can’t put a value on the collection from the point of view of the history of homeopathy,” says Enid Segall, former BHA Secretary General and Archivist, who now sits on the committee responsible for exhibiting the items. “They’re precious reminders of the time and all that happened. We have a photograph of Hahnemann from when photography had just started. Before then, if anyone wanted a memento of him, it would have been a lock of hair.”
The collection also features items formerly owned by other figures from homeopathy’s past, including a centesimal fluxion machine for making high potency remedies from 1878, developed by skeptic-turned-Hahnemann devotee Dr Thomas Skinner. Another exhibit is an early sphygmograph–the precursor to the modern blood pressure monitor. This instrument produces a line recording the strength and rate of a person’s pulse, and was invented in 1882 by homeopathic doctor and translator of Hahnemann’s writings, Dr Robert Dudgeon.
While the long-term plan is to create a museum people can visit in person, Enid says this is a step in the right direction. “I’m delighted about the online museum because it means anybody, anywhere can have a look. It’s wonderful that we can share these historically important items.”