Homeopathy Papers

The Trip to Iceland to Obtain Hekla Lava – 1868

Last modified on August 11th, 2018

Sue Young
Written by Sue Young

Nowadays you order remedies by phone or internet. But in August 1868 when homeopath Garth Wilkinson needed Hekla Lava, he travelled by sea from London to Iceland, a voyage fraught with danger and sickness.

(This letter and photo courtesy of Sue Young http://sueyounghistories.com/)

Dr. James John Garth Wilkinson (1812 – 1899) was a British orthodox doctor, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society who converted to homeopathy, graduated from Hahnemann College in Philadelphia, and became a surgeon at the Hahnemann Hospital.

Luckily, we do have Garth Wilkinson’s travel journal1 from this trip to Iceland, which began on 7th August 1868 when Garth Wilkinson left London to begin his holiday from the Great Northern train station at King’s Cross, heading for Edinburgh, to board the ship Arcturus under Captain Friedikssen, outbound for Iceland. Garth Wilkinson tells us this story in his own words (how marvelous it is to hear him speak at last), and he names his traveling companions as John Richard Dennett (1837-1874)2, Frank Mathews3, and Jon Andresson Hjaltalin (1840-1908)4. On board the Arcturus, they met another friend, a Mr. Siemsen5.

On the outboard journey, Captain Friedikssen was warned of an encroaching storm by the new fangled telegraph, and Garth Wilkinson, who proves in this delightful journal that he is a marvelous travel correspondent himself, described his sighting of whales, and also of the whalers and whale carcasses he saw throughout his trip. He described a fellow passenger who was a falconer by trade, who boasted that he could catch every falcon within two miles of himself. He told Garth Wilkinson the story of the historic trade in the supply of falcons from Iceland for the Danish kings.

The group arrived in Reykyavik on 15th August 1868, and they stayed with Mrs. Hjaltalin and her mother. They met Sira P’alsson6 who conducted the services in Danish, and they visited the widow Thornslensson and Mrs. and Miss Gudmanson, the wife and daughter of the editor of Giddolfe7. On 16th August 1868, Garth Wilkinson saw some patients, including a man with ‘… a bad leg from caries of the tibia, for which I gave lycopodium 308 and cod and oil for 6 months. He asks my fee – I tell him my fee is that he shall get a toothbrush, and clean his teeth…’ Garth Wilkinson saw his patients again on 18th August 1868 for a follow up ‘… The people last mentioned came to me at breakfast time for medical reasons. It does me good to touch one’s work, one’s earth of power, during holiday…’

Later that day, Garth Wilkinson visited Dr. Hjaltalin, the Medical Inspector of Iceland, who lived out of town ‘… the same out of the way eyrie…’ overlooking the bay of islands where Garth Wilkinson also visited Mr. Vigfussen the goldsmith ‘… his room reminds me of the old alchemists…’ Garth Wilkinson also met Jon A’mason9, the collector and editor of Piodsogun10 (popular legends of Iceland), and visited the Icelandic Library to whom a Mr. Kelsall11‘… an Englishman…’ left £1000 ‘… he had never been to Iceland, and no one knows what moved him to leave the money thus…other Englishmen have done other services here. One has stocked the hospital with iron beds, blankets and mattresses…’

Garth Wilkinson also called on the wife of the Governor of Iceland, a Mrs. Sinsen12, and they talked in Danish as it was easier than Icelandic for Garth Wilkinson. Later that evening, Garth Wilkinson had dinner with Mr. Thorsteinson13, the Bvefoged or Sheriff of Reykyavik, who spoke English, and Garth Wilkinson ‘… fell in with…’ Mr. Sysselman Jenssun14‘… and we talk as best we can: a hard, humerous and thin man… I gave him a lecture on homeopathy…’ Garth Wilkinson also met Bishop Giehinsson15, and they spoke French together. Garth Wilkinson thus confirms for us that he is fluent in French and Danish but he is not yet proficient in Icelandic.

On 19th August, Garth Wilkinson met Armes Amason16 to see the mineral specimens at the College, and this must be where he obtained his specimens of Hekla lava17, for which he is so homeopathically famous.

The journey home was traumatic. Garth Wilkinson boarded the Arcturus again on 24th August 1868 ‘… so to bed in my clothes – it is so hard to dress and undress…’ He recorded that he has ‘… influenza again…’:

‘… Today I was a good deal on deck, and an influenza which has been slily [sic] growing on me, suddenly about 3 o’clock struck with a shivering fit, and all the usual symptoms of heavy spinal pains. I knew I was in for it. Yet I dined and took brandy and water to warm me. In vain. I had to go to bed and found myself in a very pretty fever in the afternoon. We anchored in Thorshaven about 6pm and stayed there all night. Fever, from previous experience, is my terror. But now I know I had 4 or 5 days and nights of it to pass through, in a cabin with 20 people, in a berth like a coffin, all included in poor Arcuturs in heavy gales of wind. I was afraid of delirium and of the Captain putting me ashore in Thorshaven. But prayer and patients, which can traverse every sea, came; and I got homeopathy to work, in a soda water bottle. Being in harbour, the sea was still and the night only broken by the voices of Faroe boatmen coming alongside, and by loading and unloading freight. Through a long night, it went away… ‘

On 26th August 1868, Garth Wilkinson picked up his pen again to record in his journal:

‘… My old acquaintance William Benjamin Carpenter18 has just left the bay in an English steamer… I am still in fever… Today was diversified by medical consultations… now that I have cured Mrs. Hjaltalin (with nux vomica19 and subsequently ipecac20) of a violent sea sickness…’

Garth Wilkinson also treated a Mr. Ritchie for seasickness with his:

‘… soda water bottle of ipecac no 3 duly prescribed. The sickness stopt [sic] instantly, and a violent gullet pain was removed afterwards by nux. When the storm again struck us the sickness returned in a very modified degree, and I head Ritchie admitting that his wife was ‘wonderfully better’ yet the means of cure were evidently sad to him; he avoided my eye, and myself afterwards: never thanked me; and left Arcturus at Peterhead without bidding me goodbye! The wicked said he was afraid of possible fees… The doctor from Akreyic (Dr. Elvard Jonsson21), a very fine young man 6 feet 2 inches, witnessed my cures, and we talk about them. He thinks homeopathy unintelligible, and that we have no right to cure until you can understand how you do it. I rather hold, cure as you can and then, after repeated cases have assured you that they are cured, not coincidences, you have some solid therapeutic means to investigate. I think Dr. Jonsson will one day be a homeopath. Homeopathy flourishes through a priest22 in and about Akreyic. Dr. Jonsson has had one sixth of Iceland for his medical cures: an impossible extent of casualty and sickness. What a blessing would homeopathy be for the space inaccessible houses of such a county as Iceland. Considering that any well instructed earnest woman with homeopathy is in the main more efficient than the greatest physicians without it, what a providential future there is for outlying places…’

On 27th August 1868, Garth Wilkinson wrote:

‘… my fever began to break under the influence of arsenicum23 and belladonna24… steadied my head and prevented a good deal of vision connected with all the things, coat, trousers, braces hung on nails in our cabin, and grotesquely maintaining their perpendicular in free space… worried me especially the fullness of undress which animated all their silly movement; but the belladonna curtailed these fancies… At 8pm the storm heightened, and the seas were handsome – sharper – and again the Captain ‘laid in’, unable to face the weather. That was our night of the hurricane: but I felt a little less fevered, and no fear of the night in such a game boat as Arcturus disturbed me…’

On 29th August, the Arcturus landed at 4.30am in Peterhead to disembark Mr. Ritchie and his wife, and to toss two dead ponies overboard (all 12 ponies on board were dead by the time the Arcturus arrived in Edinburgh). By 9.30pm they were safely back in Edinburgh and booked into Grieves Royal British Hotel. John Richard Dennett left shortly thereafter, but Garth Wilkinson stayed until the Monday, and then travelled back to St. John’s Wood, very glad to be home. On 31st August 1868, Garth Wilkinson is well enough to add to his journal:

‘… Ladies ought not to go to Iceland, unless in a cumander25, which would make the voyage, stormy or not, tolerable, and chiefly delightful. In Arcturus, the room is insufficient, the bunk too small for the seas, and the dish unfit for English folk, unless robust…’ Garth Wilkinson loved the scenery, which he found much better than the Alps, though he believed that Iceland is ‘… a Nation dying of conservatism; a Nation which having always carried its loads on its back refuses to the death the innovation of the wheelbarrow…’

On 6th December 1869, Garth Wilkinson wrote to his friend William Henry Holcombe (1825-1893)26 in New Orleans:

‘… My Dear Friend… I promised you some Hekla Lava. Here it is; in the pure powder, and in the 30th globules, from which a 31st can be made if thought worthwhile. Its known pathological effects on the sheep in the vicinity of Hekla lava, are immense exostoses of the jaws. It also produces drying up of the milk in both sheep and cows. The finer ash, which fell on the pastures in distant localities, was particularly deleterious, while the gross ash near the mountain was inert. In cows, post mortem examination showed intestines filled with ashes, hardened to a mass, and stomach coated over with a pitch black membrane, spotted with brown, and difficult to remove by washing. The jaw teeth were covered with a shining metallic crust. Several young horses died from lumps on the jaw bones so large as to cause dislocation. The sheep, when butchered, were found of a bluish hue internally, and the intestines were friable. In many cases, worms from two to three inches long, with pale gray bodies and brown heads, and a little thicker than a horse hair, were found in the bronchiae. In sheep, the osseous and dental systems were much affected. The head bones, and especially the jaw bones, swelled and became so friable that when boiled they fell to pieces. The thighs, and particularly the shin bones, swelled and bulged. The jaws were sometimes covered with large swellings, which spread and were of loose texture, and darker in colour than the bone. These could be separated from the bone without injuring it, but in some fatal cases a hole in the bone going down to the marrow was discovered under the swelling. These particulars are from a Danish account of the eruptions of Hekla, and their consequences to general nature, and to man, beast and vegetable. Hekla Lava, according to Professor Morris of University College, London, has for general constituents combination of silica, alumina, lime and magnesia, with some oxide of iron. Sometimes it contains anorthile and other minerals. In this imperfect pathogeny we have undoubtedly symptoms pointing to diseases of teeth and bone. I have used the lava in toothache and swellings about the jaws, with magical effect in several cases; also in gum abscess from decayed teeth, and with apparently good results in difficult teething. Let me commend to you the cyanide of potassium, third trituration and upwards, for vomiting in fevers, Lately I had a case of hydrocephalus in a chid with vomiting which nothing could arrest. I gave cyan pot 3rd trituration, and cured both hydrocephalus and vomiting…’

Footnotes:

1 Swedenborg Archive James John Garth Wilkinson’s Travel Journal to Iceland 7th August 1868 to 29th August 1868, transcribed in Emma Wilkinson’s handwriting, proceeded by a translation of a poem by Garth Wilkinson in his own handwriting.

2Anon, The New York Times, Obituary of John Richard Dennett, 29th December 1874. See also John Richard Dennett, The Nation, Knickerbocker Literature, Volume V, (December 5, 1867). Pages 459-461. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knickerbocker_Group John Richard Dennett (1837-1874)was an American literary critic who was on the editorial board of the journal The Nation, and also assistant Professor of Rhetoric to Professor Child at Harvard. Tragically, he died aged 37 of consumption, a disease that had already killed all of his family. Born in New Brunswick, raised in Woburn Massachusetts, he was educated at Harvard. Dennett lived in South Carolina during the American Civil War, and worked for The Nation as a travel correspondent, a literary critic, with occasional articles on political and social subjects. It is possible his trip to Iceland was related to his role as travel correspondent for The Nation. Dennett commented on the Knickerbocker Group of writers in America ‘… it is true to say that the Knickerbocker school was composed of authors whom we all remember as forgotten‘ ‘… The Knickerbocker Group was a collection of… American pioneers in the literary fields of general literature, novels, and poetry and journalism, respectively. Other talented poets, playwrights, writers, novelists, journalists, and editors joined this writer’s club, dubbed the ‘Knickerbocker Group’…’

3Garth Wilkinson’s son in law.

4Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1911, reprinted by General Books www.general-books.net). Page 44. See also Anon, The Intellectual repository for the New Church. (July/Sept. 1817). [Continued as] The Intellectual repository and New Jerusalem magazine. Enlarged ser.. [sic}, (New Church gen. confer, Intellectual repository and new Jerusalem magazine (1871). Page 538-539. See also Richard Francis Burton,Ultima Thule: or, A summer in Iceland, Volume 1, (W.P. Nimmo, 1875). Many pages. See also http://shetlopedia.com/Gilbert_Goudie. See also See also Jon Andresson Hjaltalin (1840-1908). NB: Clement John records this name as Ion a Hyaltalin. Jon Andresson Hjaltalin was an Icelandic scholar who lived for sometime at 8 Victoria Gardens, Ladbroke Road, Nottinghill, who wrote to Garth Wilkinson on 6th September 1871 from that address to arrange the distribution of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg in Iceland for Garth Wilkinson and the Swedenborg Society. Jon Andresson Hjaltalin also collaborated with Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) in the writing of the introduction of Ultima Thule, or a summer in Iceland in 1875 ‘…When preparing my manuscript for the press, I found that the notes showed various lacunae and want of details resulting from lack of time: Mr Jon A. Hjaltalin of the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, whose name is sufficient recommendation, consented to become my collaborateur in working up the Introduction… ‘ Jon Andresson Hjaltalin also collaborated with Antiquary Gilbert Goudie (1843-1918) to write the Orkneyinga Saga in 1873. Gilbert Goudie was ‘… A native of Clumlie in Dunrossness, Goudie went to Edinburgh when he was ten, and became a banker and the foremost expert of his day on Shetland’s history and prehistory…’

5 I am unable to identify this man.

6 This could be Sira or Lisa Palsvon? Obviously this was a Reverend gentleman.

7 I was unable to discover anything about this publication or about these people.

8 Lycopodium is a homeopathic remedy made from club moss Lycopodium clavatum. It is prescribed on a totality of symptoms, including mental and emotional states. It has an affinity for weakness of digestion, relapsing and deep seated conditions and for the inflammation of bones. 30 relates to the dilution = 30c = 1 drop of the remedy (club moss macerated in pharmaceutical alcohol) in 100 drops of alcohol x 30 times.

9 I have not been able to identify this man.

10 I was unable to discover anything about this publication either!

11http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/10/11/henry-kelsall-1802-1875/ I believe this to be Henry Kelsall (1802-1875) LSA 1822 MD Glasgow 1842 FRCS Hon 1844 who was on the Staff and Medical Council of the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square, a graduate of the Apothecaries Hall in 1820, and of the College of Surgeons, Surgeon in the Royal Navy 1827, Medical Officer to the Exeter Homeopathic Dispensary and the Leicester Homeopathic Dispensary, member of the English Homeopathic Association, member of the Hahnemann Medical Society, Physician to the Hahnemann Medical Institution and Dispensary, and Physician to the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square. Henry Kelsall was a colleague of John Epps, and it is entirely possible that Garth Wilkinson knew him as well.

12 I hope I have read this name correctly! Handwritten Victorian copper plate script is usually very clear, especially Garth Wilkinson’s exemplary handwriting!

13http://wdvalgardsonkaffihus.com/blog/2012/01/16/the-dinner-party-trollope-reykjavik-1878/ A Sketch by Jemima Wedderburn Blackburn (1823–1909), The Dinner Party, Trollope, Reykjavik, 1878 (quotes from How the “Mastiffs” went to Iceland (1878). See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jemima_Blackburn Jemima Wedderburn Blackburn (1823–1909)‘… was a Scottish painter whose work gives us an evocative picture of rural life in 19th-century Scotland. One of the most popular illustrators in Victorian Britain, she illustrated 27 books…’Jemima Wedderburn Blackburnalso described Mr. A Thorsteinson, who she named as the Treasurer of Iceland.

14 I have not been able to identify this man.

15http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustaf_Johansson_(bishop) Bishop Giehinsson ?google seems to think this may possibly have been Gustaf Johansson (1844-1930)‘… the Archbishop of Turku, and the spiritual head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland between 1899 and 1930…’ but he could not have been a Bishop aged only 24! A relative perhaps?

16 I have not been able to identify this man.

17 Hekla Lava is the actual mineralized lava erupted from Mount Hekla. Garth Wilkinson made this up into a homeopathic remedy and investigated its medicinal use – or as homeopaths would term this – conducted a proving.

18 http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/08/20/william-benjamin-carpenter-and-homeopathy/ See also Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Slater (Ed.), The Conduct of Life, (Harvard University Press, 2003). Page 181.See also William Benjamin Carpenter, Temperance and teetotalism: an inquiry into the effects of alcoholic drinks on the human system in health and disease, (Scottish Temperance League, 1849). Frontspiece page 1. William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885) who was an English physiologist and naturalist, and Examiner in Physiology at the University of London and Lecturer on Physiology at the London Hospital. Was he a teacher of Garth Wilkinson’s? William Benjamin Carpenter and Ralph Waldo Emerson became friends in London in 1848.

About the author

Sue Young

Sue Young

Sue Young obtained a degree in psychology from City University London and subsequently studied homoepathy at CPH and also trained with Robert Davidson. She has been a practicing homeopath for over 20 years and says she owes her life and health to homeopathy. Sue also studied history and archaeology at Birbeck College, which fueled her deep interest in the past. These days she spends much of her time researching and writing fascinating biographies of homeopaths throughout history. You can see the fruits of her labor here : http://sueyounghistories.com/

1 Comment

  • What a great article! A fascinating account of a trip to Iceland in the nineteenth century and of the origins of Heckla lava. The Icelandic ashcloud of 2010 echoed a previous eruption in 1821-23, at a time when Friedrich Hahnemann was living in Dublin, Ireland. Homeopathic happenstance!

    Rhóda Uí Chonaire, Dublin, Ireland

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