(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…’