Mortiquaria Medicus – A Healers Ambulation

Commentators of that day and this, chart the ascendance of Brighton from a humble fishing village into the blessing and curse it has since become, from the time that Dr Russell set up his practice and commenced treatment of all manner of ills through the application and prescription of seawater in various forms. Although the good doctor – through his treatise published in 1749 De Tabe Glandulari  – attempted to draw a line from Hippocrates to support his theory and practice, much of the success of his methods may be ascribed to the healthful benefit of the simple act of bathing, a habit by no means universally undertaken amongst the better classes at this time.

Dr Russell was the first, but certainly not the last, to profit from the atmosphere of tollerance and experimentation rife in this town, and its association with healthful pursuits. Contemporary practitioners would doubtless urge the benefit of a short stroll in the open air, and this (dear reader) is the offering of this page: a brief perambulation of this place of the dead to consider the memory of those who felt the call of the healer in one form or other. (Please to follow the links throughout and be pointed to greater information concerning individuals listed)

Our brief sojourn commences at Whykham Terrace, a fine example of regency gothic architecture attributed to AH Wilds and which was at one time occupied (simultaneously) by nuns, ex prostitutes and cavalry officers. In these times home to more sedate residents, it forms the southern entrance to the ancient ground.

At the top of the path at the far side of the low wall to the left stand two large box tombs. The southernmost marks the final resting place of Mr John Weiss, a maker of surgical and medical equipment. Having a dread fear of being buried alive, Weiss fashioned an instrument designed to pierce his heart as his coffin was closed. Instruction and direction for its use were contained within his will.

Continuing up the path directly toward the edifice, bear to the left at the church door and follow the path toward the Dyke Road/Church Street entrance. Midway along this and to the left of the path, note the remains of a cross upon a stepped pedestal which has been placed to the memory of George Hilbers MD. Hilbers was a pioneering homeopath who set up at Brighton around 1850. In 1847 he made a kind of history by being the first homeopathic practitioner to seek appointment at a public hospital; also the first such seeker to be rejected.

Continuing up the path to the exit, the visitor may divert into the Rest Garden which is entered through the arched gate on the oposite side of Dyke Road. Upon entering, eyes will light upon the raised vaults – another AH Wilds commision. The third vault – as can just be divined from its crumbling plaque – forms the family resting place of Sir Matthew Tierney, who rose from poor beginnings as the son of a farmer from Co. Limmerick with a ‘hedge school’ education, to being appointed Royal Physician to serve both George IV and William IV

For the purpose of this adventure it is time to leave the Rest Garden, although those wishing to discover more may profit from undertaking the Rest Garden Grand Tour at some future date. To explore further our healing tradition, re-cross the road and continue down Church Street with the church at your right. Looking over the wall you will see a lawned area enclosed by wire fencing. At the far end of this some monuments cluster around the church building wall and amongst these you should be able to identify from its clear inscription the monument to one Sake Dean Mahomet. He became distinguished variously by becoming the first Indian native to write and publish a book in English, the proprietor of the first Indian restuarant in London and by becoming appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon to the King’ following his success at popularising Indian herbal remedies and vapour baths for their medicinal qualities.

Continueing along Church Street, re-enter the churchyard through the entrance just beyond Mahomet. Carry on along the path until you reach a bench. The fenced monument adjacent to it remembers Martha Gunn ‘a distinguished bather of this town’. As well as her well documented role as ‘Queen of the Dippers’, lowering  maidens into the sea for  therapuetic benefit, Madam Gunn was also something of a herbalist, and her cookbook contains remedies and phrases which will not be unfamiliar to contemporary practitioners of that discipline.

Here concludes this brief – but we sincerely hope – diverting programme.