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The Surprising Story of Charles Darwin and His Homeopathic Doctor

Irrespective of whether you believe in a creator God, intelligent design, or the theory of evolution, you will be fascinated to read how Darwin may not have survived to make his journey to the Galapagos Islands without the intervention of his homeopathic doctor, James Gully.

Dana Ullman explains why:

“During Darwin’s trip to South America in the mid-1830s, he became very ill. Although different historians and physicians have hypothesized on what ailment he had, there is no consensus, except to say that he was seriously ill. Ever since 1837, he suffered from persistent nausea and vomiting, heart palpitations, widespread boils, and trembling, and since 1847, he had fainting spells and spots before his eyes…and his symptoms were getting increasingly worse.

Although Charles Darwin was only 39 years old in November, 1848, he was so ill that he couldn’t attend his own father’s funeral. In March, 1849, Darwin himself acknowledged that he was unable to work one day in every three, and further, he felt that he was dying. He said this specifically,

“I was not able to do anything one day out of three, & was altogether too dispirited to write to you or to do anything but what I was compelled. I thought I was rapidly going the way of all flesh.”

When you consider that Charles Darwin was this sick in 1849 and that he published his seminal book, The Origin of Species, 10 years later in 1859, one cannot help but wonder if he would have even survived that long or if he would have been as productive as a scientist or as an author if he didn’t see Dr. James Manby Gully in March, 1849.

On the advice from one of his cousins as well as from a fellow shipmate from the Beagle, Charles Darwin brought himself and his family to the clinic and “water-cure” spa of Dr. James Manby Gully. They arrived on March 10, 1849.

Although Darwin knows that Dr. Gully is a homeopathic physician and even though Darwin is very skeptical of homeopathy, he wrote on March 19, 1849:

“I grieve to say that Dr Gully gives me homeopathic medicines three times a day, which I take obediently without an atom of faith.”

Despite Darwin’s skepticism about homeopathy, he experienced the power of these medicines.

After just eight days of his arrival, Darwin experienced a skin eruption all over his legs. It is interesting and important to note that patients who receive homeopathic treatment do not always get better immediately. In fact, in around 20-30% of patients with chronic symptoms, patients experience a “healing crisis,” usually an externalization of symptoms to the skin or an excerbation of old symptoms that were previously suppressed with conventional drugging.

The fact that Darwin was skeptical of Gully’s treatment and that Darwin experienced this initial worsening of symptoms suggests that Darwin’s reaction was clearly not a placebo effect. Some skeptics assert that Gully’s “water-cure” treatment may have provided the therapeutic result, not homeopathy, though Darwin acknowledged on March 24, 1849, that Dr. Gully had not even begun the sweating process of his treatment, one of the important parts of water-cure treatment. Actually, it was just 2 weeks after arriving that Darwin wrote “I much like and think highly of Dr. Gully” and more.

On March 28, 1849, he had not have any vomiting for 10 days (a rare experience for him):

By April 19, 1849, Darwin wrote,

“I now increase in weight, have escaped sickness for 30 days, which is thrice as long an interval, as I have had for last year; & yesterday in 4 walks I managed seven miles! I am turning into a mere walking and eating machine.”

On May 6, 1849, Darwin writes:

“Dr. G., moreover, (and I hear he rarely speaks confidently) tells me he has little doubt but that he can cure me, in the course of time, time however it will take.”

Gully, like many homeopaths and hydrotherapists, do not tend of over-state their confidence. Although Gully seemed to be confident with Darwin, Darwin asserts that Gully rarely expresses confidence, suggesting that Gully didn’t use “confidence” as a strategy to elicit placebo responses.”

Darwin’s Plant Experiments with Homeopathic Doses
After being returned to full heatlh by homeopathy, Darwin was so intrigued with this new system of medicine that he went on to do a few experiments himself.

Dana writes:

“It is also fascinating to note that Darwin himself conducted several experiments evaluating the effects of extremely small doses on an insect-eating plant (Drosera rotundifolia, commonly called sundew), a plant that also happens to be a commonly used homeopathic medicine. He found that solutions of certain salts of ammonia stimulated the glands of the plant’s tentacles and caused the plant to turn inward. He made this solution more and more dilute, but the plant still was able to detect the presence of the salt. On July 7, 1874, he wrote to a well-known physiologist, Professor F. C. Donders of Utrecht, Netherlands, that he observed that 1/4,000,000 of a grain had a demonstrable effect upon the Drosera and “the 1/20,000,000th of a grain of the crystallised salt does the same. Now, I am quite unhappy at the thought of having to publish such a statement.” (Darwin, 1903, 498).

“Astonished by his observation, Darwin likened this exceedingly small dose to a dog that perceives the odor of an animal a quarter of a mile distant. He said: “Yet these particles must be infinitely smaller than the one twenty millionth of a grain of phosphate of ammonia” (Darwin, 1875, 173). Darwin said about this spectacular phenomenon:

“The reader will best realize this degree of dilution by remembering that 5,000 ounces would more than fill a thirty-one gallon cask [barrel]; and that to this large body of water one grain of the salt was added; only half a drachm, or thirty minims, of the solution being poured over a leaf. Yet this amount sufficed to cause the inflection of almost every tentacle, and often the blade of the leaf. … My results were for a long time incredible, even to myself, and I anxiously sought for every source of error. … The observations were repeated during several years. Two of my sons, who were as incredulous as myself, compared several lots of leaves simultaneously immersed in the weaker solutions and in water, and declared that there could be no doubt about the difference in their appearance. … In fact every time that we perceive an odor, we have evidence that infinitely smaller particles act on our nerves.” (Darwin, 1875, 170)

“In Darwin’s book on his experiments with Drosera, he expressed complete amazement at the hypersensitivity of a plant to extremely small doses of certain chemicals: “Moreover, this extreme sensitiveness, exceeding that of the most delicate part of the human body, as well as the power of transmitting various impulses from one part of the leaf to another, have been acquired without the intervention of any nervous system” (Darwin, 1875, 272).

“Yet, Darwin also discovered that Drosera is not sensitive to every substance. He tested various alkaloids and other substances that act powerfully on humans and animals who have a nervous system but produced no effect on Drosera. He concluded that the “power of transmitting an influence to other parts of the leaf, causing movement, or modified secretion, or aggregation, does not depend on the presence of a diffused element, allied to nerve-tissue” (Darwin, 1875, 274).

“Darwin confirmed an important homeopathic observation that living systems are hypersensitive to only certain substances. Sadly and strangely, conventional scientists have attacked homeopaths for using extremely small doses of substances without any appreciation for the homeopaths’ credo that living systems—whether human, animal, or plant—will be hypersensitive to a limited number of substances (and the homeopathic method of individualizing treatment is a refined method to find this substance or substances).

“The important point about living organisms is that each living thing has certain hypersensitivities to what it needs for its very survival. It seems that homeopaths have discovered a method to finding the substance to which a person or animal is hypersensitive, and they have developed a pharmacological method to apply this medicine to augment immune respons.”

NOTE: If this story about Charles Darwin intrigued you, you might also like to read of the hundreds of other famous and cultural heroes who, over the past two hundred years, used and advocated homeopathy. Their fascinating stories can be read in Dana Ullman’s latest book, The Homeopathic Revolution, available at: Homeopathic Educational Services


— Darwin, C. Insectivorous Plants. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1875.

— Darwin, F., ed. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1903.

— Ullman, D., The Homeopathic Revolution. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books and Homeopathic Educational Services., 2007

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