Page 1: Biography
Fischer, Carl Frank
Doctor, homoeopath, viticulturalist
This biography, written by Michael Belgrave, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Little is known of Carl Frank Fischer's early life. He was of German origin and told contemporaries that he had lived for some time in Munich. He claimed to have gained the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the Martin Luther University of Halle in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1848, and a degree from the university of Berlin. He and his wife, Prudence Florentine De Lattre, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1853 or 1854. Their daughter Maria Theresa, known as Thérèse, was born there in 1857.
Dr Fischer was a flamboyant advocate of homoeopathy. His Auckland practice was launched in 1854 with some priceless publicity after his treatment of Jane Graham, the wife of George Graham, a prominent Auckland entrepreneur and politician. Jane Graham had been crushed when the upper floor of a shop collapsed, and Fischer had been able to revive her after several other doctors had failed. The attendant publicity filled his waiting rooms and sparked an intense debate in the Daily Southern Cross between Fischer and other Auckland doctors over the merits of homoeopathy. Fischer dismissed his attackers' arguments as pique in the face of competition.
In March 1855 Fischer founded New Zealand's first medical journal, The Homoeopathic Echo, which ran for 12 issues until February 1856. To boost his practice further he sent copies to his patients. The journal promoted the value of homoeopathic remedies with extracts from the standard texts on the subject, and advocated cleanliness and a healthy diet. Veterinary remedies were also discussed.
By the 1860s Fischer was a prosperous citizen although a self-confessed spendthrift. He had a renowned collection of exotic plants, and was an intimate friend of both Ferdinand Hochstetter and Julius Haast. They met at a reception given by Fischer for the scientific staff of the Austrian frigate Novara in December 1858. He invested in land on the shore of Lake Pupuke, in Takapuna, where he established nurseries and a vineyard, and built a wine-cellar and a brandy distillery.
With the patronage of some of Auckland's commercial élite, including John Logan Campbell, Fischer was assured of a ready demand for his medical services. His elegantly decorated Homoeopathic Medical Dispensary was located in Queen Street, and he was superintendent of the homoeopathic hospital, which functioned from 1858 to 1862. One of his supporters explained that under Fischer's care a patient 'never gets blistered, or bled, or cupped, or poulticed or half poisoned, every two hours, with a draught as bitter as the pain'. However, by the 1860s these treatments were infrequently used by orthodox medical practitioners. In 1866 a second medical journal, Fischer's Magazine of Homoeopathy, appeared briefly, but by 1867 Fischer was deeply in debt. Whether the decline in the popularity of homoeopathy was responsible, or simply financial ineptitude, is unclear.
Fischer left his wife and daughter in Auckland and made a trip south, visiting Haast in Christchurch and doing well in Wellington, where he attracted a large corresponding practice. He was back in Auckland before March 1868, but his financial reverses had severely affected his professional reputation. He contemplated a new start in Sydney, but decided to remain in Auckland '& live down the scandal'. Now receiving his patients at his home, Sans Souci, which was heavily mortgaged against his debts, he wrote to Haast in February 1869: 'I am very busy in my profession, charge higher fees and have money sufficient to pay my way', but his speculations in the Thames goldfields were unsuccessful and his health was troubling him. In 1869 he took his family to Sydney.
From 1877 to 1880 the Fischers were in Europe. They spent Christmas 1877 in Vienna with Hochstetter, reminiscing about New Zealand. Prudence Fischer died in London in November 1879. Carl Fischer returned to Sydney with his daughter, having graduated in medicine at the university of Würzburg, and having become a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in London. In October 1891 he again visited Auckland to look after his property interests in the city. He told of the great success of his Sydney practice, from which he had now retired, and his addiction to travel. He died in 1893, after contracting a fever in China while visiting his daughter, who had married a British naval officer.