Trick­sters, rogues and char­la­tans

Waikato Times - - HISTORY -

Not all those who laid the foun­da­tions of to­day’s New Zealand char­ac­ter were hon­est hard work­ing peo­ple. Some were trick­sters, rogues and char­la­tans.

Among th­ese was Abra­ham Wali Ma­homed Sala­man, known to many as Wal­ley Sala­man, who be­came one of New Zealand’s first, so called, al­ter­na­tive heal­ers.

To­day we have a sub­cul­ture of th­ese peo­ple ped­dling all man­ner of untested reme­dies and of­fer­ing spir­i­tual in­ter­ven­tions for al­most ev­ery­thing imag­in­able but Sala­man was among the first. He was born into a Mus­lim fam­ily in Pun­jab, In­dia, in 1885 and ar­rived in New Zealand in 1903 where he was an Auck­land silk mer­chant by 1914.

A year later he had moved to Welling­ton, mar­ried 18-year-old Mar­jory Cardno and won a con­tract to pro­vide the khaki dye for sol­diers’ uni­forms of World War I.

The cou­ple di­vorced in June 1922 and Sala­man re­turned to Auck­land where he com­menced busi­ness as a herbal­ist in Khy­ber Pass Road.

Two years he was trad­ing as a chemist in Mount Al­bert with no known train­ing or qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

In 1923 Sala­man mar­ried again, this time Gla­dys Louisa Richards and his busi­ness, par­tic­u­larly herbal reme­dies was thriv­ing. Then dis­as­ter struck when one his pa­tients be­came ill un­der his treat­ment. She was 30-year-old Agnes Ste­wart who had sued Sala­man for neg­li­gence and for fail­ure to ex­er­cise rea­son­able skill and care in his treat­ment of her, claim­ing £2284 in dam­ages. She had de­vel­oped ex­oph­thalmic goitre in Fe­bru­ary 1923 and was hos­pi­talised in April in or­der to gain strength be­fore un­der­go­ing an oper­a­tion. When she was dis­charged in June, much im­proved, friends told her that Sala­man could cure her with­out the oper­a­tion. Sala­man, with no med­i­cal train­ing, did lit­tle more than place a stetho­scope to her neck and then pro­nounced that her kid­neys and lungs were the prob­lem, that the goitre was only a mi­nor ail­ment. He pre­scribed sev­eral mix­tures and con­coc­tions for her which she took ac­cord­ing to his in­struc­tions.

Over the next few months Agnes Ste­wart’s health de­te­ri­o­rated but Sala­man re­peat­edly dis­missed her con­cerns and con­tin­ued to pro­vide her with his mix­tures, at some ex­pense. Nearly a year passed be­fore it was dis­cov­ered that the ba­sis of his treat­ment, and most of his mix­tures, was opium.

By this time Agnes Ste­wart had be­come a hope­less ad­dict. A sub­se­quent in­quiry found that only 15 of the 26 medicines he had pre­scribed were herbal.

The rest were var­i­ous cor­dials laced with opium. His pa­tient was now so weak she had to be car­ried into court on a stretcher to give her ev­i­dence. Sala­man was found guilty of falsely pre­tend­ing to be a doc­tor skilled in the treat­ment of phys­i­cal dis­eases, and sentenced to one month’s im­pris­on­ment at Mount Eden prison.

Agnes Ste­wart was awarded £600 in dam­ages. Two weeks later she died.

Sala­man pe­ti­tioned Par­lia­ment for com­pen­sa­tion and an in­quiry into var­i­ous prosecutions against him with­out suc­cess. A few months later his wife was di­ag­nosed with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and the fol­low­ing year their two-year-old daugh­ter died from diph­the­ria. By 1930 he was liv­ing in New Ply­mouth.

In spite of his con­vic­tion for falsely claim­ing to be a med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner Sala­man con­tin­ued to di­ag­nose ill­ness and pre­scribe medicines.

Within a year of set­ting prac­tice in New Ply­mouth Sala­man was re­spon­si­ble for an­other death. The sec­ond pa­tient to die was six year-old Lyall Christie who died in a di­a­betic coma caused by the with­drawal of insulin ordered by Sala­man. He was again convicted of man­slaugh­ter, with a rec­om­men­da­tion to mercy, not­ing that the child’s mother did not hold him to blame. Jus­tice Michael My­ers said he could not lose sight of the fact that this was not an iso­lated case. ‘The pris­oner is plainly a char­la­tan’, he said, and sentenced Sala­man to 12 months’ im­pris­on­ment with hard labour.

Some of his pa­tients called a pub­lic meet­ing to call for his re­lease claim­ing the lo­cal med­i­cal pro­fes­sion was re­spon­si­ble for the sever­ity of the sen­tence. Noth­ing came of the pe­ti­tion.

Gla­dys Sala­man moved with her chil­dren to live with her par­ents in Nel­son where she died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 1931.

At the com­ple­tion of his sen­tence Sala­man re­turned to In­dia and built a house and clinic at Amritsar, in­tend­ing to set­tle per­ma­nently but re­turned to New Zealand and mar­ried 24-year-old An­nie Per­reaux in 1933, at New Ply­mouth. He re­turned again to In­dia but came back to New Zealand. In 1940, aware that his health was fail­ing, Sala­man de­signed a large tomb in Te Heni ceme­tery which oc­cu­pied 10 plots and cost £2500.

Sala­man died on Fe­bru­ary 8 1941 at his home in Gill Street and lay in state for a week and af­ter which more than 2000 peo­ple gath­ered at the ceme­tery for the fu­neral in Ara­bic and English.

An­nie Sala­man car­ried on his herbal busi­ness and af­ter mar­ry­ing Kwang Simp­son in 1943 traded as Sala­manSimp­son un­til the early 1970s. Over the years Abra­ham Sala­man’s tomb has been van­dalised. A brass star and moon have dis­ap­peared and the bronze en­trance gates were stolen in 1992. It re­mains a mon­u­ment to one of New Zealand’s first al­ter­na­tive heal­ers who was re­spected by some and re­viled by oth­ers.

Amongst the early un­marked graves in Alexan­dra Ceme­tery, Piron­gia, is that of Maria Pohlen, the wife of Hein­rich Pohlen, who died in child­birth when he failed to fetch med­i­cal help in time. Ex­on­er­ated from any blame on that oc­ca­sion, Pohlen served time in prison for as­sault on a neigh­bour and was later charged with the mur­der of an­other neigh­bour, Pa­trick Corcoran.

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