Malvern, St Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica

Charles Joseph Hungerford Berry King M.D. M.A. (5 September 1803 – 14 April 1869) was an Anglican clergyman who left the Church and converted to Catholicism. He subsequently took up a new career as an homeopathic physician and practiced in Birmingham, Northampton, and Jamaica.

Charles Berry King was born in London in September 1803, to Joseph King (1748 – 1819) and Ann Evans (b. 1776).

Berry King began his professional life as an Anglican clergyman. He went up to Oxford in 1822, and in December 1826 graduated B.A. from Exeter College. On 7 March 1830, the now Reverend Berry King obtained his M.A. from the same college.

During the winter of 1831-2, Berry King was in Europe where he observed the treatment of cholera in Paris. Afterwards, King stayed in Antwerp where, in February 1832, he became acquainted with the future Prime Minister and supporter of homeopathy, William Ewart Gladstone and his brother John, who were undertaking a tour of the continent. Gladstone recounted his encounter with Berry King in his diary: “John and I breakfasted in company with a fellow traveller from whom we learned that he was a clergyman, and had been at Oxford – together with diverse particulars of his private affairs: a man apparently by no means void of talent.”

It appears that Berry King underwent a crisis of faith on his return to England, and he was one of the first Anglicans involved in the Church reform initiatives that would become known as The Oxford Movement. In October 1833, the noted sculptor, Richard Westmacott, wrote to his friend, the future Cardinal George Newman, complaining that Berry King “of your University has turned about, embraced Romanism:”

I don’t know what right I have to trouble you with bad news; nor should I do so now, but that it is connected somewhat with yourself and your calling; besides we referred to the subject the other evening, when I was unable from ignorance to say any thing about it. The fact is, the Revd J. Berry King B.A. or M.A. of your University has turned about, embraced Romanism, and is now residing with his Cantab. precursor, the Hon. and Revd [[G.]] W. Spencer. King has not given the protestant Church a fair chance – all his reasoning to me was drawn from its abuses and faults, – which he constantly ranged against the best parts of Romanism – he never, I believe, entered upon any fair discussion with Churchmen, but always desired to have what he, as a good Churchman, must know did not exist, good Protestant works on our side of the question … A clever and earnest young female proselyte to Catholicism took advantage of this state of things; wrote, prayed, and preached at him, and then, by throwing him upon an excellent specimen of their clergy, Dr Baines, Bishop of Bath, succeeded in shaking him first out of his own Church, and then easily into theirs.

This is the history of the case; I have not seen him nor heard of him since his conversion. Proselytism is extending. You, who live so quietly in the midst of orthodoxy and high churchism don’t hear half of what is going on. The evil begins by shaking faith in a Church, whose doctrines are not laid down with decision, and then the rest follows. Why do not some of our learned good men join, and get up such works on our side as the Catholics do on theirs? not insulated views and arguments of a man, but discussed and decided upon by your body; in short a rule of faith, not dictated by an “Act of Parliament” only, as ours is; and which, I believe, was insisted on as a sine quâ non to be sworn to till the reign of James 1st. You will be surprised at my earnestness — there’s a reason for it — and there should be with you. I am a good deal excited, and shall be better for this sfogo.

It is not known who this “clever and earnest female proselyte to Catholicism” was, but the outcome was that Berry King rejected Anglicanism, converted to Catholicism, and left the ministry.

No doubt informed by his new religious sympathies, in March 1836 Berry King married a 17 year old Scotch Catholic, Agnes Isabella Robertson (1819 – 1905). Isabella was the youngest daughter of Scottish planter and medical practitioner John Robertson (1771 – 1818), latterly owner of the Bellemont (Belmont) Estate in St Elizabeth, Jamaica, who had died before she was born.

Berry King’s activities over the next few years are not well documented but, in April 1835, he was recorded living at Belgrave Square, London. He and Isabella moved frequently, and together had eleven children. The first, Henrietta Mary (1836 – 1924), was born in Bradford House, Exeter, Devon, in December 1836. Almost a year to the day later, their second child, Charles Keasley (1837 – 1906), was born in St. Omer, France. By 1841, the family, with two additional daughters, Agnes (b. 1839) and Jessy (b. 1840), had returned to London and were residing at Barrow Hill Place, near Primrose Hill.

While it is unclear when Berry King first encountered and subsequently embraced homeopathy, his experiences observing the treatment of cholera in Paris in 1831-2 likely influenced his vocational change to medicine. He enrolled as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, an institution and city that continued to produce notable homeopaths, and in April 1842 his second son, Bernard Edward, was born in the city.

Also in 1842, Berry King’s embrace of Catholicism was clearly illustrated in his involvement with a new Catholic friendly society, the Holy Guild of St. Joseph, created to help improve the lot of the working poor. The Guild would form the basis for the establishment in 1845 of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Scotland.

Berry King’s name appears again in Edinburgh in 1843, when he was one of a number of people who signed a testimonial in support of Scottish chemist Dr. Samuel Morison Brown‘s ultimately unsuccessful application for the vacant Chair in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh.

In August 1844, Berry King graduated M.D. from the University of Edinburgh, with his doctoral dissertation on pleuritis. On the Medical Register, his doctoral award is incorrectly given as 1845, leading some scholars to mistakenly assume that he was in the same class at Edinburgh as homeopaths Neville Wood, Claudius Buchanan Ker, and Edward Chepmell.

Nevertheless, 1845 was a significant year for King’s involvement with homeopathy. He briefly set up in practice as an homeopath in Birmingham but, after a very short time, likely passed his practice onto fellow homeopath and Jamaican planter’s son, Dr. George Fearon, who would proceed to establish the Birmingham Homeopathic Dispensary.

In March 1845, Berry King was one of the signatories to a letter sent to the London Morning Post newspaper that sought to distance British homeopathy from the dietetic treatment used by Dr. Paul Francois Curie in a case that had resulted in the death of the patient. The other homeopaths who signed this “unwise document” repudiating Curie’s methods were: Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, Hugh Cameron, John Darby Charles, J. Chapman, Alfred Day, John James Drysdale, Harris Dunsford, Thomas Engall, Joseph Gilioli, James Walter Goodshaw, William Hering, Claudius B. Ker, William Hamilton Kittoe, Henry Rider Madden, Victor Massol, William H. Mayne, George Newman, John Norton, Samuel Thomas Partridge, Edward Phillips, Robert Walker, and William Wardroper.

The same year, King contributed a translation of Samuel Hahnemann‘s “Medicine of Experience” to a collection titled An Introduction to the Study of Homoeopathy, edited by two leading Edinburgh-trained homeopaths, John James Drysdale and John Rutherford Russell. That summer, Berry King was also listed in The British Journal of Homoeopathy as a subscriber for the proposed monument to Samuel Hahnemann in Meissen, Saxony.

A change of circumstances meant that within two years, Berry King and his family emigrated to Jamaica, where he set up as a general practitioner. In 1847, daughter Mary Theresa was born and, in 1855, King was recorded as an active member of the Jamaica Society of Arts. By 1860, King was residing at his late father-in-law’s plantation, Bellemont Estate, in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. It is not known whether he practiced purely as an homeopath in the Caribbean, but he was considered a medical man of standing and was recorded as being compensated for serving as a medical witness and providing testimony in 1848.

One incident of note towards the end of King’s period in Jamaica came in 1858 when he was again called as medical witness, this time in an inquest into the death of a patient treated by an unlicensed surgeon, Alexander G. McCatty (1834 – 1894), described as “a Lorcea Black Man.” McCatty possessed a diploma from the American Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati, but this credential had been rejected by the Kingston College. Nevertheless, McCatty set himself up in practice on the island and established a hospital that, despite being depicted during the hearings as in a deplorable state, was popular with locals.

What is striking in this case was that in the hearing against the eclectic McCatty, Berry King, a homeopath, endorsed the testimony of two orthodox doctors, asserting that:

“he had no hesitation in giving it as his opinion, that the operation had been most improperly performed; that it was very clear that the operator knew nothing either of Anatomy or Surgery; and that he (Dr. King) had been present at the meeting of the College in Kingston when Mr. McCatty’s diploma had been refused.”

Evidently, Berry King, although an homeopath, was, by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of a notable planter, a member of the Jamaican social and professional elite, and as committed to guarding against “quackery” as his orthodox colleagues on the island. McCatty was indicted for manslaughter but, in spite of Berry King’s testimony in support of the Jamaican medical mainstream position in the case, the jury proved to be divided, and he was released. A report of the incident, in an anonymous letter titled on “The Necessity of Medical Reform in Jamaica,” in the April 1859 Medical Times and Gazette, lamented that:

“It appeared that some of the gentlemen of the jury thought that Mr. McCatty was a better Surgeon than those who were called in evidence against him; and so strong is the opinion in the parish of Manchester, that Mr. McCatty has been persecuted by the Profession, that were his Honour the Attorney-General to indict him again on the same charge, I believe the result would be the same as before.”

After more than a decade in Jamaica, King and his family returned to England. In May 1861, he was one of the many homeopathic medical men who attended a dinner held at the London Coffee House in honour of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin.

He practiced in Northampton, and in 1862 was at 34 Derngate in the city.

By August, 1866, Berry King had moved once more and was living at Belmont House, Stone, Stafford. That month he wrote to the Medical Times and Gazette, recommending the use of “Aloes as a Prophylactic Against Cholera:”

Nearly forty years have elapsed, since, when a Medical student, I witnessed the treatment of cholera in the Paris Hospitals in the winter of 1831-32. England was then in trepidation awaiting its first devastating advent. Since that period little or nothing has been consented to with regard to the pathology of this alarming disease or its proper treatment.

In Jamaica, as one of Her Majesty’s Health Officers, and holding all the public appointments in my part of the island, I had every opportunity of seeing the tropical phase of many diseases; but, as regards cholera, I had the advantage of being twice employed by the local Government Board of Health to attend it, a district being assigned to me.

On one occasion I was employed on the noble estates of Mr. Gladstone – the father, I believe, of our distinguished statesman – with a circuit of five miles. It is a duty to mention, since so very much depends upon the fact, that here every possible facility was proffered to aid the duties and wants of a Medical director. Mr. Cooper (Mr. Gladstone’s attorney) even went beyond generosity in this respect by his constant personal encouragement and supervision.

Now, on these estates and around were many Madras coolies, all working with the negroes ; but it was a strange phenomenon that not one of the coolies caught the cholera, which was assailing the negro population for better for worse. On inquiry, the coolies said that they took every morning a cupful of what they termed aloe tea. This apparently prophylactic treatment was consequently tested by sixty of the mixed coloured population submitting to the like regimen. Among this number were included five out of six of the appointed staff to bury the dead. Every one of these sixty individuals escaped; the sixth sexton, who refused the treatment, caught the infection, and died. In effect, aloes appears to be a prophylactic. Is it worth a trial or not? If so, I think a grain of the extract enough, because beyond the first day a disturbing action is not desirable. But there is something strange in the union of science and instinct in this fact, for Raspail (who, however bad as a politician, is beyond doubt a great Medical philosopher) insists upon this very drug (aloes) being its antidote.

Later in his life, presumably having retired from medicine, Berry King took up a new interest as an inventor. In April, 1866, King, now residing at Bellmont House, Stone, Staffordshire, filed a patent for a new unfermented beverage, “to be taken medicinally or otherwise.” According to the patent, King’s Beverage “possesses all the qualities of wine without having any alcoholic or intoxicating influences.”

Two years later, in January 1868, King, then at Portland Street in London, submitted a patent for “an improved process to be employed in the tanning of skins or hides.”