Medicine in 1860s Victoria

Dr. J. S. Helmcken

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Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken arrived in Victoria in 1850, employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as a surgeon. His training began as an apprentice apothecary, and he completed medical school at Guy's Hospital in London. He was well qualified as a physician, with not only a license from the Apothecaries Society but a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons and an M.R.C.S. degree. Before settling in Victoria, the young Dr. Helmcken traveled as ship's physician on voyages to Hudson's Bay and India for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Dr. Helmcken was said to be "the leading physician from San Francisco to the north pole and from Asia to the Red River." Click for reference data He also served as Victoria's Coroner and Health Officer, and was the physician to the local prison. In order to make house calls to his far-flung patients, Helmcken had to learn to ride a horse and paddle a canoe. Click for reference data As the Hudson's Bay Company physician he also provided medical care to other Company posts along the coast. Helmcken later became active in politics, but continued to practice medicine until his death in 1920.

Dr. Helmcken kept voluminous records for his medical practice and for his political affairs. Among the many papers in the Helmcken collection at the British Columbia Archives can be found some of Dr. Helmcken's medical notebooks, a school notebook containing descriptions of medicines, and a pharmaceutical inventory.


Dr. Helmcken, ca. 1860

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