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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allum, Mahomet (1858–1964)

by Valmai A. Hankel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Mahomet Allum (1858?-1964), camel-driver, herbalist and philanthropist, was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Selling Arab horses and camels to the British Army enabled him to travel through Asia; he probably arrived in Australia between 1884 and 1890. He worked with camels, delivering supplies and provisions to inland townships and stations, and also as a station-hand, butcher, storekeeper, sailor and mine-hand. He was in both Broken Hill and Western Australia for some years and is known to have been in Kalgoorlie in 1903.  

In 1928 or 1929 he settled in Adelaide, at a time when dissatisfaction with conventional medical practitioners was enabling herbalists and faith-healers to flourish. Allum lived in Adelaide for most of his remaining life, dispensing herbal mixtures and advice from his house in Sturt Street, asking no payment but accepting donations and giving freely to charities. He claimed that the gift of healing had been handed down in his family for 400 years and referred to himself as 'God's messenger'.

In 1935 he was charged with having posed as a medical practitioner while not registered under the Medical Practitioners Act. He marshalled over forty witnesses to attest that he had never represented himself as a doctor. The crown prosecutor described him as a 'quack', a particularly cunning, very shrewd and deceitful Afghan whose pose of humility and cloak of piety were not congruous with his appearance and his 'vindictive methods' against the medical profession, whose members Allum described as 'devil's agents who have made their money their God'. He was convicted and fined, but the publicity brought more customers. Allum was in court again in 1936 for the alleged publication of scandalous material about a police magistrate, but managed to evade conviction.

His dyed hair, swarthy skin and dark piercing eyes, his showy jewellery, love of publicity, and the devotion of his followers, all made him a controversial and memorable figure. In 1934, when he visited Afghanistan, 10,000 people had petitioned him to remain in Adelaide. His popularity, healing powers and charity were attested to by his patients (and himself) in published testimonials, including many advertisements in the South Australian Police Journal, and in a 32-page pamphlet he published.

Allum married in 1940, with Moslem rites, Jean Emsley, a patient; next year, when he was about 83 and his wife 20, a daughter was born. In 1953 the family travelled to Afghanistan, intending to remain. His wife died, and Allum returned in 1954 with his daughter to Adelaide, where he resumed practice as a herbalist.

A devout Moslem, Allum never learned to read or write English but, aided by his wife and friends, he wrote letters to the press and published at least fifteen pamphlets: on Islam, the Koran, illness and his healing powers. He died on 21 March 1964 at his large home at Everard Park; he was commonly stated to have been 108, but the entry on his death certificate was 106. The funeral procession from the mosque to the Centennial Park cemetery was over a mile long. Allum's estate, sworn for probate at £11,218, was nearly all willed to institutions which cared for children.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Brunato, Hanji Mahomet Allum (Leabrook, SA, 1972)
  • Police Journal (Adelaide), 24 Jan, 26 Feb, 23 Mar, 24 June, 22 Aug, 25 Sept, 25 Nov 1935
  • News (Adelaide), 8, 27 Nov, 3, 5 Dec 1935, 23 Mar 1964, 13 Jan 1965
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 9, 29 Nov, 4, 6 Dec 1935, 23 Jan 1936, 6, 13 July 1937, 24 Jan 1953, 15 May, 20, 21 Sept 1954, 8 Oct 1957, 17, 23, 24 Mar 1964, 15 Jan 1965
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 7, 14 Nov 1964
  • A.B.C., Personalities Remembered (copy at State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Valmai A. Hankel, 'Allum, Mahomet (1858–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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