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Bouton, Wilbur Knibloe (1855–1936)

by Jacqueline Templeton

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

Wilbur Knibloe Bouton (1855-1936), homoeopath, was born in the United States of America, probably in Buffalo, New York, son of James Daniel Bouton, clergyman, and his wife Harriet Eliza, née Knibloe. First trained in mechanical engineering, Bouton turned to medicine and graduated from Boston University (Ch.B., 1884; M.D., 1885). Aged 30 he was appointed first resident medical officer of the new Melbourne Homoeopathic Hospital.

Bouton was the hospital's only 'pure homoeopath'. This system of cure, assuming a benevolent Nature, asserted that disease could be conquered by gentle administration of drugs which produced 'similar' symptoms in the sufferer. He utterly eschewed allopathic treatment and, as a 'high potency man', believed that drug potency increased with dilution.

Bouton practised surgery at the hospital from 1891, soon becoming senior surgeon. He was both renowned and criticized for his dexterous keyhole appendectomies, which were fashionable but risky, and for his staunch resistance to the germ theory and consequent inattention to asepsis and antisepsis. Tolerance of the hospital's poor pathology facilities may have further reflected his commitment to homoeopathy which regarded causes as irrelevant to cure.

As a member of the hospital's board of management from 1894, its vice-president (1909) and president (1918-34), Bouton strongly influenced policy, especially on treatment of patients and medical staff appointments. Doggedly determined to engage only homoeopaths, he was chiefly responsible for attracting numerous American doctors through personal contacts in Boston; he occasionally visited the United States. He resisted attempts by the orthodox in 1906 to eliminate homoeopathy with restrictive legislation, and gained permission for an annual quota of its practitioners. But growing difficulties in retaining satisfactory staff and a decline in homoeopathy's appeal, as acceptance of the germ theory widened, seriously threatened the hospital's viability. From 1924 the British Medical Association, seeking appointments for members, lifted its black ban on the hospital; this move was welcomed by the staff but it isolated Bouton in his bitter but vain efforts to obstruct it.

With dynamic personality and restless energy, Bouton was single minded, opinionated and somewhat domineering, brusque in manner although not unkind. His chief diversions were punting and motoring: his Pullman saloon, the first in Australia, built by James Flood, was a familiar sight at the hospital. His intimate identification with the institution, to which he contributed funds as well as personal devotion, gained it, for a time, the nickname 'Dr Bouton's Hospital'.

On 11 May 1892 at St Silas's Church of England, South Melbourne, Bouton had married Mrs Mary Jeannett Muffitt, née Spenser, a matron of the hospital in 1886-92. She died aged 84 on 4 February 1936; he died aged 80 on 13 May at 7 Collins Street where he had long resided and conducted a flourishing practice. He was survived by a stepdaughter Gertrude, who had assumed his name; she inherited his estate which was valued for probate at £29,851.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Templeton, Prince Henry's: The Evolution of a Melbourne Hospital 1869-1969 (Melb, 1969)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1892-93, 4 (60)
  • Age (Melbourne), Argus (Melbourne) 15 May 1936
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 May 1936
  • Melbourne Homoeopathic Hospital records (Prince Henry Hospital, Melbourne).

Citation details

Jacqueline Templeton, 'Bouton, Wilbur Knibloe (1855–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bouton-wilbur-knibloe-5308/text8963, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 November 2018.

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

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