Page 1: Biography
Salaman, Abraham Walley Mahomed
Merchant, dyer, herbalist, charlatan
This biography, written by Louise Buckingham, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Abraham Walley (Wali) Mahomed Salaman was born in Amritsar, Punjab, India, probably in 1885 or 1886, the son of Moslem parents, whose names he recorded in New Zealand as Asher Karrambox and her husband, Futha-Din, a herbalist. He received little formal education and left India when only 14 years old to travel the world in search of knowledge and adventure.
Salaman arrived in New Zealand about 1903. By 1914 he was a silk merchant in Auckland. In 1915 he moved to Wellington, and on 23 December married 18-year-old Scottish-born Marjory Cardno. Their only child, a daughter, was born in 1917. Salaman began manufacturing aniline dyes and during the First World War was contracted to provide the khaki dye used for soldiers’ uniforms. The couple divorced in June 1922 and Salaman suffered a breakdown in his health. He returned to Auckland where he commenced business as a herbalist in Khyber Pass Road. Within two years he also set up as a chemist in Mount Albert. He appears to have had no formal qualifications, and when later asked about this responded, ‘I know, that’s all’.
On 23 February 1924 Salaman married Gladys Louisa Richards at his house in Arawa Street. They were to have two children, both daughters. Salaman was a tall, well-built man, who loved the outdoors. His herbal remedies appealed to many people, and his business flourished as his patients recommended him to their friends. However, the deaths of two patients would bring him publicity and infamy.
In December 1924 a 30-year-old woman, Agnes Wright Stewart, sued Salaman for negligence and for failure to exercise reasonable skill and care in his treatment of her, claiming £2,284 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. His examination consisted of placing a stethoscope to her neck; he pronounced that her kidneys and lungs were the problem, that the goitre was only minor, and prescribed several mixtures and medicines.
In the ensuing months Agnes Stewart’s health deteriorated. Salaman repeatedly dismissed her concerns. Nearly a year passed before it was discovered that the basis of his treatment was opium, and that Agnes Stewart had become addicted. Only 15 of the 26 medicines he had prescribed were found to be herbal. 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.
In 1927 Salaman petitioned Parliament for compensation and an inquiry into various prosecutions instituted against him, but the petitions committee had no recommendation to make. It was a difficult time for Salaman. His wife had developed tuberculosis, and the following year his two-year-old daughter died from diphtheria. By 1930 he had moved to New Plymouth.
Within months Salaman was embroiled in another court case. Six-year-old Lyall Christie, from Fordell, died in August 1930 in a diabetic coma caused by the withdrawal of insulin. Salaman had agreed to treat the boy only if the insulin was stopped. On 25 November a jury found him guilty 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.
Local residents were outraged at Salaman’s sentence and called a public meeting. Nearly 500 attended and appreciative letters from Salaman’s patients were read. Many felt that the local medical profession was responsible for the severity of the sentence. About 150 residents met at Moturoa, 53 met at Eltham and at a crowded meeting at Woodville it was resolved to ask the acting prime minister to ask cabinet to secure Salaman’s immediate release. In the event cabinet took no action.
Gladys Salaman and the children moved to live with her family in Nelson. In May 1931 she succumbed to tuberculosis. After an absence of over 30 years, Abraham Salaman returned to India and built a house and clinic at Amritsar, intending to settle permanently. He then came back to New Zealand, and married 24-year-old Annie Esther Perreaux on 22 March 1933, at New Plymouth. Once more he left for India, with his wife and family, and set up a doctor’s practice. However, Annie and his children could not adjust to their new environment and by the end of the year he had disposed of his property and returned again to New Plymouth.
In 1940, aware that his health was failing, Salaman set about putting his affairs into order. He designed a large tomb in Te Henui cemetery which occupied 10 plots and needed special permission. Then he made his will. By late 1940 the tomb was finished, at a cost of £2,500: a solid, square structure with heavy wooden doors, and a brass star and crescent moon on top of a blue dome.
Salaman died on 8 February 1941 at his home in Gill Street. Following embalming, he lay in state for a week, robed in a silver-patterned green wrap over a white satin gown, and watched night and day by his family and friends. On 15 February, in a picnic-like atmosphere, more than 2,000 people gathered at the cemetery to pay their last tributes. Green candles in massive brass candlesticks were lit in the chapel and the tomb, where the funeral rites were performed in Arabic and English.
Salaman’s estate was valued at nearly £8,000. His will made numerous demands of his family, and directed that his children keep and maintain his tomb in proper order. Annie Salaman carried on his herbal business and after marrying Kwong Simpson in 1943 traded as Salaman-Simpson until the early 1970s. From time to time vandals have attacked Abraham Salaman’s tomb; the brass star and moon have disappeared, and in 1992 the heavy bronze entrance gates were stolen. It remains a unique monument to a man still remembered in Taranaki for his healing abilities and his notoriety.