Ulric Gaster Williams was born at Putiki, Wanganui, on 22 May 1890, the son of Alfred Owen Williams, an Anglican clergyman, and his wife, Alice Gaster. He was educated at the Wanganui Collegiate School from 1900 to 1909, then at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, graduating MB, ChB from the latter in 1918. In London on 20 April 1914 he married Mary May Thurling. Between 1918 and 1920 Williams served in the New Zealand Medical Corps in England.
In 1920 he returned to Wanganui where he established a practice, and where he and his wife enjoyed a very active social life. Williams practised conventional medicine for some years, but in 1933–34 he became interested in naturopathy and in the writing and ideas of L. E. Bassett, a local timber merchant and adherent of the 'science of sevens'. He experienced what he later described as 'a vision of Christ', and was convinced he had been treating symptoms rather than causes. Becoming an ascetic and a teetotaller, he promoted his ideas with evangelical fervour, and often in a confrontational manner. He wrote of 'the enormities that have been…perpetrated in the name of surgery and medicine. Avoidable and mutilating operations, expensive and poisonous drugs, which…can never have any effect upon the cause; while Nature has made provision…for both prevention and cure.'
Williams believed that all sickness is the consequence of disobedience of natural law, which is the law of God, and that 'the wages of sin is death'. He advocated healthy habits of living, which included exercise, fresh air, sunlight (a sunbath 'taken as nearly nude as possible'), deep breathing, a daily cold bath, and, above all, a healthy diet. To Williams disease was caused by such poisons as tobacco, alcohol, over-indulgence in meat, refined starch and sugar, and an insufficient use of fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables, unrefined cereals and wholemeal bread, dairy products, nuts and fish.
If the cause of the disease was removed, he argued, the symptoms would disappear: 'The best way to get rid of maggots and poisonous odours is to remove garbage and prevent its collection – not dissipate energy in futile attempts to deal with the flies.' This meant purging the system by enemas and then fasting for up to 100 days, in instalments of from 5 to 21 days. His ideas and methods were stated in his book Hints on healthy living, first published in 1934, and 83 pages long. By 1949 it had gone into a fifth edition of 5,000 copies which ran to 256 pages, the extra material comprising mainly diets and recipes. He also wrote on the problem of human suffering (1935), and a pamphlet, Hospitals and hooey or health (1941).
Williams lectured throughout the North Island, and people came from all over New Zealand for consultations or to be treated in his Aramoho nursing home. Patients found his regimen rigorous, but had great faith in him. Marjorie Coates, the wife of Gordon Coates, spent several weeks in Wanganui in 1933 and 1937, seeking help for her arthritis. On both visits Williams prescribed a severe diet and in 1933 she was required to dance outside in the early morning dew. On another occasion, R. O. C. Marks, notable social credit figure and disciple of Williams, though in terrible pain from appendicitis, refused surgery and sent for Williams, who administered cold packs and fruit juice and brought him through safely.
Physically, Ulric Williams was an effective advertisement for his methods: tall, lean and fit into old age, he was an accomplished (though temperamental) golfer who went through a routine of callisthenics before each shot. He had played rugby and cricket at university, and was a Wanganui representative cricketer and a fine tennis player.
Although he was a compassionate man prepared to take endless trouble with his patients, there was something of the puritanical Savonarola about him, and he seemed to revel in controversy. A local doctor was quoted in his obituary as saying that 'He had proved many of his methods to himself but not to the medical practice in general.' In 1936 Williams was expelled from the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association for his advocacy of alternative treatments, particularly his opposition to immunisation. He remained a strong opponent of the BMA for the rest of his life. Ironically, on the day he was informed of his expulsion, Williams was awarded a degree by the president of the American Naturopathic Association. An attempt by the Medical Council to have him deregistered in 1941, following the death of a patient, was unsuccessful.
Williams frequently wrote to the newspapers and also conducted a long-running campaign against fluoridation of water supplies. In later years he became something of a recluse. He died in Wanganui on 21 December 1971, survived by a son. Mary Williams had died in 1969. She had given up alcohol at the same time as her husband and had faithfully supported his work.
Ulric Williams was an original thinker and a forceful personality and controversialist. Although regarded by many as a crank and fanatic, in his advocacy of a healthy natural way of living, methods of treatment, scepticism about unnecessary surgery, and promotion of a diet of natural foods, he was perhaps ahead of his time.