Carl Abraham Hunnius

Scientific and informed approach to sea mud as a treatment method as well as forming a resort, which became well-known all over Russia, is related to the name of a medical doctor Carl Abraham Hunnius.
C. A. Hunnius was born on August 3, 1797 (according to the old calendar July 23) in Tallinn to the family of a German merchant. His father came from Magdeburg and was a successor of the famous 16th century theology professor Aegidius Hunnius, who fought for the Lutheran religion. Carl Abraham got his comprehensive education at Tallinn cathedral school and studied medicine at the University of Tartu in 1815-1819.

Arrival at Haapsalu

In 1820, a 23-year old Carl Abraham Hunnius who had just graduated from the university came to Haapsalu to assist the district doctor G. Printzi as a head of the garrison’s hospital for the disabled. For Russia, beginning of the century had been full of wars. Although the war did not touch upon Haapsalu directly, it’s impact was also felt here: most of the hospital’s patients were former soldiers, now invalids, crippled or ill, who needed treatment and care.
The main focus of Dr Hunnius was initially related to military hospitals of those times and treating invalids of war. In addition to his main work, he also treated local inhabitants.


Beginning of serious scientific research

Besides practical activities, C.A. Hunnius was interested in scientific problems. Already in 1821 he defended his thesis at the University of Tartu about a dermatological inflammation, in these times widespread among Estonians, which often caused sepsis and death. One copy of the thesis in Latin ‘De morbo: Sinni wil (blaue Blatter) nominato, carbunculo quodam Esthonia rusticis endemo’ is now kept in the Museum of Läänemaa. Professors of the University of Tartu considered his thesis one of the most thorough and remarkable of these years.
After successfully defending his thesis, the young medical doctor expected to go abroad for some time, but his strenuous work at the hospital as well as an assistant district doctor and later as the district doctor made him give up this idea. Only in 1845 and 1847 did he take two trips abroad in order to complement his professional knowledge.

The road to curative mud

The young doctor was constantly looking for opportunities to make treatments more efficient. He prescribed original new mixtures and promoted bathing in the gulf of Haapsalu which had already been popular since 1805.

Immediately after his arrival to Haapsalu, his attention was drawn by a method of treatment that had never been mentioned in medical books nor dealt with by learned medics, but was well-known and widely used by local inhabitants. 

R. Kaulitz-Niedeck writes in his book ‘Hapsal, ein nordisches al fresko’ (1930) how Dr Hunnius became aquainted with the curative qualities of the Haapsalu sea mud. His routine visits took him often to poor coastal fishermen’s houses. During one visit he noticed an old fisherman who kept his bare feet in sun-warmed mud. He told the doctor that he had arthritis and keeping his feet in the warm mud relieved the pain. Dr Hunnius started to research. He made first tests with his patients and soldiers at the local garrison’s hospital. The results were amazingly good in cases of several diseases and, based on this experience, Dr Hunnius started to create indications and methods for using the mud. He recommended local wraps, baths (diluted with warm seawater), massages and body rubs. The procedures were followed by bathing in warm seawater.

Hunnius’ list of diseases that could be treated by mud and seawater included about 20 diseases. According to contemporary medicine, however, some of them cannot be treated with mud. In addition to clinical observations, he also carried out some simpler examination of the mud’s chemical composition.

The first mud therapy institution in Haapsalu

In 1825, Dr Hunnius initiated and instructed the creation of the first hydro-mud therapy institution. It was financed by a progressive local count Magnus De la Gardie. The institution was located where Suur-Liiva Street is now.

As the count De la Gardie’s relatives in Sweden started teasing him and calling him and his wife ‘the sauna attendants’, he sold the institution some months after its completion to a pharmacist Franz Heinrich Brasche.

The successor was born

The fact that on March 28 in the same year a son Karl Arthur was born to the Hunnius family who later continued his fathers lifework, seems remarkable. Dr Hunnius’ family lived in a large stone house, now at Karja street 6. The house had previously belonged to Ungern-Sternbergs and had probably been a dowry of Carl Abraham’s wife, baroness Alexandra von Ungern-Sternberg.

Several remarkable people have visited this house. The most famous toady was probably Nikolai Pirogov, a professor of medicine who is well-know for being the first to use plaster and ether narcosis. Pirogov, as a professional in his field, recommended using mud in post-operative treatment.

The fame of Haapsalu and the curative mud spreads further

Several doctors and university professors in Tartu were enthusiastic about the new treatment method and considered it very promising. Evidently, Haapsalu became know to the aristocracy of St.Petersburg thanks to Philipp Jakob Karrell from Estonia, who was the personal doctor of Nikolai I and Alexander II. Articles of C.A. Hunnius, which he sent mainly to St.Petersburg papers, also enhanced the Resort’s reputation.

Social work of C. A. Hunnius

In 1830, Dr Hunnius became the district doctor and his workload became even heavier. In addition to his work as a town councillor he was engaged in several social and educational questions. In 1839, an Estonian school was opened in Haapsalu on his initiative. Another contributor to the foundation of the Estonian school could be the inspector of Haapsalu district school, Alexander Heinrich Neus, who was one of the first researches of the Estonian folklore.

Hunnius later organised fund-raising among the wealthier inhabitants and summer visitors and used the money to buy a house for a social welfare institution for the poor. The house was on the corner of the current Tallinn Road and Lihula Road, where now there is a parking lot.

National recognition for lifework

As a kind and helpful doctor and an active social figure, Hunnius was widely supported by his patients and inhabitants of Haapsalu. His activities were also noticed by the authorities. In 1938, he was awarded the title of a Councillor and he was ennobled.

A new and modern mud therapy institution of Haapsalu

In 1845, C.A. Hunnius’ wife died, yet that year also brought some pleasant events. Baron Ungern-Sternberg from Suuremõisa financed the foundation of a new contemporary institution in the area where we nowadays see the statue of C.A. Hunnius. The institution was equipped on the basis of experiences gained by Dr Hunnius in his quarter-of-a-century long treatment practice, and all possibilities of modern medical science. The equipment and treatment arrangements at the new institution were so modern that it could have competed with any hydro-mud therapy institution abroad.

Since 1848, two contemporary mud therapy institutions continued their operations. Both were founded on C.A. Hunnius’ initiative and operated long after his death.

End of life

In April 1851, Dr Hunnius was called to a sick girl who had arrived from St.Petersburg. Evidently, the disease was contagious and soon the doctor experienced similar symptoms.

Despite his colleagues attempts, C.A. Hunnius died on May 10 after being sick for a couple of days. He was buried at the Haapsalu Old Cemetery next to his wife.

His elder son Karl Arthur Hunnius became his successor in the office of the district doctor and continued mud therapy development. He was also buried at the Haapsalu Old Cemetery, next to his father.

Ülla Paras
The Museum of Läänemaa