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 medical doctor Carl Abraham Hunnius.
C. A. Hunnius was born on August 3, 1797 (according to the old calendar July 23) in Tallinn in the family of a German merchant. His father came from Magdeburg and was a successor of the famous 16-century theology professor, Aegidius Hunnius, who fought for Lutheran theory. 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 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. However it did not touch upon Haapsalu directly, the reflections of war reached here: most of the hospital?s patients were former soldiers, now invalids, crippled, ill people, who needed treatment and care.
Apparently the main activity of Dr Hunnius was initially related to military hospitals of those times and treating invalids of war. Besides he had to treat local inhabitants.


Beginning of serious scientific research

Besides practical activities C.A. Hunnius was interested in scientific problems and already in 1821 he defended his thesis at the University of Tartu about a dermatological inflammation, in these times widespread among Estonians, often causing sepsis and death. One copy of the thesis in Latin ‘De morbo: Sinni wil (blaue Blatter) nominato, carbunculo quodam Esthonia rusticis endemo’ is now maintained at the Museum of Läänemaa. Professors of the University of Tartu considered his thesis one of the most thorough and remarkable of these years.
After defending his thesis successfully, the young medical doctor expected to go abroad for some time, but his strenuous work at the hospital and as an assistant district doctor and later as the district doctor made him give up this idea. Only in 1845 and 1847 he took 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 treatment more efficient. He prescribed original new mixtures, promoted bathing in the gulf of Haapsalu, which had already been popular since 1805.

Immediately after his arrival at Haapsalu his attention was drawn by a method of treatment, which 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 Haapsalu sea mud. Often routine visits took him 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 warm mud relieved the pain. Dr. Hunnius started to research. He made first tests with his patients and soldiers of the local garrison. 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. Bathing in warm sea followed the procedure.

Hunniu`s list of diseases, treated by mud and sea water included about 20 diseases, however according to contemporary medicine some of them cannot be treated with mud. In addition to clinical observation he 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 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`s relatives in Sweden started teasing him and calling him and his wife ‘the sauna attendants’ he sold the institution some months after completion to a pharmacist Franz Heinrich Brasche.

The successor was born

Now the fact that in the same year on March 28 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 6 Karja street. The house had earlier belonged to Ungern-Sternbergs and had probably been 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, professor of medicine, 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 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, besides 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.

Later Hunnius 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 current Tallinn Road and Lihula Road, where a parking lot is now.

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 and the authorities noticed his activities as well. In 1938 he was awarded the title of a Councillor and ennobled.

A new and modern mud therapy institution of Haapsalu

In 1845 C.A. Hunnius`s wife died, however some pleasant events also happened. 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`s initiative and operated long after his death.

End of life

In April 1851 doctor Hunnius was called to a sick girl, who had arrived from St.Petersburg. Evidently the disease was contagious, because 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 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 Haapsalu Old Cemetery, next to his father.

Ülla Paras
The Museum of Läänemaa