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Museum of Optometry and Ophthalmology launched in South Africa

November 13, 2015

Ms Sheritha Ramparsad and Mr Darryl Earl David with museum exhibits. 
An alumnus of UKZN’s Department of Optometry, Ms Sheritha Ramparsad, and her husband, Mr Darryl Earl David, Head of Afrikaans at UKZN, recently launched South Africa’s first Museum of Optometry and Ophthalmology in Richmond in the Northern Cape.

The following story written by Ramparsad on the creation of the museum, appeared in The Witness newspaper recently:

Do you believe in destiny? In signs? In serendipity? In the hand of God? Now I do.

I have been an optometrist in Pietermaritzburg for the last two decades. It is a profession I am passionate about although the demands of being a sole proprietor have been known to make me take to the highways and byways of SA to get away from it all.

Now just before the soccer World Cup in 2010, my husband volunteered to drive some of my daughter’s classmates to the Natal Museum. He returned all excited, telling me he had seen the finest example of an optometry practice from yesteryear in the museum. By the time I laid eyes on the exhibit, I had no doubt - this had to be the finest optometric relic. Period!

This H.S Raybould Collection as it is known, really awakened something in me. In my younger days, when I was not weighed down by the pressures of practice, I used to enjoy collecting ophthalmic antiques. And somehow, when I saw this exhibit, something inside of me stirred. I began to wonder whether a Museum of Optometry existed in SA. To my sheer delight, my research showed that no such museum existed in SA. Yes, there was the Adler Museum of Medicine at Wits in Johannesburg and the Cape Medical Museum, but not a museum dedicated solely to that most noble of senses - sight.

And so, since 2010, spurred on by a husband who only lives for the great idea, I carried on searching, not knowing where it was going to take me. I found out that the British Optical Association Museum for example has been in existence since 1901. There is the Cyril Kett Optometry Museum in Australia, and the Museum of Vision Science in Canada. And the American’s had a Museum of Ophthalmology which they have renamed the Museum of Vision based in San Francisco. From the various names, one can gauge that Optometry is to Ophthalmology what Howick is to Merrivale, what Underberg is to Himeville - uneasy bedfellows!

All of this can be most useful, but I also found it quite overwhelming. Where would I find enough material for a museum. The British Optical Association Museum has 3 000 spectacles alone and over 18 000 artefacts! Worse still, where would I find the money for such an undertaking? In the midst of the worst recession in modern memory! Where should the museum be situated? But my husband said: ‘If you carry on searching, one day, quite out of nowhere, the catalyst will appear.’

And then, three years ago, the hand of God appeared. Whilst conducting research for my ever elusive Museum of Optometry and Opthalmology on the internet, I came across an article by Rose Willis, titled: “From Bossiedokters to World Arena” in which she wrote about famous medical personalities who had lived in the Karoo.  Rose Willis then went on to say that a certain Mr Fick had lived in the Karoo town of Richmond for eight years. And that this Mr Fick was to all intents and purposes, the founder of the contact lens!

Impossible, I thought. I don’t remember that name. But further research proved her right.

According to Wikipedia:  Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick (February 22, 1852 - February 11, 1937) was a German ophthalmologist who invented the contact lens. On the advice of Richmond-born Dr Albert Hoffa, he emigrated during 1879 to the Karoo to help his tuberculosis. He registered as a physician, surgeon and obstetrician and settled in Richmond where he opened a general medical practice.

In 1887 he constructed and fitted what was to be considered the first successful model of a contact lens: an afocal scleral contact shell made from heavy brown glass, which he tested first on rabbits, then on himself, and lastly on a small group of volunteers. It was considered the first successful model of a contact lens. His idea was advanced independently by several innovators in the years that followed. Today more than 125 million people worldwide wear contact lenses.

My husband is now convinced that Adolf Fick was responsible for the dwindling number of Riverine Rabbits in the Karoo and has suggested that all optometrists/ ophthalmologists pay a ‘sin tax’ for inhumane research on rabbits which should be used to fund the museum!

Interesting enough, Adolf Eugen Fick’s uncle, Adolf Fick (same name!), was the physiologist who invented tonometry.

In fact, the greater Richmond area has strong medical links. Dr Albert Hoffa, considered a pioneer in the field of orthopaedics, was born in Richmond in the Karoo. Articles describe him as German. However, he only studied and worked in Germany but he was born in the Great Karoo town of Richmond. Acclaimed heart surgeon Professor Chris Barnard may have been born in Beaufort West, 180km from Richmond, but he also has a game farm/retreat, Ratelfontein, just outside Richmond. And Deelfontein just outside Richmond was the first battlefield hospital in the world to use X-rays. The use of X-rays was pioneered by Major John Hall-Edwards at the Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein during the Anglo-Boer War.

To create a museum like this will be a dream come true. To create it in the very same town that your husband put on the map through his Booktown concept and changed the face of South African literature - that is special … that is the hand of God!

Thus, at the BookBedonnerd Literary Festival last month, we got the ball rolling by partnering with Harrie Siertsema, patron of the arts, owner of Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop but more importantly owner of Modern Art Projects (MAP Gallery) in Richmond.

In partnership with MAP Gallery, we will open the Museum of Optometry & Ophthalmology with an exhibition by artist Jan van der Merwe. The installation is titled “Eye Test/ Oogtoets”. But the work really interrogates the different ways of looking and seeing. Moreover, over the last three years, my husband has been quietly collecting the spectacles of famous writers and artists in SA. The idea is to create SA’s first Spectacle Museum as part of a broader Museum of Optometry & Ophthalmology. By 2016, we envisage having quite an impressive collection.

I would like to appeal to optometrists and opthalmologists and other interested parties to please contact me if they would like to contribute towards the museum. I am especially interested in collectors/experts in the field of ophthalmic antiques or amateur ophthalmologist/ optometrist collectors like myself who have built up impressive collections over the years.

But this will not only be a museum that showcases all things optometric/ ophthalmic. My dream for the museum is to document the role of VISION in its broadest sense. Thus artefacts like opera glasses, for instance are high on my agenda. Anyone who is an authority on telescopes, binoculars, cameras, jewellers loupes etc - I would love to hear from you as well.

* Ramparsad, a Pietermaritzburg optometrist for the last 20 years, is the sole proprietor of See-Sational Optometrists and Gift of Sight Optometrists. Her husband, Darryl David, is a regular contributor to The Witness and founder of Booktown Richmond. (

Ramparsad is appealing for donations of old spectacles. She can be contacted on giftofsightoptom@hotmail.comor on 033 387 6566. 

Uploaded by: Fhumulani Andrew Liabara

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