Robert Cauch, 1832-1917

by Brian Stevenson
last updated September, 2019

During the 1880s, the relatively remote town of Carpinteria, California, does not appear to have offered much collegiality to a microscope enthusiast such as Robert Cauch. Nonetheless, he sought interactions throughout the USA by exchanging prepared slides and unmounted specimens. The slide shown in Figure 1 has an attractive, machine-printed label with Cauch’s name and address, and “exchange collection”. It was obtained among a group of slides from another amateur microscopist, implying that Cauch was successful with exchanging preparations.

Figure 1. A circa 1880s microscope slide by Robert Cauch. Labeled “tongue of Haliotis”, it is the radula (abrasive “tongue”) of an abalone (genus Haliotis). The mount was originally ringed with an off-white cement, much of which has chipped away during the past 140 years. The specimen is still in very good condition.


Figure 2. Magnified details of the Haliotis “tongue” on the Figure 1 slide. The red pigments used by Cauch accentuate the different tissues. Left: normal transmitted light. Right: transmitted light with crossed polarizing filters below and above the specimen (polariscope). Photographed with a 3.5x objective lens and a C-mounted digital SLR camera.


Robert Cauch was originally from England, born on January 16, 1832 in Stepney, London. The 1841 census states that his father, John, was then working as an “undertaker”. Robert’s mother, Elizabeth, died that October. The family was Wesleyan Methodist, and Elizabeth was buried in the Globe Fields Burial Ground in Stepney.

The remaining Cauch family (father John, elder son John, and our Robert) emigrated to the USA in 1843. They departed London and arrived in New York City on June 28, 1843, aboard The Ontarian.

The 1850 US census found the Cauch family in Dover, Illinois. The father and both sons were all described as “farmer”. Along the travels from New York to Illinois, father John had remarried. The census states that his wife, Clarissa, was originally from Connecticut, and was 21 years younger than John (and 7 years older than the eldest son).

I have not located Robert Cauch in the 1860 US census. His 1863 army draft registration shows that he was married, and working as a “printer”. The 1870 census has him living in Fairbury, Illinois, working as a “physician”. Judging from his later obtaining a degree from a medical college, Cauch’s training at that time was probably through an apprenticeship. He was married to Mella P. Cauch, with whom he had two sons, Frederick (born ca. 1858) and Frank (born ca. 1861). Mella died soon afterward. Robert remarried on August 13, 1875, to Ruth Elizabeth (Nellie) Wing.

Cauch graduated from Hahnemann Medical College, Chicago, in 1877, evidently extending upon his previous medical training with a formal curriculum of instruction. Hahnemann emphasized homeopathic medicine, a popular form of care among the educated classes of that time, and considered to be a legitimate medical field.

Right after graduating, the Cauch family moved to Carpinteria, California. Robert joined the California State Medical Society of Homeopathic Practitioners on April 10, 1877.

The 1880 census indicates that Robert’s father, John, had joined them in California. He had been widowed a second time. John’s profession was stated to be “minister”. Robert Cauch was also involved with religious ministry, in a pentacostal offshoot of Methodism known as the Holiness Church. He was recalled as a major influence of that denomination in the Carpinteria - Santa Barbara region.

Robert Cauch probably became interested in microscopical studies during his medical education. In 1883, he advertised nationally to exchange “diatomaceous material and histological slides” (Figure 3). Histological specimens probably came from his medical practice. Living on the California coast, he would have had easy access to diatomaceae. The abalone radula shown in Figures 1 and 2, above, was probably collected by him along the shore, or obtained from a local fisherman. The 1892 Naturalists’ Directory included, “Cauch, Robert, M.D., Carpenteria (sic), Santa Barbara Co., Calif. Algae, Diatoms, Mic., Histol. of Vert., Infusoria”. This latter resource indicates that Cauch was interested in acquiring and exchanging microscopical material through at least 1892.

Robert’s interest in microscopy was passed to at least one of his sons. In 1888, Fred Cauch offered to exchange “well-mounted slides of diatoms, also diatomaceous material” with other science enthusiasts (Figure 3).

The 1900 census indicates that Robert and Ruth Cauch had adopted two children: Rilla (born during 1887 in Missouri) and Elbert (born during 1893 in California).

Ruth died a few years afterward. Robert then married for a third time, to Nancy E. Cauch. Robert was 47 years older than Nancy: the 1910 census recorded his age as 77, and hers as 30.

Robert Cauch died on January 24, 1917. The Pacific Medical Journal wrote, “Dr. Robert Cauch, of Carpinteria, died at the St. Francis Hospital at Santa Barbara, recently. Dr. Cauch was 85 years of age, and up to a few weeks before his demise was the oldest practicing homeopathic physician in the United States”.

Figure 3. Microscopical material exchange offers from Robert Cauch and his son, Frederick.



The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1883) Exchange offer from Robert Cauch, Vol. 4, page 140

Burial record of Elizabeth Cauch (1841) accessed through

The California Medical Times (1877) “The following physicians were elected members of the society in due form … Robert Cauch, Carpenteria (sic)”, Vol. 1, page 6

Civil War draft record of Robert Cauch (1863) accessed through

England census and other records, accessed through

Immigration record of Robert Cauch (1843) accessed through

Journal of the American Medical Association (1917) Deaths, “Robert Cauch, M.D., Carpinteria, Calif.; Hahnemann Medical College, Chicago, 1877; aged 85; died in St. Francis' Hospital, Santa Barbara, January 24”, Vol. 68, page 650

Marriage record of Robert Cauch and Ruth E. Wing (1875) accessed through

The Microscope (1888) Exchange offer from F.L. Cauch, Vol. 8, page 64

The Naturalists’ Directory (1892) “Cauch, Robert, M.D., Carpenteria (sic), Santa Barbara Co., Calif. Algae, Diatoms, Mic., Histol. of Vert., Infusoria”, S. Cassino, Boston, page 38

The Official Register and Directory of Physicians and Surgeons in the State of California (1903) “Cauch, Robert. (H). Carpenteria (sic). Hahnemann Coll., Chicago, Ill., '77. (C) '77”, page 115

Pacific Medical Journal (1917) “Dr. Robert Cauch, of Carpinteria, died at the St. Francis Hospital at Santa Barbara, recently. Dr. Cauch was 85 years of age, and up to a few weeks before his demise was the oldest practicing homeopathic physician in the United States”, Vol. 60, page 139

USA census and other records, accessed through

Washburn, Josephine M. (1920) History and Reminiscences of the Holiness Church Work in Southern California and Arizona