I ran into a brief description of the Dutch doctor Cornelis Bontekoe in the pages of Bill Bryson’s delightful history At Home. Bryson describes Dr. Bontekoe’s enthusiam for the healing powers of tea, stating that he recommended his patients drink at least fifty cups of it every day, sometimes prescribing as many as two hundred cups of tea a day. His patients must have been well acquainted with their restroom.
Bontekoe was actually born Cornelis Dekker. His father owned a grocery store in the Dutch city of Alkmaar (now home of the Holland Cheese Museum), and apparently a spotted cow pictured on the store sign was the inspiration for young Cornelis’ name change (the name literally meaning “spotted cow”). Why he felt the need for this change is not clear, but the good doctor dedicated most of his remaining life to campaigning for change in the field of medicine, so perhaps that was just the first steps on his life of transformation.
Having graduated with his medical degree, he moved to the city of Leiden following a dispute, and soon also found himself banned at Leiden University. Luckily, he was later re-admitted. Luckily both for him, so he could gain prominence in the field, as well as for us, because we now know one of his students was called Heydentryk Overcamp, which is amazing.
Cornelis encountered great adversity in his life. He married his niece Anna Moraetz, only to see her die the next year. Soon after both of their children tragically also died. A year later he was married again, to Jannetje Post Reiniersd (yes, that’s the correct spelling), but this marriage unfortunately ended in divorce.
Dr. Bontekoe is best known for his championing of tea as a medical cure. His first book, Treatise on Tea, the Most Excellent Herb, was a great success and was reprinted several times, lifting him into some fame. He was to be forever known as the “Tea Doctor”, although he also promoted other substances such as coffee and chocolate for their alleged healing properties. It is easy to see why he would be famous with his patients. Unfortunately, Dr. Bontekoe was killed at the peak of his powers, falling down some steps in his home in Berlin. The funny name however, lives on.