Wet air or dry?
The hot air controversy

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3: Dr Barter's response

A reputable paper could have been expected to give Barter an opportunity to add his own comments to Madden's paper at the time of publication or, at the very least, give him a right of reply in the following issue. They did neither.

The Dublin Hospital Gazette refused to insert Barter's reply. The editor had been prepared to publish it; had, in fact, 'gone over the letter line by line' and, together with Barter, had made a few alterations to it. But he was over-ruled by the governing committee; it appears that Dr Corrigan 'was an influential proprietor' of the journal.

Barter was no stranger to ill-informed criticism. He had borne it stoically when he added vapour-baths to St Ann's, and again when he built his first Turkish bath there. He had confidence enough to let it ride, firmly pursuing his medical objectives in the knowledge that he was right. He knew that once they had accustomed themselves to the new ideas, those diehard 'traditional' hydropathists among his patients who had stopped staying at St Ann's, would return. They did.

But he could not allow himself the luxury of such a response on this occasion. His reply showed that he was well aware that this time it was not merely his personal investment which was being threatened. The Turkish Bath Company of Dublin was a joint stock company; the investments of some small shareholders were also at risk.

The day after the attack appeared in the Dublin Hospital Gazette, it was reprinted in the Cork Daily Herald which could be considered Barter's local paper and one, moreover, which a much larger number of his potential patients would read. Barter sent his unpublished reply to the Herald whose editor was less constrained than that of the Gazette.

He wrote that he should have thought that a statement so full of error as that of Dr Madden was not deserving of comment or correction if Dr Corrigan, a man who stood so high in his profession, had not 'endorsed it with his own name, thereby coming forward to criticise in a public manner a question which he had not cared to honour with a personal investigation.'

He denied that the atmosphere of the bath was 'composed of dry parched air'; on the contrary it was pure and fresh, constantly renewed with an effective ventilation system and 'amply supplied with moisture.' The exclusion of 'visible vapour' had been explained on many occasions in his public lectures and in print, and 'ignorance on this point on the part of members of the profession' was inexcusable.

As for the serious accusation that the hot room was heated by a flue which channelled fume-laden hot air directly from the furnace, he said that he had, 'a just claim' upon Dr Corrigan,

to set this matter in a true light before the public, by correcting the errors or mis-statements in question, in as open a manner as he has now put them forward.'

The change from visible vapour to pure air, he explained, was made after much experimentation. He considered that the bath which David Urquhart had first erected at St Ann's was more like a true Oriental bath.

It was heated by a hypocaust, and the washing fountains being situated on the highest level and hottest part of the bath, caused the water which the bathers had used, saturated with soap and other impurities, to flow over the heated floors. By this means a disagreeable cloudy atmosphere of steam was maintained, which however enjoyable to those accustomed from their infancy to no better, was found by me and other medical men to be highly objectionable, and especially prejudicial to invalids, on account of its tendency to raise the circulation and produce other distressing symptoms.

When not actually quoting from Madden, Barter was terse. He denied that the air was heated by hot fumes led from the coke-fed furnaces through channels into the bath room. Finally, he hoped that if the two writers,

again venture before the public, they will endeavour to master their subject, and not lend their names to fill the pages of a respectable journal with statements based on utter ignorance, and thus occupy my time, as well as the time of others, in reading, correcting, and contradicting their puerilities. I shall be happy to afford them ample opportunity of doing so at my establishments at Blarney, Cork, Killarney, Limerick, Bray, &, &.

Barter chose to answer his critics briefly and with dignity, preferring to challenge them to visit his establishments and then correct their mistaken assertions.

But the reprinting of the letters of Corrigan and Madden in the Cork Daily Herald allowed others to participate in the fray.

This page revised and reformatted 01 January 2021

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