DEATH AFTER USING A TURKISH BATH—A person is stated to
have died lately, in Limerick, from the effects of a Turkish bath. From
the account given it is evident that the immediate cause of death was
rupture of a blood-vessel—probably of an aneurism—the rupture being, we
may fairly suppose, hastened by the effects of the bath.
there were many doctors who believed the use of the bath would do
them out of business. As late as 1877 several wrote to Richard Metcalfe
(who was campaigning for a Turkish bath in Paddington) and expressed
views similar to those of Dr Andrew Clarke, who wrote, 'As I think that
the Turkish Bath should not be used without the sanction of a medical
man, I am unable to give my support to any project for its
indiscriminate and unguarded use.'
in The Field
previously published several items in favour of David Urquhart and the
Turkish bath) used this incident to attack those doctors who, but a few
months earlier had known nothing of the Turkish bath, and who now
claimed to be experts laying down the law about when, for how long, and
at what temperature, it should be used. The full letter from Dr Thomas
Westropp to the editor of The Lancet (part of which is quoted
above) was reproduced in the article. Westropp reported that he had been
at the inquest on the death of an elderly man who had died in Barter's
On Tuesday evening, April 30, the man before mentioned,
who is said to have laboured under some chest affection for a long time,
went to the hot-air baths for the second time, having, as he thought,
derived some temporary benefit or relief from his first visit. While
being washed in the small compartment off the most-heated chamber, he
was taken with a fit of retching or coughing, and exclaimed that some
lump had broken within his chest, which relieved his sense of
oppression. Immediately large quantities of blood issued from his mouth;
the attendants removed him speedily to the outer cool dressing-room, and
laid him on a cushioned bench; he gradually sank, and died in about four
or five minutes from the haemorrhage. A medical gentleman who had been
sent for found the man dead on his arrival. His opinion of the cause of
death was, that an aneurism had ruptured; but no post-mortem examination
having been ordered (which is a rather constant omission in Ireland), he
of course could not be very accurate in his statements.
pointed out the moral of the story.
Hitherto Turkish baths have been cried up in Ireland as
something miraculous; now, the chance is, public opinion will run into
the opposite extreme, and pronounce them a kill-all. I, as well as
other medical men, had long since warned the public to use them only
medicinally under competent advice.
in The Field suggested that Westropp's use of the Latin terms for the
s made it seem 'more than likely' that he had 'been "reading
up" the bath' in the pages of Erasmus Wilson's book on the subject. The
writer of the article then asks:
What are the facts of this case? An elderly man dies in a
bath from what is suspected to be an aneurism. Mr Westropp says that it
is a bath arranged by Dr Barter, and that it is ill-ventilated. Very
likely; that is the defect in every so-called public Turkish bath built
for the purpose of speculation that we have as yet seen.
is not totally disinterested either; he writes from London where it is
known that David Urquhart himself is at that moment involved in building
the Hammam in Jermyn Street, and he would certainly ensure that the
ventilation there would be perfect. The article continues:
But defect of ventilation, though it might produce
temporary inconvenience, and even drive the bather out of the bath to
seek fresh air, will not kill. The man, in the opinion of the Limerick
faculty, died of an aneurism; and an aneurism will kill anywhere. Mr
Westropp is not so absurd as to suggest that the bath caused the
aneurism; but if it did not, what can be the logical reason for
connecting them? Does he suppose that the bath can cure an aneurism? No
one has ever pretended that it can; though perhaps it may be maintained,
and with success, that the use of the bath might defer the mortal effect
by improving the health and working condition of the organs. What, then,
has Mr Westropp's 'case' proved, but that a man afflicted with a mortal
disease, of a nature to kill him at any moment, happened to die in a
Turkish bath? What then? he might have died in his bed, or in a coach.
Would Mr Westropp, in either of those cases, have written to The
Lancet his fears that public opinion would run into the opposite
extreme, and pronounce beds and coaches 'a kill-all'?
later, the incident was brought up again by another doctor with an axe
to grind. A Dr William Alfred Johnson, proprietor of Malvern House, a
hydropathic establishment in Delgany, near Dr Barter's Turkish baths in
Bray, published a pamphlet entitled A word to the public on the
Turkish bath. Although an
unashamed puff for his own hydro, the pamphlet was designed to appear as
an unbiased appraisal of the Turkish bath for the general reader. It was
almost immediately taken to pieces, with great irony and a certain
stylishness, by Dr T Rayner (at that time proprietor of the Lower Temple
Street Turkish baths in Dublin) in a pamphlet
of his own, A voice from the thermae.
Johnson's attacks on the Turkish bath were simply dealt with. But his
use of the unfortunate death of this bather in one of Barter's
establishments, in order to prove that the Turkish bath was a danger to
be avoided at all costs, was clearly too much for Rayner.
But there is one singular case which the Doctor adduces among his
'facts' which we have scarcely seen equalled either in any Medical
Report, or any arguments like those deduced from it. He quotes the case
of a man who died after the Turkish Bath, at Limerick, thus—'This very
day, May 3rd, 1861, I have just read an account in the Irish times
of an inquest having been held on the corpse of a man, who, whilst in
the Turkish Bath at Limerick, was seized with spitting of blood, and who
died shortly afterwards. I have not seen the result of the inquest, but
as far as I can observe, a general impression appears to prevail that
the calamity was due to the bath, but that it was the man's own fault
who went into it shortly after dinner. To my mind this is a dangerous
and foolish doctrine, for it gives to the public a cloak of security as
false as it is transparent. If the bath be so severe as to cause death,
the precaution of taking it only on an empty stomach will prove no
safeguard against its danger. If five grains of strychnine be taken into
the stomach it makes very little matter whether the stomach be full or
empty, for death will follow in either case!!'
Now let us consider this as a grave statement of facts, by a Medical
gentleman, in reasoning on an agent which is of the utmost importance to
the public health.
An inquest is held on the 2nd of May, on the body of a man who died
after a Turkish Bath at Limerick. Dr Johnson reads this fact, as he
states, on the next day, May 3rd, in a Dublin paper. The verdict of that
jury is brought in on that same day, the 3rd; but we must not presume
that Dr Johnson never either read or heard of that verdict, though, no
doubt, it must have been published in the Dublin papers on the 4th.
For the Doctor publishes a pamphlet on the subject of the Turkish Bath
in the middle of June. He cites the fact of the man's death after the
bath at Limerick; he cites the fact of the inquest being summoned, but,
though the verdict of the jury was this:—'That the deceased came by his
death from natural causes, and that no blame was to be attached to the
bath, nor to any one connected therewith'; though the evidence of the
Medical gentleman who examined the body was this:—'That, in his opinion,
the deceased died of aneurism, or from the rupture of a diseased vessel
situated in some place in connection with the heart, and a rupture of
that vessel might have been the cause of death; excitement in his own
family at home, or in the street, might cause death'—yet, in defiance of
the verdict of the jury, in defiance of the evidence of the Medical man,
on which it was founded, Dr Johnson quotes 'a general impression' which
he said 'appeared to prevail', before the verdict was given, 'that the
calamity was due to the bath'. He assumes this as true, and then argues
on this monstrous assumption, 'If the bath be so severe as to cause
death, the precaution of taking it on an empty stomach is no safeguard
against its danger', and he then compares its being taken at any time to
a person taking 'five grains of strychnine'
Fortunately, none of this seems to have affected the use by the public
of Barter's baths. There is also a certain irony in the fact that three
years after this controversy, in 1864, Dr Johnson installed a Turkish
bath, which was also open to the general public, at his Delgany
Hydropathic Establishment in County Wicklow.
In 1872, two years after Barter's death, the
surviving proprietor, Samuel Wormleighton refurbished the baths.
This was, in effect, a major refit and the bath was closed for quite a
while during the alterations.
The men's area was enlarged and the heating system
changed from the original flues under the floor which necessitated the
wearing of wooden pattens to avoid burning bathers' feet. Privacy in the
shampooing area was improved by the provision of orname
ntal screens. But
the new facility probably most appreciated by bathers was the
installation of a cold plunge pool, 15ft long by 5½ft wide and 4 foot
deep, in the centre of a separate room. The steps, the bottom, and
edging were in white marble, while the side walls were of white
lled bricks. No new facilities were added in the women's baths
although, like the men's baths, the ventilation and lighting were
In the light of the improvements in the heating
and ventilation systems it might be thought that perhaps the ventilation
in the original baths was, after all, not as good as it should have
been. Clearly Mr Wormleighton was prepared for such a suggestion, for
the Limerick chronicle reported that,
In remodelling the
Turkish Baths upon more scientific principles, Mr Wormleighton has had
the benefit of a long experience of all the Turkish Baths in Ireland
while acting as partner with the late Dr Barter, whose name
connection with those great health-invigorators is a household word. He
has, in the present establishment, remedied all the defects that science
and common sense could suggest, and we have no doubt it will be found he
has made it one of the finest, and, for its size, one of the most
perfect institutions of its kind in Ireland.
time there were two classes of bather. The baths were open from 6.00 in
the morning till 8.30 at night, bathers paying 1/- in the morning or
evening, and 2/- around midday.
some confusion as to who was the proprietor after Samuel Wormleighton
died. Was it his daughter, or perhaps sister, and was she followed by
his wife? However, by 1884 it was owned by Mrs Connolly, widow of James
Connolly who had been superintendent of the baths for several years.
that she was unable or unwilling to continue running it for more than a
few years, and business may have been affected by the brand new
Turkish baths opened in 1887 by Mr Taylor in Sarsfield Street.
Although there is a trade directory entry for the baths in
1891, this has not been corroborated elsewhere.
The Turkish baths
(on a long lease at a ground rent of only £17 10s. 0d per
year) were offered for sale as a going concern by the
vendors 'because they believe themselves unable to give the
concern the attention which is absolutely indispensable'. At
the time of the sale the baths included an Italian marble
plunge bath, but whether this was part of the original baths
is not known.
unknown at present is
whether there was a purchaser, and in what year the baths finally closed.