Wet air or dry?
The hot air controversy

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5. Conclusion

These letters were published on the 23rd and 24TH of January—within a week of the original attack in the Dublin Hospital Gazette. This must have helped to reassure potential bathers that they could continue to enjoy their Turkish baths in complete safety, for neither Corrigan nor Madden appears to have written any further letters to the press at this time.

Nevertheless, such arguments about whether 'dry' air was preferable to humid air were to be repeated frequently in the future. And such patently incorrect descriptions of the positioning of the flues in relation to the furnace were to be repeated a year later in Thomas Westropp's letter in The Lancet, written after the inquest into the unfortunate death of a bather at Barter's Limerick establishment, a death which was found at the inquest not to have been related in any way to the use of the Turkish bath.

In spite of the self-confidence apparent in his robust reply, and the support he received from 'Diogenes' and Griffith, Barter appeared to feel the need for some inner reassurance. He must have felt that an appeal to Urquhart would not be appropriate at this stage in their relationship. Instead he wrote to Dr Robert Wollaston in Cheltenham, enclosing copies of the correspondence in the Cork Daily Herald.

Wollaston had discovered the bath when he was a physician on the Medical Staff of the Army in the Crimea and Turkey. During a later visit to Ireland he had been introduced to Dr Barter and had, at his invitation, spent a couple of days at St Ann's. In September 1859 he wrote an article on the Turkish bath for the Herald having, by then, visited all of Barter's establishments.

Replying to Barter on 18 February, Wollaston was able to explain how he thought Madden and other writers had come to hold their views—views which he considered to be erroneous.

If you go early, the chambers contain nothing but hot air; if you go some hours later, say in the afternoon or evening, you often find a hazy vapour, sometimes considerable. This arises from the hot chamber having some three or four, or even more recesses, fitted up with cocks of cold and hot water to wash the bathers, and from the splashing and use of the water, a quantity falls on the hot floors, and becomes evaporated. In the course of a few hours this evaporation gives a hazy appearance to the atmosphere; but this is an accidental occurrence, and not a necessary condition of the hot-air chamber. The Turkish Bath is therefore in essence an air bath, accidentally it may become a vapour bath. But inhalation of vapour is not a genial process nor a physiological purpose, and vapour rather obstructs a free exhalation of the cutaneous system.

He wrote that the baths in places such as Constantinople, Cairo and Scutari were heated by hot air flues around the walls and below the floors.

'Photophilus' went so far as to say that Wollaston's explanation showed that Dr Madden had 'failed to understand even the principles on which the Eastern bath is constructed', and wished to improve the Irish bath by adding to it that which was merely an accidental imperfection to be found in the baths of the East.

In the more litigious world of the twenty-first century, a person so clearly libelled would have immediately consulted his solicitors. Barter does not appear to have done so. But apart from the correspondence in the Irish press, he did write directly to both Corrigan and Madden referring specifically to their incorrect statements on the flues, and the quality of the hot air, in his establishments. In order that they might publicly correct these errors he offered them, or anyone they cared to nominate, every facility to visit and examine the construction of the baths, and the condition of its atmosphere. To further assist them, he enclosed copies of his patent specification, 'which ought to satisfy you that in constructing these baths, 'accident or ignorance' were not the principles which guided me in carrying it out.'

Corrigan did not bother himself to reply. Madden wrote three short paragraphs, each a curt denial which had, perhaps, been vetted by a solicitor before being posted.

In the first, Madden denied 'having done, or intended to do, any injury to your pecuniary or professional interests.'

The second denied Barter's 'right to assume or assert' that Madden had been 'called on by Dr Corrigan to report on the Turkish Baths of this country.' Such a denial was tantamount to calling Corrigan a liar. It is difficult to understand why Madden should think this was worth denying in view of Corrigan's clear statement to the contrary in the second paragraph of his original letter, or even why he thought such a denial might benefit him.

Finally, he denied Barter's 'right to ascribe to me (or require me to retract) opinions on any subject of general interest which you may consider at variance with your private views.' This was, of course, a complete red herring; the correspondence centred on a dispute over facts, not opinions.

Of course, the letters in the press aroused much public interest, so that when Barter gave two lectures on the Turkish bath (on 8 and 9 February at the Rotunda in Dublin) there was 'a very numerous and fashionable assembly' there to hear him on each occasion. At the first of these, he made use of a plan of the baths to demonstrate 'the most ample provision, made for ventilation' and 'the most careful precautions taken to prevent the admission of impure air.'

So while Barter was unsuccessful in obtaining public retractions or corrections, perhaps he had some small satisfaction from seeing an unwarranted attack so speedily collapse at the first sign of opposition.

This page revised and reformatted 14 January 2022

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