‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ – The Turkish Bath Culture in Christchurch, NZ

The introduction and popularity of the Turkish Bath in Victorian Christchurch through to its demise in the 1930s

The exoticism of a Turkish bath so appealed to the Victorians that it became the height of fashion from the 1880s onwards. The public was captivated by the ‘Oriental’ qualities and health benefits hot and cold bathing could offer.

Today we enjoy Council operated hot pools and the luxury of spas and hot tubs in our homes. We owe their existence to the development of the Victorian Turkish Bath Movement and the entrepreneurial spirit of some early Cantabrians who created businesses out of cleanliness.

Read time approximately 40 minutes

Content Shortcuts:

Turkish Baths for Christchurch – “Who is to do it?”

“There is an old proverb that cleanliness is next to godliness, and we wish we could feel certain that this saying was as fully recognised in Christchurch as it undoubtedly deserves to be. We fear that a good many of us are too busy to be as clean as could be wished, and at any rate, whether we are so or no, it will be granted that except for the wealthier classes the facilities for a really good wash are not so ample as they ought to be.”

“There is hardly anything that tends to make a man respect himself more than the feeling that he is really clean. Bodily cleanliness is more conducive to mental cleanliness than we are apt at all times to remember; it has, moreover, such an intimate connection with the hearty action of the liver and consequently of the whole temper of the man that it must be regarded as a social and political agent for the removal of vice and the promotion of virtue.”

“We confess we look upon the Turkish bath with a somewhat conservative suspicion, and that the Roman baths were nearly identical with these seems to be pretty well established. We shall therefore be well content to see a good swimming bath established, with some warm baths attached, for the benefit of people arriving from the country, or from the unwatered town and the perspiration hills of Lyttelton. We have already said enough, and more than enough. The question, however, next arises, ‘Who is to do it ?'” 

The Press, October 1863. [1]

Press, Press, Volume IV, Issue 483, 17 May 1864
Press, Volume IV, Issue 483, 17 May 1864. Source PapersPast

Content Shortcuts

The Turkish Bath as a Cure for Insanity

The reported curative powers of Turkish Baths were well circulated. According to Doctor Power, the resident physician of the Cork District Lunatic Asylum in 1862, it was a proven cure for insanity. After four months of use at the institution, “seventeen persons had been perfectly cured by it, and sent home to their friends.” [2]

“I am every day more and more persuaded by my experience of the great value of the Turkish Bath”, wrote Sir John Fife, Introducer of the Bath into the Newcastle Infirmary for the three Northern Counties. “As to consumption, that scourge of England, that pallid spectre which sits by every tenth domestic hearth, — among the higher orders it is not only unknown where the Turkish bath is practised but is curable by its means.”

Fife published in 1865 the ‘Manual of the Turkish Bath: Heat, a Mode of Cure and a Source of Strength for Men and Animals’. Edited from writings by David Urquhart, the Scottish diplomate who had introduced the Turkish Bath to Britain, it also discussed the effects of the Turkish bath on the muscular power of runners, wrestlers, boxers and racehorses, through to mothers in childbirth and milk production.

“Sir John Fife says to me in a letter: – ‘I state as the result of my experience that in diseases of the skin, joints, liver, and kidney the action of the Turkish bath is immediate and direct.'” [3]

Manual of the Turkish Bath: Heat, a Mode of Cure and a Source of Strength for Men and Animals

The book listed an A to Z of maladies which benefited from the Turkish bath including ague (fever), barrenness, hair colour restoration and hypochondria, through to St Vitus’ Dance (muscular spasms resulting from acute rheumatic fever) and obstruction of the viscera. 

From politicians to medical men, influential Victorians escalated their support of the Turkish bath into a political campaign known as “The Turkish Bath Movement”.

Turkish baths could also aid in the cure of consumption (tuberculosis) which spread rapidly through the community taking the lives of old and young alike. Scottish physician Dr. Burgess contended in 1862 that climate had little or nothing to do with the cure of consumption and that if it had, the curative effects would be produced through the skin and not the lungs, by opening the pores and promoting a better reaction of the blood. Hydropathy and the Turkish bath, he stated, provided that. [4]

Content Shortcuts

The Turkish Bath for the Cure of Drunkards

The Christchurch Press reported in 1863 that “A tract has been placed in our hands which asserts that the Turkish Bath is a cure for the cravings of the drunkard.” They may have been referencing the The Turkish bath: an Antidote for the Cravings of the Drunkard published in 1859.

“It cured the cravings of drunkards by causing profuse perspiration, and by opening and cleansing the seven millions of pores, rendering them permeable in an increased degree to the oxygen, which burns off the accumulation of effete matter left by the stimulants; increased vigor and vitality are thus given to the system, and the craving for drink is cured.” [5]

Content Shortcuts

The Turkish Bath as a Cure for Livestock

The miraculous powers of the Turkish bath knew no bounds. It could also be used for the training of horses and the treatment of livestock. [6] Turkish baths for horses were reported as the latest novelty in New York in 1878. [7]

Jockeys also used the Turkish bath to quickly loose weight before races. At the 1907 New Zealand cup run at Riccarton, jockey Len King, considered one of the best riders of his day, had his most notable success riding Frisco.

On arrival at Christchurch, King trotted out to Riccarton and back again to the Turkish baths. He ran out to Riccarton on the morning of the race, back again for another bath, rode 7.6 (including 4lb over), won the race, and collapsed when on the scales to weigh in.

Press, Volume LXXIX, Issue 24038, 28 August 1943, Page 7

The Americans were not short on novelty when it came to the Turkish bath. The Globe and the Press reported in December 1877 on “One of the latest Yankee ideas”, a Turkish bath on wheels. After all, there were already bathing machines on wheels at the beach, so why not Turkish bath rail cars?

It is a car that can run behind the sleeping coaches of an express train. It has a drawing-room, a Russian and plunge bath, shampooing rooms, and all the other accommodations of a Turkish bath house. The temperature of the rooms varies from 80 deg. to 160 deg., and the compartments are lighted from the roof with blue glass. Travellers can bathe as well as eat, drink, and sleep on the rail. Such a car can be switched off on a side track in any town or village, and remain a day or two for the accommodation of the residents.

Press, Volume XXVIII, Issue 3866, 12 December 1877, Page 3

With such obvious popularity, combined with the powerful claims by members of the medical profession and patriarchy, who would not fail to be swayed by the extensive curative powers of such an ancient, exotic and not wholly unpleasant remedy.

New Zealand was not to miss out on such luxurious benefits of a bath of hot dry pure air for all manner of distressing complaints, with the first of many Turkish Baths opened in Dunedin in 1874.

Content Shortcuts

Aaron Ayers: “The Poor Professor of the Brush and Comb”

When Professor Ayers, proprietor of the shampooing saloons and tobacconist at the City Baths in Colombo Street, advertised for tenders to build his Turkish Baths in 1877, the public were already well informed of the health and luxury benefits of this new fashion.

The Star reported on 27 August 1877:

TURKISH BATHS. – A tender has been formally accepted for the erection of the Turkish Baths, of which particulars were given in our columns some time since, and in order that no time may be lost, tenders will be immediately invited for the supply of the furniture and fittings. The proprietor has decided upon adding a new feature to the baths, in order that they may be rendered as complete as possible. Under the superintendence of Mr Meddings, who is no mean authority, a powerful galvanic battery will be fitted up and terminals carried to each room, so that any person using the baths may indulge himself with a course of galvanism without extra cost. It has also been determined to obtain the services of a skilled operator and the Turkish baths will therefore take a somewhat higher rank. The total cost involved in the building and fittings will approach 2000 pounds and it may be remarked that the introduction by Professor Ayers of such an institution is to be regarded as somewhat appropriate seeing that to him belongs the credit of having first erected baths of any description in Christchurch.

Star, Issue 2929, 22 August 1877, Page 2 [8]

The entrepreneurial Ayers had opened his City Baths in late 1863, creating the city’s first hot and cold bathing establishment.  It consisted of “two separate and roomy bathrooms, in each of which there is a comfortable bath of about six feet in length, and hot or cold water can be turned on ad libitum.” Shower baths were being completed, and Ayers had every intention of enlarging his establishment in proportion to the support his business received from the Christchurch public, which he did, reopening in January 1878. [9]

The Southern provinces almanac, directory, diary and year book for 1865
The Southern provinces almanac, directory, diary and year book for 1865, page 98. Source: Christchurch City Libraries.

Within a year of opening his City Baths in 1863, Ayers introduced the concept of the Turkish Baths to Christchurch. His plan was to raise capital through selling subscriptions to 100 interested gentlemen at £2 2s per annum. With this method, money could be raised in advance to cover start-up costs, similar to modern-day crowdfunding.

Turkish Baths.—A movement has been set on foot with a view of establishing baths of this description in Christchurch. Professor Ayers, who was the first to introduce warm andcold baths into the city, is endeavoring to supplement the work by starting Turkish Baths as well. He proposes carrying the idea into execution by means of a subscription, to be raised amongst those persons who may be favorable to the scheme. As they have been found so beneficial, and so conducive to-health. wherever they have been established, both in England and the Colonies, it is to be hoped that the project will soon become a reality.
Lyttelton Times, Volume XXI, Issue 1237, 17 May 1864
Turkish Baths,— We understand that a gentleman has just arrived here by the s.s. Wellington, who comes with the view of establishing in Christchurch a Turkish and Hydropathic Healing Institution, on the same principle as Smedley’s, of Matlock, Derbyshire, and Dr Trails, of America, combining the advantages of baths. He proposes to do so by shares, the amount subscribed by private individuals being supplemented by a similar sum from the corporation, whom he intends to interview {on the subject, The private subscribers will then receive a number of tickets representing the value of their subscriptions, which will entitle them to all the advantages of the proposed institution, the tickets to be transferable.
Globe, Volume VI, Issue 618, 12 June 1876, Page 2.

Content Shortcuts

The First Turkish Baths open in Christchurch

In 1878 Christchurch’s first Turkish Baths were opened. Ayers had extensively remodelled his business premises facing High street in the Triangle, the former site of one of Christchurch’s first hairdressers operated by Charles Prebble. Prebble had died in 1875 having operated the business for eighteen years. His executors then sold it to Ayers.

Passing through the hair-dressing saloon and a lobby, the visitor reached the first apartment consisting of the reception-room followed by a disrobing apartment which was divided into several neatly fitted chambers furnished in ‘Oriental appearance’. The visitor then moved into the ‘Tepidarium’ heated to 120 degrees. Here bathers lounged on the armchair seats around an ‘artistically designed fountain’ supplying ‘the necessary moisture to perfect the temperature required.’ The bather then entered the ‘Calidarium’ where the temperature ranged from 155 to 160 degrees. From there it was into the Shampooing room. A bath fitted with jets completed the experience before the bather passed through to the lounge and cooling saloon richly furnished with couches and easy chairs, where they could enjoy coffee, cigars and a game of chess.

“From the large crimson curtains edged with gold, which screen the entrance doors, to the rich Brussels carpet — relieved with choice pot plants standing here and there, and the various tasteful ornaments and surroundings —all are in unison, making altogether a most luxurious apartment, and alone worthy of a visit.”

A wide corridor covered with a cork and rubber floor covering called ‘kamptulicon’, with rows of pot plants placed at intervals, led to the ‘private baths’ fitted with large enamelled baths with hot and cold water, and shower baths. Then it was on to the gentleman’s haircutting room and the shop. Separate facilities were provided for ladies and the Turkish Baths suite was “set apart on stated days for ladies, and are so ordered that the greatest privacy can be secured.” It all sounded very indulgent, exotic and novel.  [10]

The establishment had been “fitted up under the supervision of Mr Fisher, a gentleman who has been connected with baths for a number of years in Paris, London, and Constantinople.” [11]

In 1879, Christchurch residents could avail themselves of bathing at Aaron Ayers’ Turkish Baths on High Street, Jubal Fleming’s City Baths on Colombo Street South, the public baths at Cashel Street West and the Lincoln Road Swimming Baths. [12] Around the same time, large homes of six and seven rooms appointed with their own bathrooms started to appear for sale in the local newspapers. Public and private bathing facilities for the Christchurch population were beginning to grow.

Press, Volume XXXII, Issue 4378, 12 August 1879, Page 2.

After twenty years as a hairdresser and tobacconist, the proprietor of Christchurch’s first Turkish Baths stood for the Christchurch mayoralty in 1880. He lost by 119 votes. Ayers also changed careers. In 1881/early 1882 he became an auctioneer under the banner Ayers & Co.

Ayers stood again for the mayoralty in 1885 and this time was elected unopposed. He served two terms.

On 11 June 1881, Ayers put up for auction the handsome two-storied building in High Street occupied by his baths and the business of tea merchants Nelson, Moates & Co. After some spirited bidding, it was passed in without sale at £6400.

Located at number 238 on “the best part of High Street” opposite the City Hotel and near the Bank of New Zealand, the premises became that of Williams & Holderness Hairdressers by 1885. What happened to the Turkish Baths is unknown. [13]

Star, Issue 4902, 18 January 1884, Page 2
Star, Issue 4902, 18 January 1884, Page 2

Content Shortcuts

Hydropathy and the Use of the Turkish Bath

In December 1882 the Lyttelton Times carried an advertisement from Mr G. T. Nixon announcing he had fitted up Turkish Baths “for ladies only” at his residence in Manchester street (between the bridge and Kilmore street). They would be opened on 16th January 1883. Charges were to be moderate, and a female attendant would be on hand. The baths and accommodation, he claimed, had been inspected and approved of by Dr Philip Ryder Tivy, a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (1827) from County Cork, Ireland. [14]

This new establishment of Nixon’s featured Turkish Baths and had been in the planning since 1881, when Tivy had addressed a meeting of interested parties on the subject in the waiting room of Ayers’ High street Turkish Baths. Tivy told the gathering “that a well-appointed Turkish bath was a most necessary adjunct of such an institution, and he referred briefly to severe cases of chronic rheumatism and gout which had come under his observation, and which had been cured. In almost every town in England with which he was acquainted, there were one (or more) of these hydropathic establishments; and he was quite convinced, from what he had been able to see during his yet brief stay in Christchurch, that there was a grand opening.”

Both Tivy and Ayers were members of the newly formed Hydropathic Society. Tivy was a temperance supporter and had an “earnest desire… to set up a suitable establishment in the neighbourhood of Christchurch, such an establishment as should form a happy and comfortable home, conducted, however, under the strictest medical supervision. He would have the able co-operation of Mrs Colonel Packe, who would superintend the ladies’ department, and would do so with intelligence, zeal, and Christian love.”

Mrs Packe was the wife of the Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Canterbury Militia and Volunteers. Colonel Packe suffered a longstanding illness from the congestion of the lungs brought on during his time serving overseas. The couple were considered part of the ‘Canterbury Elite’. Mrs Packe was also active in the Canterbury Temperance movement and so “the house would be conducted on strictly temperance principles, in recognition of the teaching of nature that alcohol was not food.” [15 ]

Content Shortcuts

Halswell Hydropathic and Turkish Baths

A year later in 1883, an increase in patients saw Tivy’s wish come true. He and Nixon took over an extensive “Hydropathic Establishment and Home for Invalids” at Halswell House on Lincoln Road, a magnificent country residence, standing in its own beautiful grounds at Halswell,… a locality noted throughout Canterbury for its healthiness and pretty surroundings.” This former gentleman’s residence, owned till his death in 1874 by David Lewis, was built circa 1866. It had dining and drawing-rooms, seven bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, pantry, scullery and dairy, together with stables, coach-house, and other outbuildings; and ten acres of land. Since 1877 it had been used as a Hydropathic Establishment for “Ladies and Children only” under the proprietorship of a Mrs Booth. For two and a half guineas per week, Canterbury ladies of a delicate disposition could obtain relief from “every disease of the human frame”. [16]

Tivy, who became a resident at Rangiora, had his hand in other Hydropathic Establishments, including the purpose-built Matlock House on Otaki street, Kaiapoi. Opened in 1885 and run by Mr and Mrs T. Sutherland, it offered vapour, Turkish and other baths “for the relief and cure of various disorders of the body.” [17]

Content Shortcuts

The Portable Turkish Bath Comes to Town

British Newspaper The Examiner, 22 June 1878.

A large piece of furniture, somewhat resembling a cabinet, with a sort of chimney rising from the top“, made an appearance at the Christchurch Exhibition in May 1883. Along the lines of earlier portable Turkish baths, this one was the invention of Mr King David Skyes, a former Mancunian watchmaker from Auckland. Sykes had arrived in Christchurch after practised for eight years as a hydropathist in his business, Auckland Turkish Baths in upper Queen street.

His invention, which received a first award at the Exhibition, is, he claims, of the utmost values in recuperating failing physical powers, and driving out of the system various evils engendered by climatic or other influences. It can be used as a hot air bath, either dry or vapourised, medicated or plain, and Mr Sykes contends that it possesses all the advantages of the regular Turkish bath, without its disadvantage, i.e., the compelling the bather to breathe the heated air.

Lyttelton Times, Volume LIX, Issue 6933, 19 May 1883, Page 5.

Sykes’ bath was 3ft 3in high by 2ft 1in wide and mounted on casters so it could be shifted from one room to another, or to the bedside of a patient. 

At one end is a wooden seat, opposite to which is a footboard. Beneath each is a metal flue with small openings in the side of the bath to admit the air, which is heated to the required temperature by the flame of a gas jet or spirit lamp playing on the cylinder. This heated air circulates through the bath, and passes oat of the flue in the top, bearing with it any impurities it has gathered in its course. The bather, who is shut in by a kind of lid, having an aperture for his head, finds the temperature equable, and though, of course, tolerably warm, not so much so as to be unpleasant. A process of shampooing is undergone before leaving the bath, and on quitting it a cold or tepid plunge bath or douche, and a smart rub with a rough towel makes the patient feel “ a new man.”

Lyttelton Times, Volume LIX, Issue 6933, 19 May 1883, Page 5.

The baths were on sale at his “modest establishment” at 108 Colombo Street, where he intended to “to be the nucleus of a hydropathic institution, similar to that conducted by him in Auckland”.

K. D. SYKES' Circulating Hot-air Baths, 108, Colombo street. Separate fittings for Ladies. Lady in attendance, 2to 6 p.m, excepting Saturdays. Testimonials fromDrPrihs and several other Christchurch residents.
Star, Issue 4852, 17 November 1883, Page 2.

But Sykes didn’t stay long. His next stop was Gisborne in February 1884. Here he touted the credibility of his invention by stating that the Governor and the Premier of New Zealand had “both been purchasers.” Seeing international opportunities, Sykes had sent his brother in Oswego, U.S. “a bath beautifully constructed of mottled kauri” and patented his invention locally and in the States.

Described as “always of a delicate constitution”, the “intelligent, energetic and earnestly religious” Sykes died in 1886 a few days after his Mt Eden home had burnt to the ground. Confined to his bed, Sykes had been rescued from the burning building only to pass away days later.

Following his death, the patent rights for the ‘Portable Hygienic Hot Air Baths’ were made available for New Zealand and New South Wales, offering a fortune to be made for “an energetic man”.

Content Shortcuts

Turkish Baths Reach Peak Popularity

By 1884, the popularity of Turkish baths in Canterbury seemed to be reaching a peak.

The London based inventors of the award-winning Portable Turkish Hot-Air Vapour Bath, James Allen & Son, advertised their product in the British Medical Journal Advertiser and the Christchurch Press. The claimed: “After hunting, driving, shooting, fishing, riding, or any excessive fatigue” it was possible “with perfect safety” to have a Turkish bath in “your own room”. [18 ]

British Medical Journal Advertiser, page 867. Dec 13 1884
British Medical Journal Advertiser, page 867. 13 December 1884.

Content Shortcuts

Turkish Baths on Cashel Street East

By August 1884, work was underway on a new Turkish Bath establishment near the Kaiapoi Woollen Factory on Cashel Street East between Manchester and Madras streets. Like Ayers’ Turkish Baths, it was a grand establishment. Built of brick, it covered an area of 60 x 33 feet from its Cashel street frontage, extending back to Bedford Row.

At the front were the hairdressing rooms and ticket office. A passage ran right through the building from front to back. To the right of this from the entrance were six chambers for hot, cold, and shower baths. On the left were the rooms for the Turkish baths – “the special feature of the establishment.”

“The person wishing to enjoy the Oriental luxury will first enter one of the dressing-rooms, of which there are eight, very neatly fitted up; he then passes to the first hot room, at which the temperature is maintained at about 125deg Fah., and having become accustomed to this, he is prepared to pass to the hotter chamber, of 150 deg on an average. Both those hot rooms are of the same size— l2ft by 9ft 6in, floored with red and white tiles, and plastered ; they are heated by hot-air flues passing round them, and connected with a furnace at the back. Special attention will be paid to ventilation, not only in these rooms, but in all connected with the baths. Disc ventilators in the walls and ceiling, that can be opened or closed at will, are the description made use of for the purpose. After he has had enough of the hot-air -process, the visitor will pass to the shampooing room, in which is the “needle bath.” The operation of this is to throw from a number of small jets sprays of water gradually decreasing from warm to cold, thus preventing the danger to the bather of suffering a chill after he has finished his Turkish bath. Sulphur and vapour baths are also provided in the shampooing room, on leaving which the visitor pushes aside a crimson curtain and finds himself in the “cooling room,” a large, handsomely furnished apartment, in which files of the illustrated and other papers are kept, and where one can enjoy tho dolce far niente till he feels disposed to return to tho dressing-room. All the rooms, except those in front, are lighted by skylights. The building will cost over £IOOO, and the contractor for the work is Mr W. B. Scott, who expects to finish his contract by the end of October.” [19]

Lyttelton Times, Volume LXII, Issue 7320, 15 August 1884, Page 6.

This establishment was the vision of John Charles Fisher and Duncan Beaumont Wallis, a former publican. It would be run by Fisher, who had worked for Ayers, and his wife.

The Oriental Turkish Baths opened for business on the morning of 21 October 1884 but would only operate for six to nine weeks before it was beset with financial problems and the keys were passed over to the Official Assignee.

Fisher and Wallis had relied on the promise of subscriptions of three guineas a year to bankroll the project. A mortgage of £400 was raised to pay an initial instalment to the builder Walter B. Scott, with the balance to be paid by the subscribers as soon as the baths were finished. However, all the subscriptions failed to come in and the proprietors could not secure a second mortgage. The receipts for baths varied from £12 to £4 10s. per week for the six weeks the baths were open. With no money, and unable to pay their rent and arrears, Fisher and Wallis were forced into bankruptcy. All the business’ furniture and effects were subsequently auctioned by the bailiff without a reserve in December 1884. [20]

No images have been found of the interiors of the Christchurch Turkish bath houses. These images are of Wigzell’s Hairdressers and Turkish bath, Oxford Street, Sydney, Australia, 1883 kindly supplied by Malcolm Shifrin, a leading authority on Victorian Turkish Bath history.

Content Shortcuts

New Lease of Life for the Oriental Turkish Baths

The Oriental Turkish Baths began a new lease of life on Monday 2nd February 1885 under the management of Mr. W. Datson. He had come from the Jermyn Street Baths in London, one of the finest Turkish Baths in the world. But this wasn’t to last either. The premises went back up for lease in June 1885 and “the whole of the extensive furnishings of the Turkish Baths, Cashel Street East” up for auction with no reserve. [21]

In July it opened for the third time in less than a year. Mr Robert Hall was the manager and had “considerable experience in the Management of Baths”. His father, John William Hall, also ran baths in Dunedin and Wellington.  

Between the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. male patrons could enjoy hot and cold plunge baths with showers for 3 shillings a bath or 20 shillings for eight tickets. Ladies could avail themselves of the facilities on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They were, he claimed, “the only Real Turkish Baths in Christchurch”. [22]

Picture of exterior of Hall's Baths on Cashel Street 1902
Hall’s Turkish Baths on Cashel Street as featured in the Tourists’ Guide to Canterbury, 1902. Source: Christchurch City Libraries Ref: CCL-83338-168.

Hall’s tenure as proprietor of Turkish Baths was the longest, lasting into the twentieth century. In 1885 it was still operating from 121 Cashel Street, as Hall’s Hydropathic and Turkish Bath Establishment. Mrs Hall was Ladies’ Attendant and Mr. Hall was the Hydropathist.

In 1886 the premises underwent repair and reopened in “in splendid condition, and a much higher temperature than ever there has formerly been.” [23] Hall also took the opportunity to add Steam Baths:

By means of a simple but efficacious process anyone suffering from liver complaint can receive the full benefit of the Turkish bath without the tedious wait in the hot room. The period necessary has, by the use of the steam bath, been shortened considerably, added to which the effect in the case of patients suffering from torpidity of the liver is greatly enhanced. [24]

Press, Volume XLIII, Issue 6636, 30 December 1886, Page 2.

Hall remodelled again in 1890 and re-opened on 11th July.

The entrance has been very nicely arranged, and there is a snug little waiting room for those who may be undergoing a course of hydropathic treatment. The hot and cold baths are ten in number, and are very nicely fitted. Each has a concrete floor covered, with matting, and is provided with a capital shower. The baths themselves are enamelled, and there is an air of cleanliness and comfort about the whole suite of rooms. In connection with this portion of the establishment there are two steam bath rooms fitted with the necessary appliances for packing, &c.

Passing from the corridor into the portion of the building devoted to the Turkish baths, great alterations for the better have been made, six commodious dressing-rooms have been provided, each with a locker for valuables, &c, and the position in which these are placed is now such that the heat from the hot rooms is not, as was formerly the case, perceptible in any way. In the hot rooms there are a number of little improvements. In the first a small head shower bath has been provided, which is a great convenience to those who suffer from headache in the hot rooms. Then luxurious lounging chairs have been provided, so that those who desire can recline at their ease whilst the preliminary process of the bath is going on. The furnace has been removed to a better position, and by an ingenious arrangement the fresh-air from outside passes over the heated surface and passes into the rooms, thus causing a continuous supply of heated air, and doing away with the closeness which was so noticeable before. The cooling room has been greatly improved and enlarged, and is handsomely furnished with sofas, &c. This has been carried right out to the Cashel street: front, and is really a very handsome and airy apartment. Altogether, Mr Hall is to be congratulated on the enterprise he has shown, and the admirable manner in which he has carried out the improvements. [25]

Press, Volume XLVIL, Issue 7729, 8 December 1890, Page 6.

Located near the Madras street end of Cashel street, the baths were sandwiched between the N.Z. Farmers’ Co-op and the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company’s warehouse and clothing factory. The Metropolitan Family Hotel and Coffee Palace, an unlicensed temperance hotel run by Otto Schneider was nearby, located on the corner with Cashel street.  This block between Madras and Manchester also included the businesses of grain and produce merchants, a signwriter and a lamp maker. [1894 NZ Directory]

After 20 years running the business, on 1st April 1905 Robert Hall handed over the business to a partnership run by his brother-in-law Edward Young and half brother William Cox Hall trading as Young & Co Hydropathic, Turkish Steam and Hot Baths. This followed several years of family difficulties for Mr and Mrs Robert Hall, which came to a head in early 1902 when they brought suit against each other in the Christchurch Supreme Court for misconduct.

A “Double-barrelled Divorce”

Elizabeth Hall claimed her husband of 16 years had consorted with her former friend Lucie Shannon. Robert Hall claimed his wife had taken up with Walter Brewster, who was believed to be just 18 years of age! Elizabeth had left Robert in 1898 taking with her the two surviving children. Robert claimed she left “on account of quarrels caused by her running him into debt, and her drinking habits. She alleged that she left on account of his persistent cruelty.” Soon after, Elizabeth took up with Brewster who, reportedly, had previously pursued her unsuccessfully.

A week after his wife left Hall wrote to Lucie Shannon “proposing that she should come to him as housekeeper and to attend to the women’s side of the bath-house.” “She accepted Hall’s offer, and had since remained a member of his family.”

Justice Denniston, who heard both the Hall’s cases in what would become a famous case of ‘double-barrelled divorce’, found both had committed misconduct and granted simultaneously decrees nisi for dissolution.

Lucie Shannon’s marriage to Medbury farmer Terrence Shannon had ended in September 1897 when she left him without his “permission and consent”. She later claimed he had deserted her and their three daughters, and she sued for maintenance

Lucie remained at the Turkish Baths until 3rd May 1903, when she died suddenly at the age of 37. She’d been ill for nine months, becoming worse on 19 April. A doctor was called who claimed the medicine previously prescribed was unsuitable as it contained arsenic. After her death, a post mortem was conducted but no trace of arsenic was found. However, she was found to have extensive heart and kidney disease. Her funeral left for Linwood Cemetery from the Turkish Baths. The death notice read “a good woman gone”.

Within two months of Lucie’s death, Hall had reconciled and remarried his former wife Elizabeth. For a short while they “had lived on amicable term’ but old acrimony returned and played out in the Courts again. They divorced for a second time. Hall then took up with another woman and subsequently moved to Sydney with her and her children. There the couple opened a Turkish Bath establishment in November 1905.

From 1909, the Hall name was back above the business once again, this time under the sole proprietorship and management of William Cox Hall. A Council programme to re-number the streets throughout Greater Christchurch followed. Number 121 Cashel street became number 210, but still located between the multistoried Farmers Cooperative Association of Canterbury and the Canterbury Seed Company.

Hall’s Turkish Baths in Christchurch came to an end in 1921 when the building was purchased by Farmers Coop with the intention of converting it into accommodation for its office staff. This never happened and it was occupied by Brown, Little and Co Butchers, before being put up for saleand withdrawn – in February 1924. 

Young and Co Turkish Baths, Hereford Street
Young and Co’s Turkish Baths on Hereford Street wedged into a cityscape now full of two and three story buildings. Source: Postcard by W. Beath & Co. Photo taken from the NZ Express Building. Source: private collection.

Content Shortcuts

Municipal Venture Council Says “NO!” to Turkish Baths

Since the early years of European settlement, calls had been made for the Christchurch City Council to establish Turkish baths alongside public swimming baths.

… And if a company is formed, or the City Council take the matter up, I do hope a Turkish bath will be included in the arrangements. It is the only really efficient bath in this sort of weather. A swim in the river or a cold shower is very pleasant, but it does not cleanse the skin and open the pores in the way that a Turkish bath does.

Christchurch, Dec. 26th, 1872 [26]

 A proposal to establish municipal Turkish Baths in the City did not meet with the approval of the Baths Committee of the City Council. The committee reported to the Council last night that they had made enquiries from Dunedin as to the success or otherwise of Turkish Baths, which were installed in association with the Municipal Baths there, a suggestion having been made that it might be advisable to run Turkish Baths in conjunction with the Christchurch Tepid Baths. The reply from Dunedin was that owing to the poor support received the Turkish Bath had gradually languished, and was finally closed some years ago, after having been given a fair trial. The committee therefore had no recommendation to make in the matter.

18 August 1925 [27]

Turkish baths remained popular. A folding Turkish Bath Cabinet with lamp could be obtained from J. H. Walker Providence Cycle Works in Temuka for a mere 35 shillings in 1901. Another option was the ‘Quaker Turkish Bath Cabinet’ from J. W. Miles stone store, “The most marvellous success of modern times”.

In 1922, Mason, Struthers and Co Ltd on Colombo Street offered bath cabinets from 70 shillings so it was possible for Cantabrians to take a Turkish Bath in their own home. [28]

Content Shortcuts

Mrs Taylor’s Worcester Street Turkish Bath run on ‘hospital lines’

The cure-all properties of Turkish Baths continued to remain an important selling point. When Mrs Evelyn Taylor opened the Turkish Bath de Luxe at 143a Worcester Street, a few doors from Manchester Street, in March 1926, she advertised it would be run on ‘hospital lines’. With “a full staff of expert attendants, and the advice of a registered masseur will be available” Turkish Baths, she claimed in her advertising, were “specially recommended by the Medical Profession for all cases of Rheumatism, Obesity, etc.”

The fit-out and furnishings were still as important as they had been when Ayers’ opened Christchurch’s first Turkish Baths in 1878.

Taylors' Turkish Bath Worcester Street
Press, Volume LXII, Issue 18854, 20 November 1926, Page 17

“The suite comprises two heating rooms, one of a much higher temperature than the other, a rubbing down room, and a cosy cooling-off room, comfortably and artistically furnished with big easy chairs and sofas, grey carpet, and black curtains, thrown into relief against the cream wallpaper. In these charming surroundings, light refreshments will be served to the patrons if they so desire. In addition to the Turkish Baths, modernly equipped ladies’ toilet rooms will be opened and will be attended by a skilled staff.”

Famous “Face and Hair Specialist, Madame Edith Peers” late of Madame Azalea’s, Birmingham and London was also on hand to personally supervise the Hairdressing Saloon, giving professional advice free of charge. It was a compelling offer. However, Mrs Taylor remained in business only until 1927 when ill health forced her to sell to Mr and Mrs John McIntosh, a registered masseur and trained nurse respectively. They removed the business to new premises at 134 Salisbury Street. [29]

Press, Volume LXII, Issue 18752, 24 July 1926, Page 2

Content Shortcuts

Salisbury Street Turkish Baths and its Blind Proprietor

James William Neil McIntosh was a remarkable man. He had been a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion N.Z. serving in Western Europe during World War I when he was wounded by shell fire at the Battle of Bapaume on 1 September 1918. He had one eye removed and also lost the sight in the other, leaving him completely blind.

Before the war, McIntosh had been a self-employed taxi driver, and lived with his parents, Charles and Jane McIntosh, on Shirley Road in St. Albans. After receiving his injuries, he was sent to St. Dunstan’s Institute for the Blind in London. This Institute was founded by glaucoma blind newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson who believed, through vocational training, invalided servicemen could again lead useful independent lives without having to rely on a lifetime of charity.

McIntosh was a testament to Pearson’s philosophy. At St Dunstan’s, McIntosh retrained as a masseur, and while in London he met his future wife, who was working in private nursing. The couple married on 18 December 1919 and remained a further year at St Dunstan’s so James could complete his training. They travelled to New Zealand onboard the S.S. Otarama in early February 1921 and were meet and entertained in Auckland by the local Commercial Travellers’ Club before departing for Christchurch.

McIntosh was now a fully trained Medical and Electrical Masseur of Middlesex and Hampstead Hospitals London, and a member of the Chartered Society of Masseuses & Medical Gymnasts.

At Easter in 1930, McIntosh had the “distinction of being the first blind man to do the journey” across Franz Joseph Glacier accompanied by West Coast mountain guide Frank Alack.

McIntosh was still running the Turkish Bath and Massage Clinic in 1935 with Ladies’ days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Gentlemen on Mondays and Thursdays. A single bath could be purchased for five shillings, and a three-bath ticket for 12/-. [30]

Press, Volume LXXV, Issue 22620, 27 January 1939, Page 17

THE Proprietor offers for Sale the well-known Turkish Baths, established 12 years, and situated Salisbury street, just off Colombo street. Five minutes’ walk from Cathedral square.

The business consists of a complete suite of rooms. Steam Cabinet, two Hot Rooms, Massage Room with hot, cold, and needle showers. Two Wash Basins and Massage Tables with leaded floor. Electric Washing Machine and 4 h.p. boiler. Large furnished lounge—l2 cubicles. Carpeted throughout.

The rent is very moderate, and a good lease obtainable. This is a great opportunity for anyone requiring ,a lucrative business.

Price and further particulars on application to the proprietor, 8139 J. W. N. McINTOSH. 

Press, Volume LXXV, Issue 22707, 11 May 1939, Page 20

Content Shortcuts

Japanese Ju-Jitsu and Turkish Baths

Sports and Turkish baths had long been synonymous.

Jujitsu instructor and Japanese Resident Ryugoro Fukushima, known locally as Ray Shima, ran Shima’s Gym at 119 Worcester Street next to the Mayfair Theatre and below the offices of the Canterbury Rugby Union in the 1930s. Fukushima had toured Australia and New Zealand between 1906 up until World War I, as a member of a jujitsu-performing group, before returning to Australia and later Japan. He came back to New Zealand in the 1930s when the country was experiencing a wrestling boom, and opened his gym in Christchurch. In Japan, he’d been a physical instructor with the Japanese police, so local Christchurch police also joined his gym. 

Shima offered “Physical Culture, Wrestling, Ju-Jitsu, Turkish Bath and Massage” as “treatment for Rheumatism, Nervous Trouble, etc.” His gym later became an important base for the development of martial arts in Canterbury in the 1950s. [31]

Content Shortcuts

Massage, Turkish Baths and Social Reform

Massage and social reform were at the heart of Christchurch’s Pike family. 

A week after the death of her husband at the age of 34, Maria gave birth to her last child in 1877 and named him William Henry after his father. Maria Beckett Pike and her husband had produced five children before the family immigrated to Canterbury in 1873. Three more followed.

Maria worked hard to raise her large family and became a much-respected resident of St Albans, “indefatigable in doing good”. “Her range of interests was large, her especial work lay in ministering to the sick and afflicted.” 

For many years she practised as a masseuse from the family home ‘Waireka’ on Office Road, “in which work she displayed a rare faculty of both intuitive and scientific perception of causes and effects. Her methods were those of Nature, and she was one of the initiators in Christchurch of the system of hydropathy and massage”.

After Maria died in 1905 her business continued under the management of her daughter Ellen Gill. Sadly, she didn’t live to see another of her daughters, Ada Wells, become Christchurch City Council’s first female city councillor. 

Maria had also been “greatly interested in all social reforms, and ardently desired the recognition of the equality of the sexes”. She became a member of several women’s societies, and what leisure time remained she “was occupied with perusing and studying the works of the best writers and thinkers”. [32]

Daughter Ada had been trained in massage therapy by her mother, a skill she would use during her married life to supplement her husband’s fluctuating income. She too was active in the Temperance and Suffrage Movements, working alongside Kate Sheppard. She co-founded the ‘Canterbury Women’s Institute’ with Professor Alexander Bickerton

Son Thomas Beckett Pike was also a trained masseuse and became the Government Masseur at Rotorua and Hanmer Springs. In late 1907, Thomas and his wife Adelaide moved to Christchurch from Hanmer and established a massage, hydropathy and electricity therapy clinic at 53 Cashel street. [33]

After 23 years in practice, he moved his clinic to 99 Chester Street in 1915. Adelaide died in 1929 and after he remarried in 1930 he and new wife Amy operated the City Spa at 581 Colombo Street which featured Turkish Baths until 1935. [34]

“This institution is equipped for the methods of treatment adopted at Bath, Harrogate, Hanmer, and Rotorua. It is equipped with all modern methods of Hydro-Therapy, and includes vapour baths, manipulations, massage, and electrical treatment of proved efficacy. The treatment of RHEUMATISM, SCIATICA and NEURITIS is a speciality. A Weekly visit to our Turkish Baths will rid the body of waste and give the healthy feeling of youth. Ladies: We can reduce you and give you a healthy skin.”

Press, Volume LXV, Issue 19742, 5 October 1929, Page 4

Bath facilities at the Timaru Electric Institute, 1914, as pictured in Guide to Christchurch and picturesque Canterbury.

The couple then established Pike’s Massage at 79 Bealey Ave, opposite Lyndhurst Hospital. They opened the doors for business on 8 May 1937 and advertised their clinic as being the ‘most up-to-date in the Dominion”. [35]

By 1940, Pike had replaced the “old-fashioned Turkish Bath” with the unattractively sounding “Dr. Wylde’s pyrectic sweat baths” a treatment which was followed by a “Barilla Soap Foam Bath.” [36]

Content Shortcuts

The Demise of the Turkish Bath

Zotofoam ‘unrivalled for slimming’

The Turkish Bath was replaced in the late 1930s by the more economical Zotofoam Bath, which was also considered health-giving and remedial.

Zotofoam was designed to be used in an ordinary slipper bath. Bubbles were produced by pumping oxygen or compressed air through a distributor placed on the bottom of the bath. This was covered by hot water at around 105ºF to which had been added an ounce of Zotofoam extract.

The foam insulated the body preventing the heat from escaping and the body temperature increased so that the bather sweated profusely.

In Waters of health and happiness, it is suggested (in a phrase which could not be used today) that the Zotofoam bath ‘through its special composition is unrivalled for slimming.’ It survived until well into the 1960s.

VictorianTurkishBath.org [37]
Sunny Timaru by the Sea advertising feature form 1941
Press, Volume LXXVII, Issue 23289, 27 March 1941, Page 4

“Sufferers of rheumatism and insomnia have found the Zotofoam baths of great value and it has also been proved most effective in reducing obesity.”

The Press, 1941 [38]

A trip to Caroline Bay at “Sunny Timaru By The Sea” in 1941, and a visit to the Borough Council’s Massage Institute and Hot Sea Baths, would provide Cantabrians with access to Zotofoam. There were also steam baths, electric, sulphur, medicated paraffin wax baths and something called ‘sino-sordal’, along with a menu of other treatments.

Like other trends, the Turkish Bath declined in popularity, supplanted by newer technologies and modern thinking. Less exotic, less popular long term but no less mysterious.

Back to Top


  1. Press, Volume III, Issue 290, 5 October 1863, Page 2
  2. The Turkish Bath as a Cure for Insanity. Daily Southern Cross, Volume Xviii, Issue 1661, 17 November 1862
  3. Manual of the Turkish Bath: Heat, a Mode of Cure and a Source of Strength for Men and Animals
  4. Hawkes Bay Herald, Hawke’s Bay Herald, Volume 5, Issue 291, 14 June 1862
  5. The Turkish Bath a Cure for Drunkards. Press, Volume Iii, Issue 130, 31 March 1863
    Aberdeen Water-cure Journal: And Family Guide to Health
  6. The Turkish Bath for Sheep. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume Xxii, Issue 19, 28 February 1863
  7. Grey River Argus, Grey River Argus, Issue 3223, 13 December 1878
  8. Star, Issue 2929, 22 August 1877, Page 2
  9. Press, Press, Volume III, Issue 331, 21 November 1863
  10. Globe, Volume IV, Issue 451, 24 November 1875, Page 1
    Press, Volume XXIX, Issue 3886, 5 January 1878
  11. Saturday Advertiser, Volume III, Issue 134, 2 February 1878, Page 17
  12. Christchurch Suburban Directory 1879
  13. Lyttelton Times, Volume LV, Issue 6335, 17 June 1881, Page 4
    Lyttelton Times, Volume LV, Issue 6327, 8 June 1881, Page 8
    Lyttelton Times, Volume LXXII, Issue 8981, 20 December 1889, Page 3
    Press, Volume XLII, Issue 6259, 10 October 1885, Page 4
    1885-1886 Wise´s New Zealand Post Office Directory
  14. Press, Volume XXXII, Issue 4378, 12 August 1879
  15. Star, Issue 3985, 27 January 1881, Page 3
    Lyttelton Times, Volume LV, Issue 6246, 4 March 1881, Page 5
  16. South Canterbury Times, Issue 3066, 26 January 1883, Page 1
    Lyttelton Times, Volume XLII, Issue 4194, 7 July 1874, Page 3
    Press, Volume IX, Issue 1093, 10 May 1866, Page 1
    Globe, Volume VIII, Issue 973, 8 August 1877, Page 1
    Halswell House was later renamed ‘Oaklands‘ and run as a horse stud farm by proprietor of the Christchurch Dairy Company, Peter Watson. In the 1960s it was subdivided by a new owner.
  17. Press, Volume XLI, Issue 6044, 29 January 1885, Page 2
    Press, Volume XLII, Issue 6241, 19 September 1885, Page 1 and  Page 2
  18. Press, Volume XL, Issue 5793, 7 April 1884, Page 4
  19. Lyttelton Times, Volume LXII, Issue 7320, 15 August 1884, Page 6
  20. Press, Volume XL, Issue 5962, 22 October 1884, Page 2 and Page 4
    Star, Issue 5286, 16 April 1885, Page 3 and Star, Issue 5296, 28 April 1885, Page 3
  21. Lyttelton Times, Volume LXIII, Issue 7463, 30 January 1885, Page 1
    Press, Volume XLI, Issue 6149, 4 June 1885, Page 4
    Press, Volume XLI, Issue 6152, 8 June 1885, Page 4
  22. Star, Issue 5349, 30 June 1885, Page 2
    Press, Volume XLII, Issue 6271, 24 October 1885, Page 1
  23. Press, Volume XLIII, Issue 6486, 6 July 1886, Page 1
  24. Press, Volume XLIII, Issue 6636, 30 December 1886, Page 2
  25. Press, Volume XLVIL, Issue 7729, 8 December 1890, Page 6
    Star, Issue 6596, 13 July 1889, Page 3
    Lyttelton Times, Volume LXXII, Issue 8845, 15 July 1889, Page 5
  26. Lyttelton Times, Volume XXXVIII, Issue 3723, 27 December 1872, Page 3.
  27. Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18463, 18 August 1925, Page 13
  28. Temuka Leader, Issue 3765, 13 July 1901, Page 4
    Temuka Leader, Issue 3900, 29 May 1902, Page 3
    Press, Volume LVIII, Issue 17500, 7 July 1922, Page 7
  29. Press, Volume LXII, Issue 18649, 25 March 1926, Page 2
  30. Press, Volume LVI, Issue 16764, 21 February 1920, Page 2
    Press, Volume LVI, Issue 16847, 29 May 1920, Page 10
    Press, Volume LVI, Issue 16764, 21 February 1920, Page 2
    Press, Volume LXX, Issue 21209, 6 July 1934, Page 1
    New Zealand Herald, Volume LVIII, Issue 17700, 8 February 1921, Page 4
  31. Press, Volume LXXV, Issue 22702, 5 May 1939, Page 1
  32. Lyttelton Times, Volume CXIV, Issue 13858, 19 September 1905, Page 3
  33. Lyttelton Times, Volume CXIX, Issue 14760, 12 August 1908, Page 5
  34. Sun (Christchurch), Volume II, Issue 506, 23 September 1915, Page 8
  35. Press, Volume LXXIII, Issue 22083, 4 May 1937, Page 1
  36. Press, Volume LXXVII, Issue 23225, 11 January 1941, Page 2
  37. The Zotofoam bath. VictorianTurkishBath.org
  38. Press, Volume LXXVII, Issue 23289, 27 March 1941, Page 4


2 Comments Add yours

  1. 76jermyn says:

    A great article, well illustrated, and quite fascinating. Bravo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wendy says:

      Thank you, who would have thought that Christchurch would have such a deep history with the Turkish bath!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s