In the small village of Mt Wilson, a rather isolated community in the northern part of the Blue Mountains, with some 70 or 80 permanent residents, the Turkish Bath is tucked into a hill overlooking the rugged World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park and the Wollemi National Park.
It looks down on the Mt Irvine Road which runs between Mt Wilson at over 1,000 metres in altitude and Mt Irvine at 800 metres, both basalt capped with rich volcanic soil producing lush natural rain forest. Many who gazed at this building believed it was a 'chapel' with its eastern like turret. It resonated of the hillside villages in Italian Tuscany with the Church clinging to the hillside. Some who visit it today speak of their first perception of it as a beautiful 'little chapel'.
How did this unusual building, a private Turkish Bath, emerge in Mt Wilson? It is extraordinary that this rare structure is completely ignored in the records of the Mt Wilson community after c. 1920 until c. 1969.
One has to understand a little of the European settlement of Mt Wilson and the interest in Turkish Baths in the 19th century first in England then in Australia in about the 1860s and 1870s to appreciate the presence of this building in 2005.
What was meant by a Turkish Bath in Victorian England? This writer has found invaluable a web site set up by Malcolm Shifrin in the United Kingdom since 1993-2003 which contains an ever increasing body of information on the Turkish Bath. Malcolm comments in his introduction: "If we are to judge by the amount of attention it has received from historians, the once popular institution of the Victorian Turkish Bath might never have existed at all". From a paper delivered on 11th July 2001 to a Conference on London on the 19th Century 'Monuments and Dust' Malcolm defines the term Turkish Bath as a type of bath in which the bather sweats in a room which is heated by dry hot air; the second feature is that bather's progress is through a series of increasingly hot rooms until they sweat profusely. There was much debate at the time about the actual 'correct' temperature for these hot rooms.
"Probably it was the curative, or perhaps the palliative effect of this high temperature which made the Turkish Bath so attractive to hydropathists and to many doctors who had no other means of alleviating pain in rheumatic and gout ridden patients" Malcolm Shifrin concludes.
It is fascinating to learn of the extent and popularity of these baths in the second half of the 19th century in the United Kingdom under the influence of people like David Urquhart, a diplomat and eccentric politician, and his wife Harriet, who set up Foreign Affairs Committees among the working class in which he supported the building of baths especially and encouraged education too for the working class.
What about in Australia? Interest in Turkish baths appears to have developed here after 1850 as in Ireland and England. In 1864 F. Dowling, a resident Surgeon of the Melbourne Hospital wrote on The Turkish Bath Its Use in Health & Disease. In 1868 John Le Gay Brereton MD Sydney gave a lecture on The Turkish Bath in Hobart Town Hall. Both indicated wide use of Turkish Baths in hospitals, demonstrating support from the medical profession. A recent reference is "From the Conservation Analysis & Conservation Policy on the Turkish Bath Mt Wilson, Design 5 Architects March 1996."
Michael Cannon in his historical series 'Life in Cities: Australia in the Victorian Age' describes the increasing attraction of Baths in small and larger cities from Launceston to Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. Australians perhaps through the experience of climate were keener to bathe. By 1879 there were five baths for gentlemen and two for ladies in Oxford street Sydney. In Melbourne 'The Turkish Bath Palace' in the Royal Arcade was opened by the State Governor in 1873. By this time John Le Gay Brereton had published a book, The Turkish Bath. Private Turkish Baths offered more advanced services for the middle class people who did not want to be with ordinary people. All clients were given a fig leaf to wear and were cautioned against casting it aside while others were present!!
Considering the above it seems even more extraordinary that a Turkish Bath should be constructed in Mt Wilson so far from Sydney [120 km] in c. 1880s.
Mt Wilson was not surveyed until 1868. Like Mt Tomah where the Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens are located it had the benefit of rich volcanic soil, a reliable rainfall and altitude. That it remained unsettled for so long was partly due to the surrounding rugged terrain and that much of the Blue Mountains was not settled until the railway was constructed across the mountains in the late 1860s. The Deputy Surveyor General of N.S.W., Philip Francis Adams visited E.H. Wyndham the Surveyor in 1868 at his camp on the mountain and officially named the mountain, Mt Wilson after John Bowie Wilson, a member of the Legislative Assembly and Secretary for Lands in Sir James Martin's 2nd Ministry in N.S.W. Sixty two lots on Mt Wilson were put up for auction in 1870. But it was not until 1875-1876 that all had been purchased by 33 buyers. The construction of a Mt Wilson Platform about 10 miles [16 km] west of Mt Wilson on the new Great Western Railway Line in 1875, as it wended its way to Lithgow, may well have been significant in attracting interest in Mt Wilson.
Richard Wynne, a successful Sydney slate and building materials merchant, who had already distinguished himself in public life as the first Mayor of the newly established municipality of Burwood in 1874 was one of those 33 buyers. According to the Lithgow Mercury in June 1895 following Richard Wynne's death in a glowing obituary to him: "It is now 20 years since Mr Wynne and his son left Mt Victoria one morning to explore what was then unknown country and to make as he expressed it 'An English Home'. He was the founder of the place". W.H. Suttor a leading citizen in N.S.W. in his account of a visit to Mt Wilson in the 1880s states: "Mr Wynne unable to find good land in the Blue Mountains was told about Mt Wilson and with considerable pluck and perseverance pushed his way through the dense growth of the place taking up 93 acres on one of the high points of Mr Wilson to be known as Wynne's Hill". It is important to understand that the settlers like Richard Wynne saw Mt Wilson with its altitude of over 1000 metres as a summer retreat from the heat of Sydney, Newcastle, Mulgoa or Mudgee. Summer was their visiting time; they came in November and returned home in April.
Today the property 'Wynstay' (formerly 'Yarrawa') remains with the descendants of Richard Wynne, the only one of the original holdings to do so and it is now on the State Heritage Register and the National Estate Register. But why a Turkish Bath?
At first the Wynne family were sure that it had been constructed in the early 1890s and when it was found that his only surviving son, Henry John had died from Bright's disease, a severe kidney complaint, in 1898 this seemed to reinforce that date. In addition in the remains of Richard Wynne's library which had survived in the weatherboard house built c. 1880 there were books displaying a depth of interest in hydropathy and health care. One example was Joseph Constantine's "Practical Ventilation and Warming with Illustrations and Examples and Suggestions of Construction of heating of Disinfecting Rooms and Turkish Baths". This book was published in 1881 and Joseph Constantine was seen as a leading expert in this field. There were at least five or six other books reflecting Richard Wynne's concern and interest for this subject.
However, as so often is the case, unexpectedly our Historical Society was contacted in 1998 by Dr Mark Cabouret who was researching Neville Cayley senior, the ornithologist who had possible links with the Wynne family and he drew my attention to a paragraph in the Illustrated Sydney News of February 1890 referring to Mt Wilson stating: "The place was first discovered by Mr Wynne who has built himself a house there with a fine garden and a sumptuous Turkish Bath". In 1999 I confirmed that evidence. The Turkish Bath was already there in 1890! About the same time other evidence emerged linked with the Australian author, Ethel Turner who visited Mt Wilson 1919-1920 according to her diary, graciously sent to us by her granddaughter, Phillipa Poole. In 1921 Ethel Turner wrote a novel "Jennifer J" in which a chapter is devoted to visiting Mt Wilson. Jennifer describes the Turkish Bath as "an oasis of bricks and mortar that looked like a private mausoleum or church, but was really that amazing thing a Turkish Bath!"
"Couldn't you possibly fire it up for us if we gathered you lots of firewood and helped with the water? she said to the gardener." Then later another character asked why this bath? The reply was "The owner's wife was very delicate, they say and he spent thousands building and maintaining this bath in the garden for her". Of course this is a work of fiction and should be treated with caution but about the same time an article in the Lithgow Mercury December 27th 1911 came to the Society describing a visit to Mt Wilson with these words: "A few minutes walk along the grounds and the visitor stands before a recent building surmounted by a dome. This is the famous Turkish Bath house which was erected about 20 years ago at a cost of nearly 3,000 pounds. The interior is replete in every respect and is finished in a most elaborate style. Though it is over 15 years since the bath was used, it shows signs of having been well looked after. It is said the late Mrs Wynne fell into ill health and her medical advisers ordered a continuous course of Turkish Baths." Mary Ann Wynne's death certificate shows that she died in July 1889 from "abdominal cancer". The notice in the Illustrated Sydney News and the death of Mary Anne points strongly to a date of construction well before 1889.
As the eight original homes in Mt Wilson were built between 1875 and 1882, one of these being Richard Wynne's called 'Yarrawa", the Turkish Bath was probably constructed alter 1882. Following research undertaken in the Lands Title Office by Design 5 Architects in 1995-6 it was revealed that the Turkish Bath was built on Portion 64, not one of the original portions, and it was acquired by Crown Grant in 1882 by Henry John Wynne, Richard's only surviving son. This portion is bisected today by the Mt Irvine Road. With the evidence above and the suggested reasons for the construction of the Turkish Bath by Richard Wynne a date in the mid 1880s seems more likely.
It is known that Ernest Bonney who practised in Sydney in the 1880s was the architect of the Turkish Bath. [See 'The Settlement of Mt Wilson, an architectural thesis try H. Fraser, B. James. H. Mack in 1969.] However the drawings in that thesis are not Bonney's drawings but those of the authors. Nevertheless Bonney created a charming and fascinating building architecturally revealing his professional and imaginative skill.
The building is in the late Victorian boom style with both neo Greek and Italianate influences. The walls are of richly detailed brickwork with banding and crosses. The tower which is 350 mm of solid brickwork; the remainder of the building is 460 mm double cavity construction, a most unusual construction for the era. It sits on a plinth of rock laced ashlar sandstone. It is said that the red bricks were made by Richard Wynne on the property. When he came to Australia as an assisted migrant in 1842 from Dublin, being listed as a brick layer.
Originally there were nine double windows with clear glass on the outside, stained and hand painted glass on the inside, Today we have seven of those windows, each painted individually in England in delicate designs, and they are always a source of delight to visitors. The tower reminds one of Eastern influences and the cast iron decorative pieces plus the ridge capping give a special distinction to the building. On the southern side in the tower was a small tiled entry porch through which Mary Ann gained access from her home a few yards away, Then there were three rooms tiled with tessellated tiles and a coke breeze concrete vaulted ceiling. To this extent the design with three rooms followed the standard pattern for Turkish Baths. The middle room contained two cubicles where it is thought marble slabs were placed and on which treatment took place such as massaging. The hot dry air came from a furnace in the basement at the western end of the building, Patrick White, the Australian Nobel Prize winner in Literature, a relative of the Wynne's wrote as a small boy on one of his visits: ":My cousins' grandfather had a Turkish Bath and a little black boy to stoke the furnace!" [David Marr's Biography of Patrick White] and in a diary entry of Richard Wynne's there is reference to a load of wood for the furnace. In the third room described in the Conservation Plan as the 'Shower Room' there is evidence of a quadrant shaped enclosure formed from 110 mm brick work walls in the south west corner and in the centre a circular space now filled in but where a grate from the driveway of 'Wynsta' fitted perfectly suggesting that hot air directly from the furnace below entered this room. [The Conservation Plan Design 5 Architects].
Although some physical evidence fixed within the fabric of the building suggests similarities to the heating systems as described in Joseph Constantine's text, looking at other physical evidence "it seems likely that the bathhouse was unconventional and possibly ill conceived" [the Conservation Plan Design 5 1995-6]. Comparisons with Joseph Constantine's drawings and the remaining evidence suggest confusion on Bonney's part about Turkish and steam baths. This was not unusual in the 19th century. Never-the-less in 1911 the article in the Lithgow Mercury describes this Turkish bath as "as being in fine condition and well cared for" and in Ethel Turner's novel c.1921 as "being complete and operational."
After Mary Ann Wynne's death in 1889 was the Turkish Bath used by the family? Henry John Wynne, the one surviving son married Marion White of 'Havilah' Mudgee in 1891; hence the link with Patrick White. Richard Owen Wynne was born at 'Throsby Park' Moss Vale in June 1892; his sister Dulcie in 1895 at Ashfield. There is considerable evidence that Henry after a period at Mittagong as a Magistrate spent much time at Mt Wilson and with failing health also made use of the Turkish Bath. Richard Wynne senior died in Sydney in June 1895. Henry died in Mt Wilson in January 1898, being buried at Mt Victoria. His widow, Marion, in 1902 married Gregory Matthews who was to become a highly respected ornithologist. They took the two Wynne children to England where they remained for their education.
Meanwhile the Mt Wilson property was placed in the control of the Perpetual Trustee Company on behalf of Richard Owen Wynne, the young grandson to whom his grandfather had willed the property as well as making provision for the Wynne Art Prize for Landscape painting and Sculpture held each year in the Art Gallery of N.S.W.. It seems likely that Richard Wynne sensed that Henry would not survive many years and the estate would more sensibly be secure with his grandson.
In 1913 Richard Owen Wynne was 21 and ready to inherit his property but World War 1 intervened as it did so devastatingly for many people. He spent the next four years in the British Army becoming Lieutenant Colonel R.O. Wynne DSO and Bar. By a miracle he survived the war and was able to return to Australia to claim 'Yarrawa' (later 'Wynstay') at Mt Wilson. In 1921 in England he married Florence Marianne Ronald, who had been an ambulance driver in France. Later that year they came to Australia already planning to build a new residence, a two storied sandstone neo-Colonial Georgian home on the property at Mt Wilson to be called 'Wynstay'.
The Turkish Bath c.1921-c. 1950
Turkish Baths were not a high priority in the thinking of this new generation. Fortunately it was not demolished. Instead the solution was to convert it into a domestic dwelling. At the time Scottish stonemasons were being employed to construct the new stone residence. The Turkish Bath became their home and for at least three decades it was used as a dwelling for workers at 'Wynstay' and in Mt Wilson. To achieve this transformation the entrance was converted to a 1920s Spartan bathroom with a ceramic decorated toilet made by Lassiter and Co.; a cistern for a septic tank which was very innovative for those times: a deep, narrow copper bath and a chip bath heater. The concrete coke ceilings were removed, being replaced with horsehair plaster ceilings: the tiled floors in two of the three rooms were covered with timber; two windows in the middle room were replaced with doors while a fuel stove filled the space where one cubicle had been and a wooden sink was installed with suitable plumbing. A fireplace was introduced in the south west corner of the third room. Fortunately the concrete coke ceiling remains in the basement but the technology of the furnance was almost obliterated. The Turkish Bath disappeared from any written account of Mt Wilson until 1969 when three architect students undertook a study of the original homes built in Mt Wilson between 1875 and c. 1880. [See The Settlement of Mt Wilson H. Fraser. B. James. H. Mack.].
After the deaths of Colonel Wynne in 1967 and Marianne Wynne in 1969, 'Wynstay', became the property of Bill and Jane Smart and her husband Bill, their daughter, following a settlement with Mervyn and Ron Wynne, Jane's brothers. The Turkish Bath became a receptacle for historic items on the property and so it remained until the 1990s. Bill and Jane following in the steps of Jane's parents, played a prominent role in the Mt Wilson community.
Both cared very deeply for Mt Wilson and were dedicated to protecting it and preserving its simple elegance and natural beauty with with a minimum of change and interference. In 1994 the Turkish Bath was in need of care. The walls below it were collapsing, the galvanized iron roof rusted with large holes, the guttering almost non existent and large sections of the cast iron ridge capping missing.
Bill and Jane wanted this rare building to become to become a community project and a centre for the preservation of the history of Mt Wilson. So began negotiations with a small group 'The Mt Wilson Community History Group' in 1994, then a sub-committee of the 'Progress Association'. It was to become the 'Mt. Wilson and Mt. Irvine Historical Society' in 1997. Meanwhile with the help of experienced people in the world of conservation, heritage and the National Trust, the Turkish Bath, in spite of difficult legal complexities as part of a valuable listed property, was taken over by the local community group which was able first to apply for funding from the N.S.W. Heritage Office for a Conservation Plan to be developed in 1995-6 hence the entry of 'Design 5 Architects', particularly Peter Todd. Bill and Jane opened 'Wynstay', for the first time in thirty years or more, to help tired the project because funds would be needed to match the public funding. People came and wondered at the magic of this place with its 100 year old trees and its capacity to bring 'balm to the spirit'. By 1997 $40,000.00 had been raised not only from the opening of 'Wynstay' but from very generous donations such as $10,000 from Professor Arthur Delbridge and his son Nick, following an Art Exhibition of Jean Delbridge's Chinese paintings. The Heritage Office of N.S.W. finally funded $24.500.00 to the project and in 1997 the conservation work on the building commenced. In that year Hazel Hawke, Chairman of the Heritage Council of N.S.W. officially opened the Turkish Bath Museum in which we held the Centenary of the Wynne Landscape Art and Sculpture Prize.
Sadly in June 1995 Jane Smart [nee Wynne] had died and did not see the successes of 1997. In 1999 Bill Smart who had dedicated himself totally to the achievement of this Museum died in July. They had both given generously in many different ways and in 2003 a fine teak Cotswald seat to their memory and where visitors can rest quietly and absorb the beauty in the grounds was placed near the Turkish Bath Museum.
Meanwhile our work of maintaining this wonderful little building and telling its story continues. Over the years since 1997 we have received grants for exhibition rails and exhibitions from the Museums and Galleries of N.S.W.; for dehumidifiers and heating from the Ministry of Arts N.S.W.; from the Commonwealth Government for conservation work on the building including repair and cleaning of the fine stained and hand painted windows plus a steel staircase to give satyr access to the basement.
We open every weekend in the Autumn and every Sunday in the Spring as these are popular visiting times in Mt Wilson and on the third Sunday in other months of the year.
Some people would love us to return the building to its original use but that aim is far beyond our means. We believe the building as it is today tells a wonderful story of peoples' ideas and lives and reveals some of the significance the Turkish Bath played in the social fabric of the second half of the 19th century.
Joseph Constantine Practical Ventilation & Warming with Illustrations & Examples & Suggestions on the Construction & Heating of Disinfecting Rooms & Turkish Baths Churchill London 1881. [From R. Wynne's Library]
C.H. Currey Mt Wilson N.S.W. Angus & Robertson 1968 The Turkish Bath 'Wynstay' Mt Wilson Conservation Analysis & Conservation Policy by Design 5 Architects. Prepared for the Mount Wilson Community History Group March 1996
F. Dowling The Turkish Bath: Its use in Health and Disease 1864.
E. Du Faur The Railway Guide of NSW Gov. Printer 1879 p59-62
H Fraser, B. James and H Mack The Settlement of Mt Wilson, an architectural thesis University of Sydney 1969.
J. Le Gay Brereton The Turkish Bath J. Walch & Sons Tasmania 1868
M. Reynolds Research Officer for the Mt Wilson & The Mt Irvine Historical Society The Turkish Bath Museum and its History unpublished paper 2001
W.H. Suttor A Visit to Mt Wilson in Australian Stories Retold & Sketches of Country Life 1887 Bathurst pp. 171-180
Ethel Turner Jennifer J. Ward Lock & Co. London and Melbourne 1921
Ethel Turner Diaries by kind permission of Philippa Poole.
Extracts from the Illustrated Sydney News February 1890
Extracts from Lithgow Mercury, June 1895 and December 1911. www.victorianturkishbaths.org web site by Malcolm Shifrin United Kingdom.
Mary B. Reynolds BA Dip Ed. Research Officer for the Mt Wilson & Mt Irvine Historical Society.
March 21, 2005
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