Monday, 27 May 2013

Hotel Hey-Day in Denison Street, Hamilton



If you think Hamilton has more than its share of pubs today, it is nothing compared to the late 1800s.


Denison Street (or Winship Street, until it was renamed in 1855) was the main thoroughfare through the mining settlements, leading from Cameron’s Hill towards Newcastle.

It is easy for me to explore the past of Denison Street because my street intersects it. However, I was surprised to learn that had I been living here in – say – 1890 – there would have been no less than 10 hotels within about a kilometre, on Denison Street alone.


I found this proliferation quite confusing, so I set out to pin down just where they’d been and what remains of them today. Once again, I’ve had invaluable help from Peter Murray. [1]



  
Peter Murray's self published book on the history of Hamilton
(see sidebar - Good Things to Read)


First, it is important to appreciate that in those early days, hotels were not just drinking establishments, although "drunkenness" was pretty evident. Hamilton’s inns and public houses were focal hubs in the community, places outside the home where men (no women allowed inside) could socialise. Most homes were just not suitable for visiting or social gatherings.

When people joined in social and sporting activities offered by a hotel, they mixed with a broader cross section of the community than they would otherwise meet at church, or in their lodges or friendly societies. This helped break down some of the barriers that separated what could be quite narrow, clannish groups.

In my effort to rediscover the hey-day of the Denison Street hotels, I started close to home. Come with me on my trek from Happy Flat to Cameron’s Hill.....

On the corner of Denison and Turner Street, The Universal Hotel was opened in 1880. Separated from it by a shed, was The Globe Hotel, a two storey weatherboard building which opened in 1877 and had a bowling alley.

On the corner of the next street, Lawson Street, a man called Robert Cherry built a fine two story building called Cherry’s Terrace (1873). This became the Hamilton Hotel, and it had a bagatelle licence (a game something like pool). Robert Cherry was one of Hamilton’s first Aldermen

These three hotels can be clearly seen in the next photo. The Universal Hotel is in the foreground in excellent detail, then the Globe after a small shed. Hamilton Hotel (Cherry's Terrace) is the next two story building.



Denison Street, Hamilton, 15 February 1892
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Collection,
Courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW


The Universal and The Globe have given way to a large block of townhouses, seen being built in the photo below.




Photograph of Denison Street (n.d.) by Bert Lovett, part of the Norm Barney Collection
(Courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle)



The building that was Cherry’s Terrace/Hamilton Hotel can be seen in the distance, above. I wonder when that big tree was taken down?

The building is still in place today (below), no longer a hotel. Modified and extended, the verandas long gone, it is clearly recognisable. The date 1872 on the top has replaced the words Cherry’s Terrace.


Cherry's Terrace (2014)
Photograph by Matthew Ward


I can see this building from one of my upstairs windows, and often wondered about its past. Robert Cherry built a structure to last. He had learned the trades of tinsmith and locksmith, and in the mines was in charge of the pit ponies. What a life for these tough little horses, and for the men spending so much time underground.




Coal miners and a pit pony, Hunter Valley (n.d.)
Photograph by Bert Lovett, part of the Norm Barney Collection
Courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW




Not far to go along Denison Street to two more hotels – The Sportsman’s Arms, on the corner of Denison and Webster Streets, and The Coach and Horses, at the corner of Denison and Murray Streets. Both opened in 1878, but no trace of them remains.


Here we are at the intersection of Denison and Beaumont Streets, and two more hotels face each other. The Miners Arms Hotel was originally the residence of Patrick Murray, a miner, and was converted to an 8 room hotel sometime between 1858 and 1865. [2] Hamilton’s third hotel, it had a handball court – handball was a very popular game - and an adjoining billiard room. The Borehole Brass Band used to meet at this hotel for practice.



The site of The Miners Arms Hotel today


Across Denison Street, direct competition came from The Miners' Exchange, opened in 1880. Its amenities included not only a billiards/band room, a “ball alley” (for bowling and skittles) but also a cricket pitch at the back, for the Borehole Cricket Club. A popular Hamilton hotel continues on this site, The Exchange Hotel.



The Exchange Hotel (2014)
Photograph by Matthew Ward


Up the hill now, westwards, and it’s a couple of blocks before we come to the site of the next hotel. The corner of Steel and Denison Street was the location of the earliest hotel in Hamilton. Thomas Tudor (namesake of Tudor Street and one of the first Aldermen) had worked in the coal mines and later, been successful on the Victorian goldfields. He opened his first inn in Steel Street, with the odd name of “Help a lame dog over the stile”, shortened by the miners to The Lame Dog. In 1865 he moved the hotel to the corner of Steel and Denison Streets, naming it the Agricultural Hotel. It became known locally as Tudor’s Hotel.



Thomas Tudor's Hotel, Denison and Steel Streets, Hamilton 1892
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Collection,
courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW



Thomas Tudor was a keen sportsman - he’d been a professional sprinter and hosted many sporting events such as foot racing and handball, with betting attracting the crowds. As well as sports, the hotel was a venue for events as disparate as inquests and weddings. The photo below shows a function outside the hotel, spilling into Denison Street.




A community function outside Tudor's Hotel, Denison Street, Hamilton, 28 October 1907
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Collection,
courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW



Tudor operated the first (horse) bus line between Hamilton and Newcastle – while no photo survives of his service, the picture below of the Adamstown one gives a good idea of what it must have been like.



Adamstown Horse-Drawn Bus (n.d)
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Collection,
courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW



Today, The Bennett Hotel continues the traditions of hospitality on this site, and holds the oldest continuous Licence in Hamilton.



The Bennett Hotel (2014)
Photograph by Matthew Ward



My last hotel on this sojourn along Denison Street began trading in 1859, and was the second hotel to open in Hamilton – The Queen’s Arms Hotel. It was on what was then known as Winship’s Hill, but later became Cameron’s Hill, after the hotel’s owner, James Cameron.


Cameron began as a farmer/butcher, but like Tomas Tudor, made his real money on the goldfields. He hosted sporting events, community meetings and balls – in the hotel’s ballroom. Cameron’s great passion was horseracing, including breeding and training, and he was President of the Newcastle Jockey Club for 25 years. I am told his hotel was a stop for the Cobb and Co coach service.


I have not been able to find a photograph of the long gone Queen’s Arms Hotel. A local resistent has told me it was situated on the western brow of Cameron's Hill. Below is a street view of its former location, on the best evidence I could find.






In writing about the Denison Street hotels, I have not touched on other landmark businesses that opened in the late 1880s, especially the Sydney Junction Hotel (1886) and the Hamilton Station Hotel. Completion of the Hamilton to Sydney rail link in 1887 meant the focus of commercial activity began to shift away from Denison Street towards the railway station and Beaumont Street.


We don’t know how long it took for patronage of the Denison Street hotels to decline. Only two of the ten sites that once boasted flourishing hotels in the late 1880s are still in the same business today, The Exchange and The Bennett Hotel. Was it the greater adaptability of the hotels closer to the new railway, as Peter Murray suggests?


This discovery tour made me wonder about something else, too. What is it that makes some buildings endure? As well as the two hotels, the building that was Cherry’s Terrace is still firmly in place, well preserved, albeit trimmed of its lacy verandahs.


Detail from the top of Cherry’s Terrace (the old Hamilton Hotel)



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[1] Murray, Peter 2006: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921. Peter Murray, Newcastle.
[2] Murray, Peter: 2006 From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921.  Peter Murray, Newcastle.p. 147.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

How Hamilton got its Name


At one time or another, most of us have knocked our city council.
Yet the story of Hamilton shows vividly how the origins of local councils were rooted in the desires of ordinary men and women for a healthier, safer and more attractive living environment for their families.


 I like to think of this as the original grass roots/self–help movement. 



Novocastrians are familiar with the Australian Agricultural Company (the AA Company), which was integral to the early development of Newcastle and some parts of the Hunter region. Here is one monument to the Company in Learmonth Park.
The Company was set up in London in 1824 with capital from a group of prominent shareholders – such as members of the House of Commons and Bank of England directors.
This well connected group was given an enviable leg up in business – the right to select a million acres of land in NSW for agricultural development, and a monopoly to mine coal in NSW. The mining monopoly lasted from 1828 until 1847. Its extensive assets enabled the Company to become very powerful, and it is listed on the ASX even today. 
The AA Company seems to have acquired something of an unfavourable reputation [1] in relation to the way it used its power, exploiting its employees, both in the coal mines and on its large pastoral holdings. Jesse Gregson, a long time Superintendent of the Company, wrote a book to redress this perception. (Gregson Park was named for him).

In this close up of the AA plaque in Learmonth Park, notice the unfortunate sheep being hoisted in a sling by two sheaves of wheat. Any idea what this means?

When convict assignment ended in 1838, the AA Company brought in most of its own labour, experienced miners from the coal fields of northern England, southern Scotland and Wales.
Welsh miners from Ebbw Vale, Wales (Jeffrey Thomas)
These men knew their industry and were not afraid to strike for better conditions. In time, some were able to save enough to purchase land from the AA Company to build their own homes.
The new houses were a great improvement on those rented from the AA Company at what was said to be “excessive” rates. Rickety slab huts were two shillings and sixpence a week; one room brick cottages with a skillion (a separate lean-to cooking area) went up to four shillings. [2]These cramped, comfortless houses were often black with damp and dirt, and flooded every time it rained heavily.
This entrepreneurial spirit would soon be directed to improving the broader environment and circumstances in which the miners and their families lived.
Incorporation of the mining settlements as a municipality offered a way to collectively address the terrible state of the roads, provide sanitation, drainage and a clean water supply, as well as meet other challenges such as public health and the safety of the settlements.
It seemed the AA Company was not going to do anything, so it was up to the workers. A group of community leaders was starting to emerge – these men would become the first Aldermen, and leave their names on the streets of Hamilton.
Under the Municipalities Acts of 1858 and 1867, any group of 50 freeholders, leaseholders and householders could submit a petition for incorporation. A municipality was legally defined as an area of land, for the purposes of local government, no larger than ten square miles and with a minimum population of 500.
With a properly constituted Municipal Council, rates could be levied on landholders. This gave the Council the resources to improve the community.
After a public meeting, a petition was signed by 90 residents and forwarded to the Governor of New South Wales.
The request was granted and gazetted for incorporation of the township of Hamilton on 11 December, 1871.
There was a sting in the tail of this happy event. The powers that be apparently did not like the proposed name “Borehole”. They wanted to honour the AA Company’s Governor, Edward T Hamilton, so that’s what we got.

Photograph of Edward T Hamilton from The Australian Agricultural Company 1824 - 1875  by Jesse Gregson. 

Mr Hamilton looks rather a stern character – but still, I am glad our civic forefathers were over ruled on that one! "Borehole" just doesn't have the same gravitas as "Hamilton". What do you think?

The second plinth  at Learmonth Park for the AA Company - in danger of becoming Hidden Hamilton?


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[1] Gregson, J: The Australian Agricultural Company, 1824 – 1875. Angus & Robertson,  1907.
[2] Murray, Peter: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921. Self published 2006 p. 24.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

What's Under My House in Hamilton?



“There are mine shafts under the whole of Newcastle”, our north coast solicitor told us. We were meeting to begin the paper work for the purchase of our next home, in Hamilton. He was half joking, and slightly exaggerating, I hoped.
 

I knew about Newcastle’s mining history, of course, and been warned of the potential for mine subsidence. Still, I was vague about what had happened in Hamilton, and curious to know where the mine shafts had been, in relation to our house.

When we finally came to live here, I noticed three things about the landscape – it was flat, the soil was light and sandy, and there were relatively few trees. Good for walking and cycling; not so for gardening.

I found myself wondering what the area had looked like in the earliest days of its settlement. I was curious, too, about whether there had been any evidence of Aboriginal occupation before mining began.

This wonderful photograph by Ralph Snowball, taken in 1897, looks back to the original mining settlements along the track that would  become Beaumont Street (eventually Hamilton's main street) from the vantage point of Glebe Hill.



AA Company's Agricultural Field near Glebe Hill (1897)
(Part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, reproduced courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle)
 

The best historical account I have found of the development of Hamilton is self published by Peter Murray – From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921 (2006). It is meticulously researched, with careful documentation of primary and secondary sources. From this work I have been able to gain an appreciation of how Hamilton might have looked in its early days.

The earliest settlements, an assorted collection of mine workings, primitive slab huts and lean-tos, a few brick houses and a brick yard, clustered around what was known as Cameron’s Hill. Picture the intersection of Denison Street and Beaumont Street as it is today, and move westwards up the slope, towards St Peter’s Anglican Church and Hamilton Public School. That seems to be where the hub of activity focused.

Typical Slab Hut
(Photograph by Ralph Snowball, probably taken in the late 1800s. It is part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, reproduced courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle).
 

The first mines in the area that was to become Hamilton were the D and E Pits. The D Pit (opened in 1849) was known as the Borehole Seam, between what is now Denison and Veda Streets.
 

AA Company's Borehole No. 2 Pit, Hamilton
(Courtesy Newcastle Region Library)
 

James Lindsay was first Overman or undermanager of D Pit, and was provided with a four room brick house that would have been of substantially higher standard than the housing rented to the miners, or the slab huts pictured above. The house (pictured below) is still standing on a small battleaxe block entered from 195 Denison Street, owned (and in the process of being conserved) by the Newcastle City Council. I will write another post about this treasure.


 
 AA Company's Mine Manager's Residence, Hamilton
(NSW Government Enrironment & Heritage, Statement of Significance)


The E Pit was located between Everton and Dumaresq Streets. The imaginatively named A, B and C Pits were in Newcastle – coal mining had begun there in 1804. The F Pit was sunk by Frank Beaumont, the Company’s new Mine Manager. It’s obvious where Beaumont Street and Lindsay Streets got their names.

In the early days of settlement, the landscape was mostly sandy, scrubby bushland. Vegetation was sparse and scrappy, and the few trees were stunted. There were no properly made roads. The streets – such as they were – were just tracks with scrub on both sides; snakes were common. People walked where they needed to go.

The glare from the creamy white sand was blinding in the midday sun. Beneath these extensive sand beds lay substantial reserves of artesian water. Fed by two creeks – the tidal Styx Creek to the west and Cottage Creek to the east – the area often flooded and became swampy after heavy rains. Look at these floods in Gregson Park!
 
Flood at Gregson Park (1908)
(Courtesy Newcastle Region Library)

The flats were great for horse racing, and it didn’t take long for the residents to get organised. I learned from the Newcastle Jockey Club web site that the first race meeting was held in 1848 on a track cleared through bush and scrub in an area known as Wallaby Flat. Early accounts by the settlers reported that Wallaby Flat, which took in most of Hamilton, as well as part of Broadmeadow and Merewether, was good for hunting wildlife such as kangaroos.

While it is known that the Awabakal people have had a long association with this land, there is little or no evidence of Aboriginal occupation because of the particularly destructive effect of mining on the landscape. Every bit of archeological evidence seems to have gone.

Yet Aboriginal people were still around. There is a record of “heat, flies and Aboriginal corrobories (sic) which were held in the vicinity of the race-course” [1] in the recollections of David Murray’s great grandmother Elizabeth, who in 1857 settled in what would become Hamilton.

Three settlements grew up around the mines – Bore Hole (houses and cottages running down Denison/Winship Street to Beaumont Street), Pit Town (Beaumont Street to Swan Street) and Happy Flat, or Happy Valley.  Memories of Dugald Dobie growing up in these early days were of a collection of 20 or 30 huts, with the only shop being Mrs Winn's, on Cameron's Hill.

In 1871, the population of Hamilton was 854 people.

It was the story of the communal wells that provided me with a vital clue as to where my home is in relation to the early settlements.

There were at least three wells used by the miners’ families. I read a poignant account of women taking their washing to a well in Steel Street, then hanging clothes on makeshift lines or tree branches nearby. A second well was in Chaucer Street.

The third well was just around the corner from where I live, at the intersection of Denison and Lawson Streets. Apparently it served the Happy Flat community, thought to be located near present day Turner Street. So, it transpires that my street was once part of Happy Flat!

I know that the Newcastle Region Library has a large collection of historical maps and plans, and one day I will investigate these. Today, it is enough to know that where I live was one of the earliest mining settlements, Happy Flat, and most likely, we live above a honeycomb of mine shafts.

A few enterprising miners were able to make good and purchase land from the AA Company to build their own homes. James Webster purchased a corner block on what was to become Webster Street in 1858, where he opened a general store and post office. These early miners gave their names to several of the streets near where I live, including one which runs parallel - mine .

This blog is my journey to discover my suburb's past. I'm not a historian, just an ordinary person doing some research.

Can you tell me more?


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[1] Murray, Peter: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921 (2006) p.4.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Lost Bakery Found in Webster Street, Hamilton


Webster Street yielded up one of its secrets to me after I stumbled across some photographs of Pearce’s Bakery on the Facebook site Lost Newcastle .  From Susan Henderson and her mother, Joan Lean, and later from other descendants, Peter Pearce and William Pearce, I learned about the family that established this bakery in 1899.



Webster Street is a tiny, one way street tucked around the corner from that Newcastle legend, Jim’s Dairy Delite Bar. Walking along Tudor Street from my house nearby, I see adults and kids alike stopped in mid-stride, unable to wait a minute longer to lick the melting swirls of their ice cream cones, or slurp on Jim’s Shakes. But that’s for another post.





Hamilton landmark, Jim's Dairy Delites, Tudor Street, Hamilton (2014)
(Photograph by Craig Smith)


Below is the first home of Sydney and Ruth Pearce, who began Pearce’s Premier Bakery. Ruth Pearce and four of her six children stand at the front of what was quaintly called 'Ruthville'. The bakehouse was at the side.


Sydney and Ruth Pearce, with four of their six children, at their original Webster Street home, Hamilton
(From the collection of Mrs Joan Lean)



Five babies were born in this house, including twins Iris and Harry. Harry Benjamin Pearce was father of Peter Pearce and grandfather of William Pearce.



Twins Iris and Harry Pearce c1920
 (Photograph from the collection of Peter Pearce)




Pearce's Bakery prospered for about forty years. During the Great Depression (1929 – 1932) a bakery would have been a focal point of food production in the community. Bread and dripping were staples for many in those hungry times.


Joan, Susan’s mother, now in her mid eighties, remembers visiting her grandparents in the bakery in the 1930s with her mother Mercia. Easter visits were a special treat, when high, fluffy hot cross buns were baked. Mercia , daughter of Sydney and Ruth, lived until she was 99 years. The secret of her long life, she told Joan, was eating plenty of malt, and bran.


As well as caring for her large family, Ruth managed the bakery office. Joan remembers that her grandmother had a housekeeper to help in the home.


Only two types of bread were made - white and brown bread. Malt was added to the bread instead of sugar. This added flavour and a touch of sweetness, as well as helping to brown the crust.






Inside the bakery, the set up was austere.


Pearce's Bakery, Webster Street, Hamilton (n.d)
(From the collection of Mrs Joan Lean)

Bakeries have been around for centuries, with various forms of baking practiced in cultures across the world. While the essentials have remained unchanged, Sydney would have had to stockpile wood for his fire, and make judgements based on experience about how long the loaves needed to come out perfect every time.




Mechanisation did bring some labour saving devices, such as a dough maker.




Sydney Pearce with new dough machine (c1925)
(Photograph from the collection of Peter Pearce)



Bread was delivered to homes by the local bakery.




A mix of delivery modes in front of Pearce's Premier Bakery (n.d.)
Sydney Pearce is in the driveway
(Photograph courtesy Newcastle Region Library)




 The long line up of vehicles outside the bakery, seen below, suggests the bakery had become a prosperous business by 1925.




Delivery vans and carts outside Pearce's Bakery c1920
(From the collection of Mrs Joan Lean, 1920)



To minimise cash handling by the drivers, tokens were once popular – these were purchased in advance, and exchanged for a half loaf or a full loaf. A jar of tokens was a special play thing remembered by many children of this era.



Token from Pearce’s Bakery, for sale on ebay



Brian Jones lived two doors from the bakery, at 10 Webster Street, from 1939 until 1963. He adds to this story:
'I remember well watching from our upstairs balcony the horse drawn bakers' carts that rumbled down the street on their iron clad wheels making things rattle in cupboards and shelves. I loved the horses tied up outside to the telegraph poles resting one rear hoof as horses do and feeding from their nose bags. I played in the stables directly behind the bakery and ate the tasty crumbs from a long table just near the door to the oven room. I remember the flats and Jim's Dairy Delite Bar being built'.

Two of Sydney Pearce’s sons grew up to work in the bakery, and had houses nearby – Horace in Webster Street and Harry in Denison Street. Both houses are still in place.



Sydney worked hard and did well. He was able to build a new family home, a two storey terrace, next to the bakery.






The  Pearce's second home, now remodelled, next to the site of the former bakery and original home (2013)
(Photograph Ruth Cotton)




Above is Webster Street as it is today. The charcoal grey building on the left  has replaced the Pearce's original home and bakery, and is now a business premises. Interestingly, in the 1990s, great grand daughter Susan worked for a time in this building. Next to it is what was Sydney and Ruth's second home, since renovated and updated.



Susan Henderson and Joan Lean (2013)
Visiting Webster Street  to confirm the locations of the bakery and family homes
(Photograph Ruth Cotton)





Harry Pearce was killed in a hit and run accident in near the racecourse Broadmeadow in 1968. He was 60. Horace Pearce ran a general store in Toronto, later retiring to a property out of Rutherford where he bred thoroughbred race horses.  Still later, he bought a home on the Hill, in Newcastle.



Sydney died in 1942 aged 66. In time, both the business and the building were sold.



It is a platitude that family businesses are never easy. It is irrefutable that the long, unsociable hours involved in running businesses like a bakery take their toll on family life and well being.



Nevertheless, the perseverance and hard work of Sydney and Ruth Pearce enabled them to operate a prosperous small business and to raise a large family. 


I am glad to be able to bring to light the contribution of the Pearce family to the commercial and social heritage of Hamilton -  the lost bakery of Webster Street. 









Acknowledgements

My thanks to Joan Lean, Susan Henderson, Peter Pearce and William Pearce for sharing information and photographs. Terence Pearce Sjostedt provided some additional details about Horace Pearce (updated 20/9/14). This post was further pdated as a result of feedback  from  Judy Falcioni (nee Pearce) regarding her father Harry Pearce (6/12/2014).



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Friday, 17 May 2013

Hamilton Turkish Baths



I was captivated by this exquisite photograph of the Hamilton Turkish Baths. This brick and stucco building was designed in the Victorian Filigree style, with decorative cast iron friezes on the upper verandah and colonnade. What’s more, their address was somewhere in Denison Street, with which my street intersected.



 
Hamilton Turkish Baths n.d.
(Courtesy Newcastle Region Library)
 
 
To find out the exact location of the Baths and the story behind them, I had to go to a short manuscript [1] by Susan Kemp held in the Newcastle Region Library. Susan had investigated a family connection with the Baths. Her grandfather, Thomas Henry Rand and his brother Silas Charles Rand, had been their second owners, for some sixty years.
 

So where were the Hamilton Turkish Baths? The land is identified as 15-21 Denison Street, at the Hunter Street end. While the location may now be more Newcastle West than Hamilton, I’m working on the basis that they were called Hamilton Turkish Baths. So this wonderful story is included in Hidden Hamilton.
 

Wesley Mission Newcastle now owns the land on which the Turkish Baths once stood.





 I’d made a connection there before even moving to Hamilton, as I was searching for a great source of sourdough bread in Newcastle. I discovered the Sourdoughbaker Cafe was operating on this spot as a social enterprise with the Uniting Church. The sourdough baker has now moved on, but I like the synchronicity.
 

The Turkish baths were built in 1879 by Francis W. Reay, who had settled in Newcastle in 1870. With a background as a medical herbalist and seller of patent and horse medicines, he had made money in the goldfields. Francis Reay became Mayor of Hamilton in 1887.



Mr F W Reay, herbalist, his wife and children (n.d.)
(Courtesy State Library of NSW)
 


It is not totally clear who the intended patrons of the Baths would be. People who lived in the mining settlements that would become Hamilton – the Borehole, Pit Town and Happy Flat – endured unhealthy, unsanitary living conditions. There was no running water, sewerage pipes or bathrooms. On the one hand, the idea might have been that the Baths could substantially improve the lives of miners and their families.
 

On the other hand, Francis Reay was an entrepreneur, and he had invested over 1000 pounds of his own money in the Baths. Susan Kemp believes he saw a niche in the market, as consciousness of bathing increased, with patronage directed to "the well to do and ladies".

The Hamilton Baths offered a range of services – it had provision to segregate the sexes, separate facilities for the well to do, private consultations with practitioners, and as well “electric baths”, an early form of tanning bed. The brick and stone building included a chemist's shop. promoting botanic and homeopathic preparations.
 

Susan Aykut [2] of the Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine Historical Society, has written a fascinating account of the development of Turkish Baths in Australia in the 19th century. So far she has identified nearly 30 so called Turkish baths scattered around Australia.  
 

Australia rapidly embraced the concept of Turkish Baths, probably due to the hot, humid climate and a growing understanding of health and hygiene. There was no transference of any of the Islamic practices or symbols of religious purification. The baths themselves were closer to their Roman forerunners than Turkish, using dry heat instead of wet or vapour heat.

Susan Aykut explains how the impetus for building Turkish Baths in Australia came from the “Turkish Bath Movement” established in Britain by a maverick Scottish politician, David Urquart, who had often visited the baths in Constantinople (Istanbul). 

So, after reading her paper, I had to reluctantly give up my imaginings of an exotic Turkish hamam on the edge of Hamilton!








Hot chamber of the men's baths in the Bey Hamam, Thessaloniki
(Photograph by Marsyas, 26 February 2006, Wikipedia Commons)
 
 
From an 1880 article in the Maitland Mercury [3], we learn that a patron of the Baths first undressed in the Frigidarium, and was attired in a suitable bathing costume, to be then conducted into the first hot room, the Tropidarum (heated to 100 degrees). After a time, the attendant escorted the patron to the Sudatorium, where the temperature could reach 160 degrees. Next was a sulphur room, then a shampooing room, where an expert shampooer “in the person of a coloured man” was on hand (although – the article hastens to add - ladies would be waited on by a person of their own sex). Then to the washing room, for a through cleansing, and finally the drying room. The article proclaims that after this experience, the patron is so invigorated they “could easily jump over a four rail fence”!

 
All for five shillings (single bath), 6 baths for a pound, or a quarterly ticket for five pounds.


 

 I found it interesting that the second owners of the Hamilton Baths  were Seventh Day Adventists and came from a strong medical background. Silas Chares Rand was a medical graduate of the University of Chicago, registering with the NSW Medical Board in 1898. He migrated to Australia first, and was followed in 1904 by his brother Thomas Henry Rand.

 
 
Silas Charles Rand
(From the collection of Susan Kemp)
 
 
Thomas had graduated as a dentist from Northwestern University, Chicago. He was the grandfather of Susan Kemp.
 
 
 
Thomas Henry Rand
(From the collection of Susan Kemp)
 

Silas and Thomas were part of a family of six; five became doctors (including one sister), and Thomas a dentist.

From Susan Kemp’s research, it appears the brothers must have purchased the Baths in the early 1900s. While they never operated the Baths as such, this beautiful building was used for a further period of some sixty years as their medical and dental practices, and as their homes.

Thomas married and had two children; Silas never married. The story of Thomas and his wife contains its own tragedy, reflecting systemic problems of the health care of the times. It will be the subject of another post.


As Susan wistfully concludes:

“The Turkish Baths, a grand building originally built to give comfort and cleanliness to the citizens of Newcastle, had much potential but was demolished in 1961. Its heritage value was not recognised and Newcastle lost a unique reminder of its social history”.
 
 

Turkish Baths Rear View, drawn by Howard Peter Rand
(From the collection of Susan Kemp)


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[1] Kemp, Susan: The Turkish Baths, Hamilton, Newcastle (2008).
[2] Aykut, Susan: Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine Historical Society, Historical Papers Number 6, October 2007).
[3)The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Saturday 17 January, 1880