Te Aroha & District Museum

The old Cadman Bath House in Te Aroha Domain is a beautiful building that now houses the town's museum.

Te Aroha & District Museum
Artwork on display at the museum. Image used with permission.

I met Ruth, the museum’s administrator, and she immediately took me into a gallery containing the majority of the museum’s displayed medical collection. We talked about the displays, and then Ruth pointed out two pictures up on the wall. One was Richard Lawrence, and one was William Lawrence. Both were town doctors. Richard Lawrence was her father and William Lawrence was her grandfather.

William Lawrence had been the town doctor for a number of years until he passed away unexpectedly. His son, Richard, came to Te Aroha from where he was living in Auckland to pick up the responsibility of being the town’s doctor.

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The portable x-ray machine, part of the museum's collection. Image used with permission.

In and amongst the collections that relate to the medical history of Te Aroha was a portable x-ray unit. If it hadn't had a label with it, I wouldn't have known what it was. It was Dr. William Lawrence who recommended a public subscription be set up to purchase the portable x-ray machine. and Dr. William Lawrence would drive to the injured patients in the countryside and use the portable x-ray machine when necessary.

At the back of the display is a much less portable old x-ray machine that was used in the bath house as part of the sanatorium. Accompanying the x-ray machine are films from Kodak that the x-rays would be produced onto, as well as instruction manual for operating the machine.

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The Rheostat machine on display in one of the original bath/treatment rooms. Image used with permission.

In its previous life the bath house had 17 bath/treatment rooms. The museum has retained one room set up as it would have been when the bath house was in its heyday. Sitting in the room next to the bath is a rheostat machine. It was used in hydrotherapy to assist joint and muscle stiffness and other musculoskeletal problems. It seems a bit horrifying to think that electricity was being introduced to water, and yet they were doing it to cure people in the old bath houses.

To use the machine, a rubber mat was placed in the bath. Then wires from the rheostat machine were inserted into the water and the machine was turned on. It created a minor electrical current in the water. Then the patient lowered themselves into the water onto the rubber mat.

Ruth was an amazing host. She made me a cup of coffee and rummaged through the archives to pull out anything related to health. My favourite thing was an ad from 1912. Phillip H. Moses, dentist, claimed to have the greatest secret in the world for painless teeth extraction and he would give five pounds to any person who felt pain. Quite a dangerous thing to advertise in the newspapers, I would think.

I was flicking through a 1925 book on electromedical instruments and their management and in the back, I found handwritten notes from someone at the bath house about how to use the equipment including what level of electricity to use for what treatments. But written throughout the document were phrases like, “You are entirely responsible.” Whoever had written the instructions was well aware of the dangers of integrating electricity and water.

There was so much to see at the museum. The building was beautiful, the displays were nicely put together, and the video on the establishment of the Te Aroha community with the thermal springs was really interesting to watch. Te Aroha & Districts Museum is open every day. If you’re nearby, go and visit. If you’re not nearby, go anyway! And while you’re in the town, treat yourself a bottle of Lemon and Te Aroha (a drink that predates Lemon & Paeroa).