• Full Name:
    Dr John Le Gay Brereton
    aka Brewerton
  • Role:
    Registered practitioner
  • Occupation/s:
    Homœopathic physician, religious writer, advocate of Turkish baths, health spa owner, public lecturer, poet
  • State:
    New South Wales
  • Date first identified using homoeopathy in Australia:

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


[1827 - 1886]


Dr Brereton was born on 28th October 1827 in Bawtry, Yorkshire England.


He was the grandson of Dr John Brewerton (1743 - 27 July 1823) and Ann Baxby. (Early British census records  show that the name was originally recorded as 'Brewerton' rather than 'Brereton'.  'Le Gay' was the maiden name of  Ann Baxby's mother.) John Brewerton and his wife Ann had four sons, John, Thomas, Charles and Edward. Edward died at the age of four. The other three boys became doctors, although the eldest child, John, died in 1816 after serving as a surgeon in Nelson's Navy.


Dr Thomas Le Gay Brewerton (1786 - 1831) became apprenticed to a chemist in the city of York, before becoming a surgeon. The 1811 and 1822 directories for the area showed that he and his father, John, were surgeons at Bawtry, the 1822 directory stating that their premises was in High Street. The directory for 1828 shows that Thomas Le Gay Brewerton was at Ivy House, Wharf Street, Bawtry, where he was surgeon and apothecary of the town.


Thomas married his first wife, Martha Parkin, in 1812. The marriage register entry reads 'Thomas Le Gay Brewerton alias Brereton', and he signed the register 'Thomas Le Gay Brerton'.  According to Paul Le Gay Brereton, a family descendant, the reason for the name change (to Brereton) was that the Brewerton family had held a very strong tradition that they were descended from a branch of the ancient Brereton family of Brereton Hall in Cheshire.


Martha died in 1818, aged 27 years. They had no children. Thomas married his second wife, Mary Ann Taylor, in 1824. Thomas and Mary Ann were the parents of John (who eventually travelled to Australia) and his three sisters.


Thomas Le Gay Brereton's family were Quakers. The 1841 census shows that at age 13, Thomas' son John  (surname Brewerton) was a pupil at The Friends' School at Ackworth, Yorkshire.  The 1851 census for Scotland shows that John,  his mother, and his sister Mary were at 16 Meadow Place, St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. John's occupation was "medical student".


John studied medicine at Edinburgh, using his family name of Brewerton (L.R.C.S. Edin, MD St Andrews & LSA London 1851).  On completion of his medical training, he changed his name to Brereton.


While still in England he took on the principles of homœopathy, and was listed in the 1853 British and Foreign Homœopathic Medical Directory. According to The Lancet, on 10 October 1852, the Medical Board refused to examine Dr Brereton because he was a homœopath. This did not stop him from establishing his practice in Bradford, Yorkshire.  The postal directory for 1853 stated that he was a physician at 54 Little Horton Lane, Bradford, Yorkshire, while the directory for 1857 showed that he was Medical Poor Law Officer to the township of Little Horton.  He taught Rev B.G. Wilson, who later emigrated to Brisbane. Dr Brereton also became a convert to the health benefits of the Turkish bath.


In 1857 Dr Brereton married Mary Tongue.  Over the course of time they had 12 children, although only seven of them survived infancy.


Dr Brereton and his wife Mary arrived in Melbourne aboard the "Dover Castle" on 24 June 1859, where it was hoped he would become the first fully-qualified homœopathic practitioner for the proposed Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary. In the event, however, he continued on to Sydney, and as a result the planned Melbourne Dispensary did not eventuate at that stage. In terms of his decision to reside in Sydney rather than Melbourne, it is likely that this was the result of encouragement from Sydney businessman, Thomas Mort and his wife, who were also on board the "Dover Castle". According to a letter written by a fellow passenger on the ship, during the long journey to Australia Dr Brereton gave a lecture on the Turkish Bath which he intended to introduce in Sydney. "It was not a very interesting one [i.e. lecture], but a very cleanly one." It would therefore appear that, despite the hopes of the residents of Melbourne, Dr Brereton had already made up his mind to continue his journey to Sydney.


After a brief stay in Melbourne, Dr Brereton boarded the "Wonga Wonga" and arrived in Sydney on 6 July 1859. Soon after his arrival in Sydney, Dr Brereton set up his practice and at the first annual meeting of the Sydney Homœopathic Dispensary on 4 August 1859 he was appointed to join the medical staff.


In the same year he also established Sydney’s first Turkish bath in Spring Street, in a premises formerly known as the Captain Cook Hotel and adapted to the new purpose. (Dr Brereton had been involved with the establishment of Turkish baths in England.) An advertisement of October 1859 announced:


The improved Turkish Bath, and appliances for the water treatment of disease, Spring-street, Sydney. Under the care of John Le Gay Brereton, M.D., M.R.C.S.E., L.A.C., author of the "Turkish Bath in Health and Disease."


There were separate sessions for patients and the public - "no Invalids admitted to the afternoon baths". "Open for ladies only from 10 o'clock a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Fridays". The "invalid baths" were under the personal superintendence of Dr Brereton, "whose Consultation Rooms adjoin the Bath". In the afternoons he could be consulted at his private residence at 213 Macquarie Street.


The Spring Street bath was so successful that on March 14 1861 he opened a larger establishment in Bligh Street. This building was described as follows:


... though small in its dimensions, presents a rather imposing appearance from the street, the elevation consisting of four Doric columns supporting a well-proportioned pediment. The effect is somewhat singular, as this style is seldom adopted, except in large structures; it is, however, in keeping with the institution, as although the Turkish Bath is modern in its application in England, it is essentially a revival of the ancient Roman bath. Within the portico there are on entering two small apartments, one of which is intended for a consulting room, and the other for a waiting room.


In January 1860 he announced that he had moved from his "late temporary apartments" to a permanent residence, 66 Sharp's buildings, Hunter Street. Then in December 1860 he moved to 179 Macquarie Street North, "opposite the Inner Domain".


During 1864 his appointment to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum caused a stir, resulting in letters to various newspapers demanding that other practitioners at the Asylum resign, to show their displeasure and disgust at the appointment of a homœopath to an official government position. After some controversy, Dr Brereton was dismissed from his position in 1865.


In 1873 Dr Atherton moved from Hobart to Sydney and formed a partnership with Dr Brereton. Interestingly, in March 1872 Dr Atherton had already worked for several weeks at Dr Brereton's Sydney practice while Dr Brereton was away for a period.


In 1875 his practice was at 167 Macquarie Street, Sydney.  On 18 July, 1876 his partnership with Dr Atherton was dissolved 'by mutual consent'.


Although raised a Quaker, Dr Brereton was converted to the ideas of Swedenborg and became a leader of the New Jerusalem Church in Sydney.  He was a leading member of the New Church Society of Sydney (the Swedenborgians).


During the 1860s he delivered a number of public lectures on such topics as the Turkish bath (including a packed Hobart Town Hall in 1868), cremation (which he advocated) and rational clothing. His lecture on the latter topic "attacked the use of broadcloth, flannels, &c, for male costume". However, he was criticised for having nothing to say about the dress of the ladies - hoops, crinoline, stays, &c, "although this would naturally have formed part of such a lecture, and although his attention was called to the omission". When asked for his opinion, he effectively side-stepped the issue.


In 1881 he gave evidence before a committee of the Legislative Assembly, opposing the principle of compulsory vaccination. During his lifetime he also published 5 volumes of verse, and was described as being "one of the leading medical practitioners of his day in Sydney, and a man of great literary attainments."


In 1882 he retired to the farm cottage of “Osgathorpe”, in Gladesville, which he had altered and extended considerably since he first purchased it in 1860. He died aged 59 of Bright's disease on the 28th October, 1886 and was buried in St Anne's cemetery in Ryde, NSW.


His wife, Mary, died on 1 July, 1923, in her 85th year.


See also the reference to Dr Brereton  in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.



With thanks to Paul Le Gay Brereton, a descendant of Dr John Le Gay Brereton, for his contributions to this entry.



©   Barbara Armstrong     


  • Created:
    Monday, 25 May 2009
  • Last modified:
    Monday, 15 December 2014