Symptoms of Cholera: thirst, sunken features, blueness in the extremities, and rice watered stools.

What is generally considered the first cholera pandemic began in Bengal in about 1816, spreading through India, China and Indonesia through the next decade. In 1831, a second pandemic of cholera began in Russia and then spread throughout Europe. In 1832, it arrived in Britain.

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A_dead_victim_of_cholera_at_Sunderland_in_1832._Coloured_lit_Wellcome_V0010484
A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832.

1832 Cholera Epidemic in Britain

In August 1831, the first case of cholera appeared in Sunderland.

CHOLERA. We refer our readers to a communication from Sunderland, which obligingly supplies some of that information of the absence of which we have complained. In the account of our intelligent correspondent none of those horrors are to be apprehended which perniciously excite the imagination. He states that the disease has existed since August last, and increased in proportion as the evils of poverty have increased with the season; that the place of the greatest ravages was the work house, which stands in a low situation facing the south, with a large burying-ground in front, and a deposit of filth close by, and that a south wind has prevailed for many months, which must have blown the effluvia to the building. The season, he observes, has been unusually mild. The persons attacked have been,with very few exceptions, in low health, or depressed by excessive anxiety, or of debauched habits, producing the same susceptibility.  The Examiner - Sunday 01 January 1832

It wasn’t long after this January 1832 report about Sunderland that the first cases were reported in London. A man from Rotherhithe who had been employed to clear out a vessel from Sunderland had come down with the cholera, despite the 10 day quarantine of the ship before he began his work. Although he had no contact with the crew of the ship, he contracted the disease just by way of having been on the ship and soon after died. Curious Londoners went to view the body of the man after death and by Wednesday 15 February 1832, there were 16 cases of cholera at Rotherhithe, Limehouse, Ratcliffe Highway, Lambeth and Southwark of which 7 had died.

The Bishop of London immediately directed the clergy that in no case were bodies of persons dying of cholera to be carried into the church previous to interment. Despite this order, when a man by the name of John Mahony died of the cholera in St. Olave on Tuesday morning in Silver-street, Gleen-alley, Tooley-street, an area that was home to many poor Irish was unburied as of Thursday, the custom being to sit a wake for the deceased for several nights. Alderman Ansley directed that if necessary, the body should be taken by force and immediately buried.

The appearance of the cholera in London has tended to paralyse commercial activity and great fears are indulged that serious consequences will result, should the disease spread itself extensively.Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser - Wednesday 15 February 1832

Trade was immediately affected. Ships sailing from London would be put under quarantine in their ports of arrival and accordingly, prices began to fall. The members of the Central Board of Health burned the midnight oil in the Council Office every night.

Middlesex Hospital, Feb. 15, 1832. Ordered, that on account of the inconvenience and risk to the patients which has been found to result from indiscriminate admission of visitors to the wards of the Hospital, no strangers can be for the present admitted to visit the patients, without the express permission of the house-surgeon or house-apothecary. By order of the Board.Evening Mail - Friday 17 February 1832

A total of 12 new cases of cholera were reported on 15 February, mostly in Southwark, along with 5 more deaths, bring the total of deaths up to 12.

ADJOURNMENT OF PARLIAMENT, If the cholera should unfortunately burst forth, not only with increased virulence, but to greatly augmented extent, it was last Tuesday night very confidently rumoured about the Houses, that it is not at all unlikely that short adjournment of Parliament will, in such case, proposed.Bell's New Weekly Messenger - Sunday 19 February 1832

In fact, by Tuesday, February 15, 1832, in the face of a possible cholera epidemic, the gallery of the House of Commons was unattended by any who did not have an urgent need to be there. As a precaution, the passages and lobbies were sprinkled liberally with chloride of lime.

Many thought that the alarm about cholera cases was vastly overstated. The Atlas published an opinion piece saying that since the cholera’s first victims were in the east in the crowded borough of Southwark and in the marshy low grounds of Lambeth, this was an indication that it would be confined to the ‘ill-fed and ill-clothed’ and that the respectable ranks of life and fashionable society would sure to be spared.

The medical men of London, however, were far more concerned. In a general conference of the London Medical Society in Fleet-street, some 50 of the doctors of the metropolis were presented with several cases of cholera. One case was described by Mr. Hooper, surgeon, residing in London-road:

The first was that of woman, who was perfectly well yesterday (Sunday) morning. She went to the New-cut, Lambeth, before breakfast, and there drank some port, or elder wine, and came home perfectly well; but before she could take her breakfast she felt indisposed. The gentleman who saw her thought it only common affection of the bowels, and merely sent her some chalk mixture and opium. But violent purging and vomiting soon came on, and excessive prostration followed, coldness of the surface, loss of pulse, and sunken countenance; the tongue white and clammy, the fluid ejected like whey ; and in fifteen hours from the attack she was a corpse.Bell's New Weekly Messenger - Sunday 19 February 1832

It was noted by the doctors who had attended the various cases that ‘all of them [the patients] were hitherto temperate people’, dispelling the rumours that the disease on afflicted the poor who were known to be heavy drinkers.

Schools were directed to be closed for the duration of the cholera by order of the City Board of Health. It was ordered that interment of cholera victims should take place as quickly as possible and that the clothing of the victims should be either boiled or burnt. The room in which the patient died should be fumigated and ventilated completely. All vessels coming from the Thames were to be quarantined for five days.

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Laurie, had his mansion in Abchurch-lane made ready to use for upwards of 50 cholera patients and Dr. B, G. Babington also granted one of his houses for the same purpose. Signs were posted all around London by the Central Board of Health:

** Cholera District **.—Looseness of bowels is the beginning of cholera. Thousands of lives may saved by attending in time to this, a complaint which should no account be neglected by either old or young. In places where the disease prevails, when cramps in the legs, arms, or belly are felt, with looseness or sickness at the stomach, when medical assistance not at hand, three teaspoonfuls of mustard-powder, in half pint warm water, the same quantity of warm water, with as much common salt it would melt, should be taken as vomit, and after the stomach has been cleared out with more warm water, 25 drops of laudanum should be taken in a small glass of any agreeable drink. Heated plates, or platters, to be applied the belly and pit of the stomach. As persons run considerable risk of being infected by visiting those suffering from this disease, in crowded rooms, it is most earnestly recommended that only such a number of persons are sufficient to take care of the sick admitted into the room. Central Board of Health, Council Office, Whitehall

Quack preventatives appeared everywhere. Tinctures and syrups were advertised by unscrupulous vendors claiming their remedy would cure the disease. Mustard powder and mustard seeds were recommended for the treatment of even the worst cases. Hot air baths were recommended. A widely accepted preventative, the cholera belt was a length of  flannel to be worn under the shirt around the abdomen. It was said to protect the wearer by keeping the midsection warm.

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Cholera-Belts
The Atlas - Sunday 19 February 1832

By 21 February 1832, just over a week after the first cases, there were only 40 cases in total in Limehouse, Southwark and Lambeth and among those who lived on the river. Of these, 21 had died. There were many who called for the lifting of trade restrictions, saying that the cholera epidemic was nothing but a storm in a teacup. but a month later, despite all of the precautions and preparations, there were 699 cases and 365 fatalities. Numbers were growing.

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March-cholera-numbers
Morning Advertiser - Thursday 15 March 1832

By June, the cholera had spread across England, Ireland and Scotland. Total cases were 13,696 with total deaths of 4,059. Two months later, on 1 August 1832, numbers had grown. There were 22,960 cases with 8,595 deaths. The mortality rate was increasing with the heat of the summer.

Enterprising entrepreneurs made profit from the cholera, not only by selling supposed cures and preventatives but also by publishing information about the disease in the form of leaflets and books. Assurance schemes sprang up such as this one in Southern, Warwickshire.

ASSURANCE AGAINST CHOLERA. A very useful institution has been established at Southern, in Warwickshire, under the title of ” The Southern Cholera Assurance Society,” the object of which is to form a fund for maintenance in sickness, for funeral expenses, and for a gratuity to widows, widowers, and children who may be deprived of parents by the cholera. A large meeting of the inhabitants of Southam was held on the 20th instant, the Hon. and Rev. C. Bathurst in the chair, when regulations to the following effect were agreed to :—” Any head of a family subscribing from 3d. to 5s. weekly will be allowed twelve times the amount of his subscription daily when any of his family are attacked with cholera, to the time of his recovery or death. Any person subscribing from 3d. to 1s. weekly, to be allowed £3 in case of death of a parent. For a servant or child of a subscriber, who shall die of cholera, £2 shall be allowed. The subscriptions to be continued until the cholera has ceased for twenty miles round Southern ; and when no further cause for apprehension exists of the disease breaking out in Southam, each subscriber is to receive back his subscription.”—Oxford Journal.The Atlas - Sunday 02 September 1832

Finally, by the end of 1832, the disease seemed to be on the wane.

The cholera having happily disappeared in England, the Central Board of Health is dissolved. Yesterday [31 December 1832] was the last day the Board met.

1849 Cholera Epidemic in Britain

In late 1848, the cholera returned to Britain. During the week of 23 September, a death from Asiatic cholera occurred at Greenwich. Three cases were reported on a Prussian vessel at Hull where 10 crew members who came from Hamburg were on board. Another three cases were reported to have occurred in mid-October aboard the Justitia convict ship opposite the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. A woman died in hours after falling ill with the cholera in Bermondsey.

Order in Council — The Cholera. An Order in Council appears in Friday’s Gazette, authorizing the immediate enforcement of the Act entitled An Act to renew and amend Act of the tenth year of her present Majesty, for the more speedy removal of certain nuisances, and the prevention of contagious and epidemic diseases. —This order is to continue force for six calendar months.Bell's New Weekly Messenger - Sunday 01 October 1848

By 1849, it was clear that cholera again surfaced in Britain. By 1 January 1849, Scotland had 3,427 cases of which 1,321 were fatal. In all of Britain, 4,276 cases resulted in 1,595 deaths. In Ireland, cases were on the rise, affecting those already weakened by the potato famine of previous years. A month later, the totals had climbed alarmingly with 10,195 cases and 4,512 deaths.

Elsewhere in the country, reports of cholera started to appear. In Southampton, an article in late June assured readers that reports of cases of Asiatic cholera in the town were unfounded.

Erroneous Report of Cholera Cases in Southampton. – we deem it necessary to refer to two or three reports of supposed Cholera cases in the town during the week, for the purpose of denying the existence of the disease known as Asiatic Cholera in the town. The parties have suffered severe illness, English Cholera, if violent complaints in the bowels are to be so termed, and why? In each case it may be traced to the eating of mackerel and other garbage (and such the fish is, excepting within an hour after being caught). If Cholera were really in the town we should think it a crime to conceal it, and therefore it is that we pronounce the two or three supposed cases not to be the diseased described.Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 23 June 1849

It was still a widely held belief that cholera was caused by bad smells issuing from garbage and refuse and officials worked relentlessly to identify such public nuisances and eliminate them. Reports of cholera in London continued to grow. In the weeks of June, deaths from cholera were reported as 9, then 22, then 42, then 49 and then 124. At the beginning of July, the Royal family left London for their residence on the Isle of Wight.

On 4 July 1849, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert left Buckingham Palace for the residence at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. They were accompanied by their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales. Prince Alfred, the Princess Royal, the Princess Alice, Princess Helena, and the Princess Louisa.Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser - Tuesday 10 July 1849

No Cholera in Portsmouth Hampshire

In the same month, amidst growing reports of the disease, authorities in Portsmouth and other parts of south-east England near the Isle of Wight were quick to assure the public that there was no threat of cholera.

Sanitary Condition of Portsmouth. We regret to find that much needless anxiety has been created in the public mind, by some well-meaning, but injudicious alarmists relative to the appearance of Cholera in this Borough. From all we can learn on the subject, and we write advisedly, and not without taking great pains to arrive at truth – we believe that the cases in which symptoms of Cholera have appeared, have been greatly exaggerated. More than this, we have the authority of the Medical Inspector of the Board of Health for stating, that the official returns present a less amount of sickness and mortality in the Borough at the present time than have been known here for some years.Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 14 July 1849

On the Isle of Wight, a single case of cholera was identified but it was made clear that it was due to the desperate condition of the deceased.

One Case of Cholera in Newport, Wretched Life to Blame

Coroner’s Inquest – A fatal case of cholera having occurred at the House of Industry, we give the full particulars, to prevent any unnecessary alarm, as it was evident from the facts brought out on the inquest that the deceased was far gone in the fatal disease before his arrival in the Isle of Wight. The inquest was held before Wm. Norris, Esq., coroner, at the house of Industry. From the evidence, it appeared that the name of the deceased was John Clarke, aged 27, who had lived a of very dissipated life, having indulged in the lowest debauchery. He was a native of Dublin, and his father held a commission in the 84th Regiment. He was formerly a clerk in some office, but lately has been associated with the lowest companions. His mother fell in her fortunes, and inhabits one of the wretched hovels in Cosham-street, Newport. The deceased arrived here on Monday, and being in a most emaciated state fainted in the street. He was sent on to the wretched abode of his mother, and on his arrival was so ill that the parish surgeon was immediately sent for. Mr. Waterworth promptly attended, and ordered his immediate removal to the hospital, at the house of Industry. Mr. Beckingsale, the house surgeon, was in immediate attendance, but found the patient in a state of collapse. The case being quite hopeless, however he remained with him two hours, and tried every means to relieve his sufferings, but he died on Tuesday afternoon, at three o’clock, after receiving every attention that the case admitted  -Verdict, died from CholeraHampshire Telegraph - Saturday 14 July 1849

No Cholera Here

Despite continued reports, citizens of the Isle of Wight were assured that there was no cholera in Cowes, Ryde or Newport.

PUBLIC HEALTH. -Much alarm has been of late excited by the appearance of Cholera, in many places, and the timid, ever prone to magnify evil, have cried out “Wolf” too readily. It was gravely stated a few days since, by a party from Ryde, that it seas currently reported, both there and at Newport, that cholera was making the most awful ravages ira Cowes. Now, any person crediting this, had better apply to the Central Sanitary Committee for the Isle of Wight for disproof of this. No case of cholera exists, and the general health of the town is better than it has been for years; and in proof of this we may add that no death has occurred in the town for ten days, which speaks volumes for its sanitary condition, when the population is considered. In fact we have great reason to be thankful to the great disposer of events that, while sickness and death have been ravaging in various places, we have hitherto been spared in an extraordinary degree.Hampshire Telegraph - Saturday 21 July 1849

Storey Family

With that in mind, we turn our attention to the Storey family of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. In 1837, Charles Storey, son of Thomas, married Eliza Smith, daughter of Moses, in Newchurch. Over the next dozen years, they had four girls and one boy: Susan, Kate, Mary Ann, Thomas Charles and Eliza Jane. Charles was an upholsterer and cabinet maker and they lived on Union Road in Ryde.

They were an average family of seven living an average life until the summer of 1849.

On 13 July 1849, Charles and Eliza’s oldest and youngest daughters, Susan Store, 11-years-old, and Eliza Jane Storey, aged 22-months, died of cholera as certified by the attending physician.  They were attended by their Aunt Caroline Leek who was with them when they died. The two girls were buried the following day and entered into the burial at St. Thomas Church. Their deaths were registered on 18 July.

Even as the Storey family was burying the two girls, their son, Thomas Charles who was 4-years-old, also died of cholera on 14 July. He too, was buried the day following his death and his death was registered on the same day as his sisters’.

Three days later, Charles himself came down with the cholera and was sent to the infirmary. He died of cholera on 17 July. He was 31-years-old. His death was registered on the same day as those of his children.

Finally, on 23 July 1849, 6-year-old Mary Ann died of cholera at the home of her paternal grandmother. She was buried the following day and her death was registered on 24 July.

By the end of July, all that remained of the average family of seven was mother Eliza Storey and 9-year-old daughter Kate.

Death in the time of cholera.

Cholera? Only Through Improper Eating or Drinking

Despite the fact that many died of the cholera that July in Southampton and on the Isle of Wight, the public was led to believe that only those who lived a debauched life had been affected.

Disappearance of Cholera in SOUTHAMPTON.—Excepting from two or three medical alarmists in Southampton, we hear of no new cases of cholera, British or foreign. The fine rains and pleasant breezes have dispersed the shadow of the demon. The experience of the week has confirmed our repeated statement, that where an attack of so-called cholera has occurred and terminated fatally, its origin could be traced to improper eating or drinking, impure air, previous disease, terror, or some other predisposing cause. Cases of slight derangement of the system have not been uncommon during the week, hut they have readily yielded to medical care. The town is under the deepest obligations to the Mayor for his exertions in the suppression of nuisances, and the Board of Guardians have most praise worthily seconded his efforts. From Southampton being now happily free from all suspicion of the disease, we may expect to find company flocking into the town as one of the pleasantest and healthiest in the South of England.Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 28 July 1849

And yet, we can see in this map of cholera deaths from 1849, the distinct shadow around Southampton and on the Isle of Wight.

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Map_of_England_showing_prevalence_of_cholera_1849_Wellcome_L0039174
Map of England showing prevalence of cholera in 1849

Ryde Deaths from Cholera

In the St Thomas Church Ryde burial register alone, 49 people were listed in the month of July 1849, including the Storey family. Whether or not they all died of cholera, we cannot know but undoubtedly many of them did.

July 1849

6 – Ann Frampton of Ryde, 26 years
8 George Buxey of Ryde, 15 months
8 John Vince of Ryde, 9 years
8 William Orchard of Ryde, 79 years
10 Samuel Libby Leal of Ryde, age unknown
10 Benjamin ???, aged 65
10 John Miles Herman of Ryde, 79 years
14 Susan Story of Ryde, 11 years
14 Eliza Story of Ryde, 16 months
14 ? Mallot of Ryde, 35 years
14 Eliza Knoppe of Ryde, 37 years
15 Susanna Mew of Ryde 4 years
15 Thomas Story of Ryde 4 years
15 George Jack of Ryde 45 years
15 Sarah Grovers 66 years
15 James ????? 6 years
16 John Elliot aged 30 years
16 Isabella Elliot aged ??
16 Ellen Baker, 32 years
16 Thomas Baker, 2 years
16 Deborah? Goodall, 23 years
17 Jonah Biggs, 6 years
18 Charlotte ??? 55 years
18 Walter Charles Armstrong 10 years
19 Charles Story 32 years
19 Harriet Guy? 37 years
20 James Cawes infirmary 21 years
21 William Jenkins 56 years
21 John Baker 55 years1
21 Fanny Baker 2 years
19 William Dyer ?
22 Julia Rashsley 32 years
22 Elizabeth Williams 41 years
22 Sarah? Richards? 76 years
22 Elizabeth Busey 17 years
23 William Davies 4 years
23 Charles Sanders 50 years
23 Catherine Squib 57 years
24 Francis Armstrong 66 years
24 John Austin 69 years
24 Mary Ann Story 7 years
25 Mary Nash 38 years
26 Thomas Sweetman 31 years
27 Ann Beagley 1 year
25 Alice Williams Ryder 32 years
27 George Rider 49 years
27 Thomas Sweetman 17 months
29 Nicholas Rashley 7 years
31 Maria Saunders 52 years

World Health Organization (WHO)

During the 19th century, cholera spread across the world from its original reservoir in the Ganges delta in India. Six subsequent pandemics killed millions of people across all continents. The current (seventh) pandemic started in South Asia in 1961, and reached Africa in 1971 and the Americas in 1991. Cholera is now endemic in many countries.World Health Organization

Key facts from WHO

  • Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated.
  • Researchers have estimated that each year there are 1.3 to 4.0 million cases of cholera, and 21 000 to 143 000 deaths worldwide due to cholera.
  • Most of those infected will have no or mild symptoms, and can be successfully treated with oral rehydration solution.
  • Severe cases will need rapid treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
  • Provision of safe water and sanitation is critical to control the transmission of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
  • Oral cholera vaccines are an additional way to control cholera, but should not replace conventional control measures.
  • Safe oral cholera vaccines should be used in conjunction with improvements in water and sanitation to control cholera outbreaks and for prevention in areas known to be high risk for cholera.

Read more on the WHO website.

10 thoughts on “Death in the Time of Cholera

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. When I finally figured out my brickwall on my GG-uncle, it was by finding his death certificate. When I saw he died of cholera, I began digging and after finding out that his children also died at the same time, I was dumbfounded to find all the articles in the news assuring that there were no cholera cases on the IOW! I had to dig deeper into the subject. It seems like during the 1832 outbreak, everything was all over the news but by 1849, there seemed to be a blackout of news in some areas – probably due to the possible effect on trade and tourism.

    1. Thanks Bill! Corrections made. The Sutherland/Sunderland, I blame on small newsprint in the article I used for my research but spelling ‘interment’ wrong is all on me. I do know how to spell it, but consistently type that word wrong every time I use it.

  1. My grandfather Henry Burgess died in the next cholera outbreak in London in 1866. He was a police constable in the East End. His one-year-old son also died but his pregnant wife returned safely to her birthplace in Dorset where my grandfather was born. Whew!

  2. If passengers died aboard ship and buried at sea during 1832(aprox) of cholera, who would have been notified, if anyone? Was there a procedure? I have an ancestor(Mary Ann Mayfield) who as a small child accompanied her parents from England to America, but the parents died. I understand that when the parents knew they were dying, they asked a gentleman aboard ship to take responsibility for her, with compensation. She was later taken in by a Rev. Joseph Walker of Marcus Hook, PA. but then may have been adopted.

    1. This would be previous to civil registration in the UK. The only record I would look for would be on the passenger list if it survived. Deaths were often recorded at the end of these.

    2. You might also check newspapers for the time period as it might have been reported in the news at the ports of departure and arrival.

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