Home Manx Life The Cholera Epidemic 1832-33

The Cholera Epidemic 1832-33

by Bernadette Weyde

The incubation period of cholera can be as short as a few hours, the time it takes for the ingested vibrio cholera to get to its natural habitat, the human intestine, but it can also be as long as a few days.

In 1819 the British army in India brought the cholera from the Ganges with them as far as the Himalaya mountains. During the next ten years this disease spread along the eastern trade routes killing thousands in every place it visited. In 1830 it had reached Astrakan and on September 14th 1830 it had reached Moscow.

Gradually it spread through Europe and the first case of cholera in the British Isles was reported on September 23rd 1831. The ships arriving to this port from Hamburg had some of their crews either suffering from cholera or incubating the disease.

In a matter of days the disease had spread to the surrounding countryside and three months later had spread to Edinburgh, and from there to Glasgow. It was reported as having reached London, February 1832 and in Dublin on the 22nd March.

The newspapers in the Isle of Man gave full coverage to the spread of cholera, warning the people to take precautions to prevent its entry into the Island. On May 29th the Manx Sun reports that cholera has broken out in Liverpool.

The first report of the outbreak in Douglas is on July 3rd. Thomas Woods age 24 years died on June 28th (incorrect date?), he was buried in Braddan. The first of 83 people recorded in the burial register with a ‘C’ meaning they had died of cholera. Thomas Woods lived in Fancy Street and was a blacksmith. His father died of cholera a few days later.

The Manx Sun of July 31st reports that the cholera is confined to Sand Street. A wooden building was erected on the Hill’s estate (near Peel Road, Douglas) for treating cholera patients. Dr. Quine and two nurses were appointed for this. (It was used again in 1833).

Week by week the number of cases increased. A large pit had been dug in St. George’s churchyard for cholera victims and that people fled from Douglas to other parts of the Island is true but the following article from the Manx Sun of September 4th is interesting:-

“The prevalence of the Asiatic cholera has increased during the last week and which we believe is to be attributed mainly to the extreme thougthtlessness in the surviving friends of those who die. We witnessed in the course of the last week a bin in Sand Street waiting to receive a cholera corpse and the house was crowded with persons, mostly women and children who were eager to see the dead. Several of these have paid the fatal foreiture for their curiousity.

The eagerness with which the friends follow the infectious coffin is culpable but infinitely and atrociously more so, are those who use the occasion to get drunk. The very hearse that conveys the contagious remains to the grave has frequently been observed to return laden with six or seven of the deluded followers intoxicated by drinking drams at every public house they come to…”. The article continues giving suggestions about how the infectious case should be treated.

A Board of Health had been appointed in October 1831, they arranged for the houses of the poor to be white washed and lime to be given out to spread over the middens. This was done early in 1832. One of the Committee said that if the disease broke out tar barrels should be burnt and cannon fired in the streets. This was done in the most affected parts of the town on September 3rd 1832. The cholera in Douglas ended by the beginning of October. The north of the Island had escaped but Castletown and the south were infected. Castletown’s first case occurred on August 20th. The first two cases were actually women from Douglas. 27 persons died in Queen Hithe Street. It spread through the town and out of a population of two thousand – ninety died. The last victim was the doctor who had been attending the sick, he was Dr. Richard Jones who died on October 13th.

During the prevalence of the disease a Board of Health was established, large sums of money raised, a hospital prepared on the Claddagh, the poor were supplied with comforts, medicine and clothes. The beds and clothes of those who died were burned. The dead were wrapped in tarred sheets, confined and buried immediately and the graves to prevent them being reopened marked ‘cholera’.

Castletown and the south of the Island escaped the 1833 outbreak. This outbreak started about the beginning of August but there is very little evidence to prove this. There were 19 deaths in one week in Douglas reported in the Manx Sun of August 23rd but cholera was not mentioned.

In the next week’s edition the readers are informed that Douglas has one case of cholera but is in a healthy state, fifteen deaths are recorded on another page.

A small note at the end of the register of deaths for St. George’s Church gives the following: 36 deaths in August and 27 deaths in one week in September.

Cholera had broken out in Ramsey, it had been taken there from Douglas by a visitor. This is reported in the Manx Sun of September 6th.

On June 25th under the heading ‘Fashionable arrivals’ there is a list of people such as Mr. and Mrs. Mostyn, R.N., Lord Gort etc. Cholera has not got newspaper space even in the back pages, but on Sept. 20th it is reported that “cholera in Douglas has ceased. Not one fresh case had been reported for the last five days”. The article goes on to thank the magistrates, the Board of Health, the officiating surgeons, the medical gentlemen for their zeal and anxious attention. This article ends thus:- “We should feel more grateful if we could report as favourably of Ramsey. During the last week four or five fatal cases have occured, and one at Kirk Andreas.”

The stranger who had gone to Ramsey taking the cholera to that town had been put up in an Inn. He must have become infected in Douglas and was incubating the disease on his way to Ramsey. This means that he must have stayed in Douglas either with friends or at an inn. (The visitors arriving by ship were taken past the infected area of Douglas on route to the new popular ‘Castle Mona Hotel’. An unlikely place to pick up cholera as it had its own water supply which at that time was probably quite safe to drink).

The stranger must have drank water or other drink which had been contaminated by the excreta from the bowel of a person suffering from cholera. Due to the diarrhoea of cholera, a patient can lose up to 20 litres of fluid in a day. That fluid would be teaming with active cholera germs in search of another human being. In 1832/33 Douglas was getting its water supply from water carts and wells, (the men filling their carts from the river just below the place where the women were washing the infected linen), there was no sewerage disposal. Farmers were asked to clear the middens before midday. The cholera vibrio does not travel to any other part of the body, it remains in the gut, does not injure the intestine but makes the cell lining the walls to pour out the body fluid (said to be due to the toxins made by the germs).

How did this stranger cause the outbreak of cholera in Ramsey? Eight people died from the disease within one week. This makes it more than probable that the drinking water had become contaminated by the ‘stranger’s infected excreta’.

The High Bailiff had a very difficult task coping with the outbreak. The panic was so great that he himself had to help to lift the bodies into the carts and to accompany them to the grave, even at times had to assist in burying the dead.

By the beginning of October with the colder weather there were no more cases of cholera.

(source: A Manx Notebook http://bit.ly/12ckpqe; artwork from wiki http://bit.ly/2kvxaHx)

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