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The cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849


Victorian map

In 1831, Lord William Bentinck wrote a letter from India describing the spread of cholera (Document 1). Soon afterwards, the disease reached Britain for the first time. In Nottingham, the first victim was a Mr T. Farnsworth of Lees' Yard, Narrow Marsh. It was mainly among the poor that the disease spread, until it affected some 1,000 people and caused nearly 300 deaths.

Very unusual remedies against cholera were advertised in the press (see Document 2). Nevertheless, according to an 1849 report of the Sanitary Committee of the Borough of Nottingham, 'this terrible scourge the Cholera fixed itself in 1832 in Streets and Courts filthy, ill ventilated and crowded with inhabitants too poor, dirty or dissipated to procure necessary food or use the most common means to secure health'. [source: Records of The Borough of Nottingham, Vol. IX, 1849, p. 71]

Document 3 contains two descriptions of the 1832 cholera epidemic in Nottingham, written fifty years after the event.

When the next cholera epidemic reached Britain in 1848, the authorities remembered what had happened the last time, and were able to put measures in place to help the victims (although not to cure them, as the disease was still not fully understood). Document 4 shows how wealthier people were asked to contribute towards charities to help the poor, while Document 5 describes measures to deal with the epidemic in Newark-upon-Trent. Document 6 details all the cholera cases in Nottinghamshire in 1849.

Cholera returned a few more times over the course of the 19th century, but with less ferocity, thanks to advances in medical knowledge and sanitation. Document 7 illustrates measures in place in Edinburgh to deal with an epidemic in 1866. An outbreak of cholera in 1893 was the last major epidemic of the disease in western Europe. There were a few cases in Ilkeston in Derbyshire, which are described in Document 8.

 

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