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Cholera in January 1849


THE CHOLERA – 8th January
GLASGOW: According to the Faculty reports issued, there have been since Friday till yesterday inclusive, 559 cases, 174 deaths, and 172 recoveries. There were on Friday 239 cases, 67 deaths, and 72 recoveries; on Saturday 176 cases, 38 deaths and 36 recoveries, yesterday 144 cases. 49 deaths and 44 recoveries.

We now indulge the hope that the worst is past, and that day by day we will have a reduced list. It is most consolatory to have it admitted on all hands by medical men that the disease is now much more manageable than it was at the outset, and the circumstance that the deaths are in a proportion of less than one third to the cases, proves the truth of the admission.

AIRDRIE: We are happy to learn that the Burgh of Airdrie, though in the immediate vicinity of Coatbridge and other places id the parish of Old Monkland, which have suffered severely from the ravages of cholera, has been as yet leniently dealt with, the report being as follows: - Report of Cholera, in the parish of New Monkland, including the town of Airdrie, from the 12th December to 6th January – cases 106, deaths 64, recovered 21. Being at an average of about four cases per day, the greatest number in any single day being seven cases, in a population of about 25,000 souls.

PAISLEY: We regret to state that, notwithstanding all our sanitary precautions, the dreadful epidemic has at last broken out amongst us. Towards the end of last week two cases occurred, one in St James’ Street, and one in Albion Street proved fatal, and the one in Albion Street recovered. This week there are six new cases, namely one in Albion Street, one in St Mirren Street, two in Gordon’s Lane, and two at Nethercommon. Five of these have proved fatal. – Advertiser, Saturday.

BARRHEAD: Friday night – there have been seven cases of cholera here since its first approach, about ten days ago, five deaths up till to-night, it is spreading through several parts of the village, and it has lodged in one of the lowest parts of it.

EDINBURGH: Saturday 6th January – the cholera is not making much progress here. In the daily number of cases, during the last fortnight, there have been considerable variation, but the average will only be about 4 or 5 per day. The disease however is still very fatal in its effects. The number of new cases today was 5, and the deaths 2. The victims. In nine cases out of ten, belong to the very lowest, and most miserable class of society, and the localities in which the disease has manifested itself to the greatest extent, are the worst in the city.

GREENOCK: Jan. 5 – A man named Rixhard Weir, who was here from Glasgow, on a visit to a friend in Shaw Street, took ill of cholera on Wednesday night, and died this morning. There are two cases today, only one of them, however, being reported at the Parochial Board Rooms. They are both females, and came here within the last few days from Glasgow.

STRANRAER: Two cases of cholera have occurred at Stranraer, one on the 26th ultimo, and another on the 3d instant. The former is convalescent, but the latter was in the stage of collapse on Tuesday night.

On Saturday last, some important proceedings took place before the Magistrates under the new “Nuisance Removal and Disease Prevention Act” in connection with certain over-crowding Burying Grounds within the City bounds. Bailie Orr was the sitting Magistrate, but he was assisted on the Bench by the Lord Provost, Bailie Smith, and Bailie Callender, in addition to the Assessor.

BRIDGETON BURYING GROUND: The parties in this case were brought up under complaint at the insistance of the Procurator Fiscal, of the following tenor: “Unto the Honourable the Magistrates of Glasgow, complains John Burnet, writer in Glasgow, Procurator Fiscal of the Burgh Courts of Glasgow, for the public interest; that the complainer has received a notice from two inhabitants, householders of the Burgh of Glasgow, in terms of the Act 11 and 12 Victoria, cap. 123 section 2, to the effect that there are kept upon certain premises, used as a Burying Ground, situated between John Street and Green Street, Bridgeton, within said Burgh of Glasgow, an accumulation of dead human bodies, in a state of putrefaction not properly or sufficiently interred, and so as to be a nuisance to or injurious to the health of William Farquhar, weaver, 50 Green Street, Bridgeton, and others, or of the occupiers of premises adjoining the same. And the following are the owners of the premises referred to in the said notice, viz:- J Young, spirit dealer in Kent Street, Glasgow, and W Grierson, home-factor, residing in Green Street, Bridgeton, aforesaid “The complaint then prays that the nuisance may be removed or abated, under the penalty of 10s. for every day it shall continue.

Messrs. Young and Grierson appeared at the bar.

Mr Young, the defendant, said he held two shares in this Bridgeton burying ground. He had been seldom there, had visited the place last week, and found nothing wrong with it. The ground they were now using was new ground which had never been occupied before. There was no putrefaction visible which could be annoying to any one. Mr Grierson, the other defendant, said he had managed this burying ground for sixteen years, and never heard any complaint made till now. He looked upon the complaint as being founded upon spleen(?). Mr Blue(?) he believed was the instigator of it, a man who had kept Bridgeton in torment for the last 40 years. As Mr Young had said, the ground they were using was entirely new ground, and in their interments they were pursuing the same course which they had followed for the last 16 years. Mr Smart, the Superintendent, had told him there was a complaint against the ground and suggested improvements. A medical gentleman proposed that there should be a mound of earth between the tiers of coffins, and they had been attending to this to some extent. It was suggested that the coffins should be two feet or two and a half feet from the surface, and they were attending to this also.

The Fiscal – Do you open a large hole and put the bodies in there?
Mr Grierson – We open a grave, the same as in the case of a private inernment, and put one coffin upon the top of another until it is filled, and then we cover it up. There is not a ground in Glasgow better kept.
The Fiscal – How much earth is there above the coffin?
Mr Grierson – We consider two or two and a half feet enough.
Bailie Smith – What extent is the church-yard?
Mr Young – Three roods or three-fourths of an acre.
Bailie Smith – How long has it been used as a burying ground?
Mr Young – Thirty eight years. It was opened in 1811.
Bailie Smith – How many bodies were interred last year?
Mr Grierson – About 700.
Bailie Smith – Can you tell how many have been interred this year?
Mr Grierson – I cannot tell.
Bailie Smith – How many were interred last month?
Mr Grierson – Perhaps 200. These have been double any month in the year.
The Fiscal – What sort of covering is placed above the coffins?
Mr Grierson – Always a little earth above each coffin, and then the whole is covered up with earth.
Mr Young – It is dry sand, and a corpse will consume there in three years. There are other grave-yards where it would take 20 years. It is the best ground for the purpose possible. We acquired the ground and hold it in shares. There are four proprietors, and I have a third of the whole.

The Court then proceeded to hear evidence. Mr Andrew Blue called, and examined by the Fiscal – I reside in the immediate neighbourhood of the Bridgeton burying ground. The bodies are laid down edge by edge; six coffins on the top of each other, with perhaps an inch of sand between them, but if the burials come rapidly they are put together without and sand. There is sometimes sand and sometimes not. There are six tier of coffins. Some of the coffins are above the original surface of the ground, but an artificial surface is made and placed over them. I am quite certain some of them are above the natural surface of the earth. The grave ground is little bigger than the kail yard behind my home. A great many bodies are buried there, and it is now so full that they are digging up the walks. There is a space in the centre about a rood in extent upon which a carriage might drive, and this is now used for the burial of the paupers. There are some private lairs round the walls. The ground is exceedingly crowded with fever corpses. The people in my house have been taking notice, and they have observed that sometimes from 20 to 30 are interred in a day – the most of them on the common ground. Before cholera came, there were sometimes 15 to 30 fever cases buried there in a day. I am aware that the Barony Parochial Board has been burying their paupers there. I have remonstrated with parties belonging to the Board as to the impropriety of it. I reckon this burying-ground, in the mode in which it is managed, is a nuisance of the first magnitude. I have expressed this opinion long before this time. I think the mode in which the ground is used is most prejudicial to the public health. Dungsteads have been removed, but this is a far greater nuisance than they are. I have felt a strong offensive smell from it a hundred times at my kitchen door. It is very disagreeable, when you think on what the smell comes from. I have felt it very strong on the Sundays, when there are some of the public works going on. There are dwelling-houses close to the church-yard. My dwelling house is about 40 feet from the gate. Mr Grierson’s house is nearer still. The house of one of the City Councillors, who died from cholera this morning is very near it also. There is a large factory (McPhail’s) within 12 or 14 feet of it. There are a great many people employed there.

Cross-examined by Mr Grierson – I never applied to be Superintendent of this ground. I know from my own observation that there have been from 15 to 20 burials in it daily.
Mr Grierson – I never interred more than 11 a day till this time. We have now interred about 30 a day.. The witness stated that he believed the ground was held as a matter of private speculation.
Mr D McPhail called – I am a cotton spinner within the limits of Glasgow. My factory is near the Bridgeton burying ground. It is within 10 feet of the north side of the ground. I employ about 1000 people. There are about 150 of my people working in that part of the mill near the ground. There is a part of it appropriated for private interments, and I have lairs there myself. There is a part in the centre for the paupers. This part had been used of late for the burial of those who have died of cholera. The ground is turned up in a fearful manner, and it is like a field full of pits. The ground is wide at one end, and narrow at the other. This common ground has been a most disagreeable sight for the last two or three years. Bodies are buried there so frequently that no time is given them to decompose, and when new interments take place the old remains are lifted out and lie there till the rains of heaven wash them away. They go about 8 or 10 feet deep, and sprinkle a little sand on the coffins, and leave the pit open till it is filled. I hear great complaints in my work from the smell of this ground. Many cases of cholera have occurred hereabout. The part used as common ground is but a small part of the yard. The ground is not under the charge of any public trust. I consider it a great nuisance, and everybody complains of it. Two hundred corpses are laid upon the top of each other in a space not wider than this hall and when there is rain, the fluid from the heap runs through the streets of Bridgeton. A member of the Town Council, who lived opposite some of the pits where 50 coffins have been put in within the last day or two, has died this morning.

Cross-eximined by the Court. – It is my opinion that there are a larger number of bodies put in this ground than is decent of proper, and it is opened more frequently than should be. The bodies are too often disturbed, and therefore, the place is unhealthy and a nuisance. A road has now been made over the top of the graves, and the coffins lie within two feet of the carriage wheels.

Mr William Farquhar, weaver in Brigeton, gave evidence of a similar nature.
Dr. Dempster, Medical Superintendent of Barony Parish, and Staff Surgeon for the West of Scotland, had been requested to visit the Bridgeton burying ground. He gave us the following report on the subject by Drs. Sutherland and Grainger:-
167 West Regent Street, Glasgow, 3d Jan., 1849.
“The undersigned having examined late the conditions of the Bridgeton Burying Ground have to report that, in their opinion, the practice of burying in trenches is productive of dangerous nuisances, and ought to be prohibited. The number of burials (90 in one week), they are in the opinion, is far too great for safety during the present state of the public health, and the ground should not be used for interring the bodies of persons who have died of cholera. “John Sutherland, MD.”
“R.D. Grainger.
“Superintending Medical Inspectors of the General Board of Health”.

He (Dr. D.) concurred in that opinion, and believed that no body should be buried there unless a certificate was given by a medical man that the patient had not died of cholera.
Bailie Smith – Is it your opinion that there should be no burying of cholera bodies in the private lairs?
Dr. Dempster – Yes
Bailie Smith – This is extraordinary. The prohibition might prevent decent people being buried with their fathers Dr. Dempster had visited the ground on Saturday last, when he found the dead buried in trenches; the sides of the coffins were visible from the top to bottom, and the pit remained open. He suggested that the ground should be rammed down against the sides, and the place covered up, not to be re-opened, but on visiting the spot next day with Dr. Sutherland, he found that nothing had been done.

The Fiscal produced a copy of the Glasgow Mortality Bill for 1847, which showed that there had been 1318 burials in this place during that year, which was an increase of 584 over the preceding year.

Bailie Smith – This differs materially with the statement of Mr Gierson, who told me just now that there had been only 100 interments in 1847. This is a vast amount of burials in a place extending to only three quarters of an acre.
Mr Grierson – I must have alluded to the previous year.
Dr. Dempster – We visited the place on Sunday last. The effluvia was dreadful. Often as I have in a dissecting room I never felt the like of it.
Bailie Orr – Give us the reason why you are against cholera patients being buried there at all in the private lairs. Dr. Dempster – It is too near dwelling houses, and the ground is too small. Where there is only one body, buried in a grave the practice is of course less objectionable. The soil is sandy, and the exhalation through it is of course, the greater. I recommended three feet of earth between the coffins. I consider the place a decided nuisance, and prejudicial to public health.

In answer to a question from the Lord Provost Dr. D. said he understood that the Barony Parish had ceased to bury their paupers there now. It was stated that Mr Meek, the Barony Inspector, had made a contract for burying ground with the eastern Necropolis Company.

Dr. Campbell of Calton examined – I would not go the full length of Dr Dempster’s opinion. I would not shut up the private lairs, but I would shut up the public burying ground. As a common burying place it should be shut up. I see the more occasion for this every day in my life. I was born within twenty yards of this place, and had my school-boy amusements near it, but the system of interments of late has been perfectly painful. I conceive that private parties, whether they die of cholera or no, should be buried with their fathers. There are many eminent citizens interred there, but then their graves are sunk deep down. The “Plague Pit” system, however, should be put an end to – that is, the burying in trenches which are not covered up during the night. I have no hesitation in saying that this place is a great nuisance, and prejudicial to health.

It was added that the sentence of the Court would take effect in two days. The defenders then retired from the bar.

A charge of a similar description, as to the “accumulation of dead human bodies, in a state of putrefaciion, not properly or sufficiently interred” was brought against the Right. Rev. John Murdoch, DD, Roman catholic Bishop, responsible owner of the burying ground situated on the east side of Abercromby Street, between Gallowgate and East Rose Street.

Mr JB Bryson appeared as agent for Dr. Murdoch. Mr Bryson said that the burying ground was less than half an acre in extent, and it had been open about five or six years. The clergymen who lived in the neighbourhood had not complained of it as a nuisance. The mode of interment here is this; they excavate a pit as large as the space within this bar (about 12 or 14 feet square) and from 4 to 5 feet deep. The excavation is made out of forced earth. The place the coffins close together, on top of each other, without any soil between them, and sometimes they raise the pile above the surface of the ground but always on a level with it. When the pit is filled with bodies, they then dig another adjoining to it, and then cover the former with the earth from the latter. It is not interment in the ordinary sense of the term. It is not earth, but principally engine ashes, and rubbish which compose the soil of the burying ground. On Thursday I again visited the place, and saw a wide pit built up 3 feet above the surface, but on examining the ground, I found it was only dug one foot below the surface. I do not know the reason why they do not dig deeper, unless it be to save expense. There are rows of houses near the ground.

Mr Carrick said the mound in which fever patients had been interred last year was now being opened on one side for cholera bodies, and there was a vapour rising from the pit on the frosty day which was offensive beyond all descriptions. The man who was working there said it was dreadful. There was a total of 2269 bodies buried in this small spot in 1847, being an increase of 1067 over the preceding year. As the place is exclusively for Catholic inerments, many of the bodies are brought from a great distance. I think there would be 3000 interments in 1848.

Bailie Orr – If it has gone on at this rate since the commencement, there may have been 10,000 bodies interred in this small period in the last five years.

Dr. Campbell (Calton) – The sooner burying is prohibited here, for the sake of the Catholic Chapel and Orphan Institution, and all around, the better. Twenty five years ago, this place was used as a clay-pit. Mr Wilson of Campbellfield, and it entirely dug up to the depth of twenty feet of clay, and the space was filled up with the debris of the steets of Glasgow, but the earth has not had time to consolidate. The sweepings of the streets for twenty years have been deposited there. I would shut it entirely. Not a single body should be buried there.

Mr Bryson – Did it not bear crop?

Dr. Campbell – There was an attempt to raise vegetables on it, but this did not succeed.

Mr William Chalmers, house factor, gave some details. In 1846 and 1847, during the fever time, the smell was dreadful. Then there were 14 bodies buried daily on an average, and 22 on the Sundays. He was accustomed to see swarms of immensly large flies coming from it in the summer. He had never seen the same kind of flies excepting at the watch house of the Calton grave yard.

From the evidence of Dr. Campbell, Mr Gould, Clyde Street, Calton, Mr McKinlay, Mr John Smith, Mr Carrick and others, it appeared that the mode of interment on thos locality was much less onjectionable than is the case of the others. The ground extended to about an acre, and 20 falls(?), partly taken up before 1800, and partly before 1820, but by far the greater part of it was occupied by the lairs of private families. It came out in evidence, however, that a great pit or mound was dug in 1832 for the reception of bodies which had died of cholera, and that the managers were now about to open this very pit for the reception of cholera bodies at the present time.

Bailie Orr, in the name of the Court, passed a judgement, prohibiting the ground from being used as a common place of interment for paupers – prohibiting the opening of the Cholera Mound, and declaring that it should only be used as a place of private interment.

Superintendent Smart stated that the Eastern Necropolis was available on very easy terms for interments from the eastern part of the city. It was entirely detached from the city, and already 14 acres had been laid out, in which only from 50 to 60 bodies had been interred.

THE CHOLERA – 12th January
We are truly thankful to state that there has been a deduction in the number of cases and deaths every day for nearly a week past. During the last two days the falling off has been very considerable.

Glasgow (January 11th):
Cases since last report - 92
Cases since Nov 11 – 3322
Deaths since last report – 34
Deaths since Nov 11 – 1331
Recoveries since last report – 62
Recoveries since Nov 11 – 866
Remain - 1125

Since Friday last, up till yesterday, there have been 21 additional deaths. On the 7th the epidemic assumed a fmilder form, and by yesterday’s Report it still continues favourable. It is hoped that in a few days it will disappear altogether.

Number of cases from 24th Dec. to 10th January, inclusive – 72
Number of deaths – 48
Recoveries – 9
Remaining under treatment – 15
Total – 72
The town is divided into small districts, with a Surgeon and visitor for each. Two dispensaries are opened, and attendance is also given night and day at the Council Chambers, where medical advice or attendance, and medicines are instantly supplied. The Board of Health have also commenced a distribution of coffee, sugar and bread to necessitous families. The Parochial Board has, last week, supplied the paupers with a liberal allowance of clothing and shoes and stockings, and Sir John Maxwell, with his usual generosity, has enabled the Board to distribute eighty half carts of coals among the poor, and the Weavers’ Society have also distributed eighty half carts, generously placed at their disposal by Sir John. – Dr. Sutherland visited this place on Tuesday and had a long interview with a Committee of the Board of Health and Surgeons employed by the Board. He also visited several parts of the town where the disease was most prevalent, and at his suggestion, two medical students, who had some experience of the visiting systems, were added to the medical staff. This system is now carefully and energetically carried out, and we are happy to announce that, although the number of cases was not less than fourteen on Saturday last, there was not a single case reported on Tuesday, and only one on Wednesday, and one yesterday. There have been, however, a considerable number of cases of bowel complaint discovered and successfully treated since Saturday, but from the reports of the medical visitors, these are also on the decrease since the 9th instant.

The returns this week exhibit a diminution in the number of cases in the city. On Monday there were two cases, and one death; on Tuesday there was only one case, which proved fatal; and on Wednesday there were four cases, two deaths and two recoveries. From the county returns, it appears that in the parish of Duddington on Saturday and Sunday seven cases occurred, three deaths and four recoveries – making, since the 30th of October, a total of 35 cases. In the parish of Inveresk (comprising Musselburgh and Fisherrow), there was one new case and one new death on Saturday, and another case on Monday, making the number of cases which had occurred there, since the first appearance of the disease on the 16th of October, 74. We regret to state that in the parish of Liberton, three cases occurred in one family between the 1st and 6th current, one of which terminated fatally. There have been several cases at Cockenzie since Saturday, but no new cases have occurred at Prestonpans for the last ten days. At Mid-Calder, a poor woman, a hawker by profession, was seized on Sunday, and died in a short time afterwards. – Courant.

Port Glasgow:
A woman named Moore died on Wednesday night of cholera in Bay Street, Port Glasgow. This is the first decided case of the disease, which has occurred there, and has created considerable sensation. It appears deceased had come down on Tuesday evening from Glasgow, where she had been staying for three or four days, and was seized the following morning. The premonitory symptoms were disregarded and the disease had assumed an alarming appearance before medical assistance was sent for.


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