What can we learn about cholera from contemporaneous news sources that gets left out of history books?

Use what you learned in the last 2 classes to search the historical London Times database for the 4 most important or interesting articles you find on the history of cholera and industrialization in the UK in the 18th and 19th century.

In a short essay (300-600 words) explain the historical significance of the articles you chose, focusing on telling us how your chosen articles show change over time and what new insight they help lead us to. Think about the historical context of cholera that we discussed in class–everything from the people it affected to the infrastructure changes it helped created.

Essay is due in a comment on this post by September 8th at 10pm. Please leave a line of white space between your paragraphs since the commenting system strips out paragraph indentation, making the text run together. When referencing an article within your essay use a parenthetical reference in the form of: (Times of London, “Article Title,” Article Date). Also include a stable link to each of the articles you used at the end of your essay.


  1. 19th century London saw many rapid changes as industrialization and urban centralization that became prominent in the society. With these rapid changes, problems also emerged, mainly for the working class citizens. A city bursting at the seems –without the modern scientific and hygiene advancements of today – became the breeding ground of filth and with that filth came the cholera.

    Without the significant preventative medical advancements made for cholera in later years, cholera was a deadly and serious disease ravaging industrialized London. It was unknown to the English people that cholera was a waterborne illness and in the meantime, they blamed it on things such as smells and contagion. On June 15th, 1831, a committee of royal college physicians came to the conclusion that cholera was caused by being in contact with the sick person. In response, they suggested that cholera sickened people should be put under quarantine (Times (London), A Special Committee of the Royal College of Physicians met on Wednesday, to report on the documents, Friday, June 17th, 1831). This solution however did not help the epidemic because they were not solving the water-based problem of cholera.

    Similar consequences of little medical knowledge were seen at sea in 1823. The men aboard His Majesty’s Ship Liffey became ill with the sickness and in order to remedy the situation, they put the patient in a hot bath and proceeded to “bleed out” the illness. This ended up not saving any of the men aboard, and all in all, 10 men died from this attack of cholera. However, it was noted that the cholera was not contagious, despite the claim made by the royal college physicians (Times (London), The Cholera Morbus, June, 21st, 1831).

    After the attack of cholera in 1854, it was beginning to become widely believed that cholera was in fact a water borne illness. Due to this belief, sanitary measures began to take place in order to prevent another outbreak of cholera. In 1855, the ideas of sewers began to take form in a way to prevent the outbreak of cholera that had been ravaging the city in the year before. The sewers would remove the filth and cesspools that had collected in the ever-expanding city and would in return, make for a cleaner water supply (Times (London), Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, January 17th, 1855).

    When it preventative measure of cholera began to take root shortly after the epidemic of 1854, death numbers were seen as significantly lower. In the Health of London of 1855, it was shown that the death rate was 12,000 lower in 1855 than it was in 1854. In the specific week of the published article, it shows that only two deaths of have occurred due to cholera (Times (London), The Health of London in 1855, February 6th, 1856).

    Since cholera was a very specific epidemic that occurred during the industrialization of London, it can be seen as reason for the development of the sanitary systems that began to take place after 1854. Prior to the 1854 outbreak, preventative measures in place were not solving the ultimate problem of the disease. However, once it was becoming wide spread that it was a water problem, the disease began to diminish, especially with the installation of sewers. Without the outbreak, we might not be provided with the important knowledge we have now of sanitary regulations and how it relates to disease.


    A Special Committee of the Royal College of Physicians met on Wednesday, to report on the documents:


    Cholera Morbus:


    Metropolitan Commission of Sewers:


    The Health of London in 1855:


  2. The 1854 epidemic of cholera was not the first time England has seen the disease. In 1831, cholera took hold of the city Sunderland. An article on the outbreak at the time addressed the Commissioners of Sewers to improve sanitary conditions declaring “The Commissioners of Sewers, we repeat, are bound to give the payers of the sewer-rates some reasonable value for their money.” (The Times London “There appears no reason to doubt that the spasmodic cholera has made its appearance at Sunderland, having.”5 Nov. 1831).The situation was however, dealt with by the government by a dispatch of an officer and doctor who took action to help the people of the Sunderland by providing outdoor relief. Among such actions were “Buildings have been provided as hospitals for the sick, and orders have been issued by the Government to the Barrack-master, to issue all necessary supplies of bedding and other barrack stores.” ( The Times London “Cholera”, November 15, 1831.). It was admirable that the government provided assistance to its people, but that relief would only prove temporary and left the underlying cause of the outbreak unresolved.

    The enactment of the Poor Laws of 1834 banned outdoor relief by government and forced those who relied on welfare to live and work in workhouses. Combined with the shift in the majority population moving from agriculture to industry, the city of London became a formidable workforce and was larger than the kingdom’s second largest city[1]. Not only was the production of goods efficient, but so was defecation. As a response, an article in 1850 suggests taking preventative measures against the epidemic rather than just being reactionary as what happened in 1831 and another outbreak in London in 1848. One argument in the article is “If we spend some 12 millions a year to protect our commerce and our coasts from invasion, we might at least spend a fraction of that sum erecting the bulwarks of cleanliness and order against a far more dangerous and subtle foe” (The Times London “One of the greatest improvements of the age is.”, 25 September, 1850.). The article also discusses how infrastructural changes need to be made in order to effectively maintain cleanliness and ultimately prevent disease. This idea would eventually manifest into the expansion of London’s sanitary sewer system even though it was demanded back in the 1831 article previously mentioned.

    The Great Stink of London was caused by summer heat and the build up of various waste in the Thames river. It was so putrid that the parliament was shut down for a day.[1] This event pushed for the cleaning of the Thames by expanding the sewers. The project was directed by Joseph Bazalgette where he outlines his plans in the article “Metropolitan Commission Of Sewebrs.”. Among Bazalgette’s plans, was the idea that “sewage water would be deodorized and delivered into the Thames, divested of its most offensive and deleterious matter, which by that process would be separated and converted into a most valuable product for agriculture.”(The Times London “Metropolitan Commission Of Sewebrs.” 21 Oct. 1853.). By resolving an epidemic, opportunity was sought by Bazalgette by suggesting the reuse of human waste as fertilizer to further advance industry.

    Through these articles, it is apparent that a disaster such as cholera epidemic takes thousands of lives before information and resources are gathered to solve the problem at the source. It pushed for policy and scientific method to be applied in such a way that knowledge and industrial growth was gained to better protect the lives that are to come.






    Additional Source

    1. Hicks, Marie. “Ghost Map-How Do We Know What We Think We Know?.” Hermann Hall 010, Chicago. 31 Aug. 2015. Lecture.

  3. “Now however, every one who has a fit of indigestion from eating rich dishes, raw vegetables, or unripe fruit, immediately fancies he has the cholera, gets well, and talks of his miraculous escape (Times (London), “To the Editor…”, 27 June 1831).” Such was the panic among the people of London during the crisis of cholera in the 1800s. And, not without good reason, for as we know, cholera was no matter to be taken lightly. The people of London however were quick to jump to conclusions. As explained in the previous quote and in the article from which it is taken, the writer suggests that the widespread alarm being created by the London Times from publishing the “numberless speculations” about cholera, was in fact not helping the situation one bit.

    The Times of course, did not heed this advice. Although well-intentioned, several articles describing cures (that were in fact spurious) were published, and often these articles were followed by more articles praising the methods because they happened to work in a small number of cases (Times (London), “To the Editor…”, 21 June 1831). Even several years later, these spurious cures and praise following them appeared. An 1848 article features a supposed surgeon speaking on the efficacy of an opium pill cure, and even though he gives no evidence of having tried the cure himself, he states that he “considers it to be a good one” (Times (London), “Cholera”, 16 Sept. 1848).

    The people of London were desperate, and willing to try anything to solve the problem of cholera. They really didn’t know a lot about the disease, so when these “cures” came up people were quick to use them and assume them as their cause for relief, despite simpler reasons: perhaps they didn’t have cholera after all. I think it would be interesting to investigate how many problems were exacerbated by “cures” believed to be effective after being applied to false cases of cholera.


  4. In the 19th century London, people poured into the city to work in the factory. The economy had seen continuous growth. But the working class, those poor people were in terrible living condition. Up to a hundred people cramped in a house designed for a single family. And the deadly cholera attacked their community from time to time. Neither the facilities nor the government of the city was able to support the dense population. There came scavengers who lived on transporting the city’s vast waste. Their recycling work actually helped the city to get rid of those piles of wastes.

    Before 1815, it had been illegal to discharge raw waste in to the drainage that had been built for rain water. Without human wastes, the river Thames was absolutely drinkable, beautiful, and full of fish. I searched for fishery in the Thames and found “Salmon Fishing in the Thames” ( The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 12, 1839). Four fishermen cast out a net and drag it between the two boats with the net having smaller meshes beneath the water. By law no salmon should be drawn between two boats in any gull or stream. But the fishermen were against the conviction because they had to make a living. It indicates that the number of fish like salmon was declining as wastes began to destroy the Thames.

    In “The Laws of Cholera” (The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Oct 11, 1853), “The ‘simmering waters’ is constantly giving off their foul and pestilential gases in quantities which, in popular parlance, might be called immense….” Here they thought that cholera was caused by inhaling the deadly emanations which are furnished by the river. People could not trust the water served to them. Dr. Lyon Playfair recommended people to boil water before use and avoid exposure to gaseous malaria. Whereas “poor and bad class of people” they are “slow to acknowledge the unwholesomeness of their condition” (The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 26, 1853). They did not have adequate water supply and the water they drink was dirty enough to bear cholera.

    From a table in “The Laws of Cholera” (The Times (London, England), Saturday, Oct 01, 1853), we see that in 1831 deaths spread wider among months. In 1848, deaths concentrated in the summer and the total death number increased. This is probably because refuse were getting into the river Thames and cholera spread more in warm water.

    Sources cited:

    1. http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=&docId=CS85093644&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    2. http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS67406155&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    3. http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=&docId=CS151554362&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    4. http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS135432513&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0

  5. In the early 1800’s the cholera outbreak was beginning in London. The media’s idea of its cause changed several times throughout the disease’s rise. In 1932, in an article entitled “Cholera at Chelmsford”, a specific household plagued by cholera is mentioned. While the cause of cholera was mostly unknown, it mentions that this specific house had “no back door or windows to afford proper ventilation,” and also that “an open drain runs under the house; the water-closet is also close to a dwelling room.” The author then goes on to state that the Board of Health does not believe the disease to be contagious but that “a large quantity of filth was taken away, the accumulation, apparently, of years,” (Times London, “Cholera at Chelmsford”, 26 June 1832). This shows that around 1832, the official cause is still unknown but contaminated air and water are being pointed at as possible causes.

    In 1847, the official stance was that “cholera was not a contagious disease…and that no one need fear attending on relatives and friends”, and “that the cholera track was the fever track and the filth track…that these diseases were found calling at the same houses and the same spots, and visiting the same persons,” (Times London, “Health of Towns Association”, 13 December 1847). While this does not at all point to the causes of cholera, it implies that it is due to the filth of the lower class and is therefore a disease of only the lower class. In a later article dated 1857, the Board of Health deems that air and water were both causes of the outbreak. Specifically, the main prevention was seen as “the air within and about dwelling-places be not contaminated with offensive organic effluvia” and that “the houses themselves are ill ventilated, overcrowded and unclean [and] their refuse is not properly removed,” (Times London, “Epidemic Cholera”, 6 October 1857).

    It was not until 1866 that it was decided that water contamination was the main cause of the cholera outbreak. In The Times article, “The Public Health” , the author quotes Joseph Bazalgette in saying that the disease is most prominent “‘where our main drainage works are not complete,'” and also blames “the contamination of the waters,” (Times London, “The Public Health”, 8 August 1866). These different articles show a shift in the media portrayal of the causes of cholera. Originally it was thought that cholera may have been caused by air contamination and was not contagious, but the thought of water contamination was not nearly as prevalent. The blame then shifted to the poor and it was implied that cholera was a disease of the poor only. After it was realized that anyone and everyone was susceptible to cholera, the cause portrayed by the media shifted back to the possibility of water and air contamination. After more than thirty years, it was finally decided that water contamination was the main cause for this epidemic. This school of thought eventually what led to the construction of new and better sewer systems for London.

    “Cholera at Chelmsford”: http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=BasicSearchForm&docId=CS52584154&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    “Health of Towns Association”: http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS135167373&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    “Epidemic Cholera”: http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=BasicSearchForm&docId=CS67408198&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
    “The Public Health”: http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS152347400&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0

  6. The first article, “The Sanitary Conduction of the City of London,” was about a report presented to the City Commissions of Sewers by Mr. Simon who according to the article was the medical officer of health. The entire article is basically the argument of Mr. Simon that the sanitary condition of London plays a large role in the health of its inhabitants. He elaborates on six problems that he feels if addressed would stabilize public health: drainage, water supply, jobs, burials, poor living conditions, and the lower class. The “problem” that I found most important is that of the lower class because he makes the lower class seem to be one source of bad public health. Mr. Simon compares them to cattle; this is interesting because it shows how disconnected medical practitioners were from the lower classes. That misunderstanding lead to huge faults in the health care of the poor, especially when it came to cholera. Health care providers back then associated the disease with the poor there for not verily looking for a real cause or solution.

    Another article, “World Care for Health,” touched on the implementation of regulations of public health between countries. In 1851 the first meeting between national officials that addressed the issues of spreading disease was held in Paris. The International Sanitary Convention, as stated in the article, “…marked the beginning of cooperation between governments in the field of health” (Times of London, “World Care for Health,” Monday, Jul 23, 1951). It also mentioned that the cholera outbreak of 1848-1849 was a defining moment in the formation of these regulations and why they are still relevant today.

    Before the cause of the cholera outbreak of 1848-1849 in London was know Edwin Chadwick speculated that smell was to blame. Chadwick’s positions on the Board of Health and the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers were his credentials to identify that foul air was the reason for the illness (Johnson 119). This turned into a wide spread belief to the point where precautions were being taken to avoid the smell. In a police report it is mention of a stolen disinfecting powder that was said to deodorize the air therefore preventing cholera if you believed Chadwick’s theory. I think this article gives insight to how desperate people were for an answer to the violent illness. It also shows how little officials actually knew about the disease and its prevention.

    In the article “Health of Towns.-Prevention of Cholera” there is a line that is being drawn between the population of a city and the increased spreading of disease. It proposed that public officials should not neglect lower class communities. Those communities were more likely to be over populated therefore exaggerating the deaths due to diseases. Finally the poor were not being ignored and higher standards of living conditions and water supply can be put into place for everyone.





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