Disasters Class: Using a Historical Newspaper Database to Take the Pulse of the Public

Source Citation:  "Display Advertising."  30 Sept. 1854. The Times Digital Archive. Document URL http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=chic7029&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS152210238&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0

Source Citation:
“Display Advertising.” 30 Sept. 1854. The Times Digital Archive.
Document URL

Use what you’ve learned so far in class to search the historical London Times database (held by Galvin library–look under “databases” tab) 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 c. The idea of this exercise is to try to get a better sense of the events we’ve been reading about and talking about so far.

Next, 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 (so try to pick articles from different time periods) and what new insight they help lead us to. For instance, what do you learn from these articles that you didn’t know from reading The Ghost Map?

Your short essay is due in a comment posted here by September 8th at 5pm. In order to make a comment you’ll need to fill in the boxes below and create a username. Feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re not comfortable using your real name, but please stick to the same username for the duration of the course so I can tell whose entries are whose.

When citing your articles, give the title of the article and the date it was published. You may use parenthetical citations in your essay text–giving a short form of the article title and the date. Then, list the full article title and date it was published at the end of your essay in a “sources cited” section. Please also give links to the London Times articles you used in your “sources cited” section, but be sure to include the title and date since there’s a chance the links won’t work given the way Galvin employs proxy servers to grant access.

Your comment will not show up immediately after you post it. I will read them over and make 3-5 of the best comments visible for the rest of the class to read on September 9th.

Email me with any questions, or, for a faster response, tweet me @digihistorylab.


  1. Who’s to Blame?

    Before the deadly Cholera Outbreak in London in 1854, there were several instances that cholera was becoming a problem and the people that were in charge of handling the sewage and sanitation: Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers, would be at the forefront of helping to stop the deadly outbreak. They, along with the Commission of Public Health were two of the top governing agencies that were responsible for finding out what the problem was and helping prevent the spread of it.

    Leading up to the deadly 1854 outbreak, cholera had been surfacing here and there and the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers along with the Commission of Public Health had tough choices to make in to find out what was happening and how to prevent it from happening further. Newspaper articles from the London Times dating back to 1849 can show outbreaks occurring more frequently and the root cause possibly being from the lack of sewers and proper drainage in those areas. The Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers had several ideas’ that included running waste (sewer) lines for housing past the street into open ditch canals, not exactly a solution to the problem but a start.

    The commission had just reorganized due to the increased pressure to help solve the cholera issue and more pressure was pouring in from scathing editorials to death counts that kept going up, one of the articles summed up the growing problem within the organization as a whole: “Mr. Hartelatte, a clerk within the commission for the past 18 years was resigning his post due to the fact that he was not prepared for the magnitude of operations that the new commission was proposing”. Metropolitan Commissioners Of Sewers.
 The Times (London, England), Friday, Jun 22, 1849; pg. 8; Issue 20209.

    Farther down in this same article may have had something to do with the clerks abrupt resignation, for the commission having proposed that a three foot drain pipe would be sufficient to carry all the waste of the metropolis. This quoted comment from the Commission floated to all other papers and the Commission became the laughing stock for having no experience and poor judgment in its ideas. So we could see why someone would want to shield themselves from the current commission and jump from the sinking/stinking ship!

    There were several letters to the editor concerning the commission and their slow response between 1849 and 1850 and this was 5 years prior before the situation became a pandemic. A few areas of concern was that they had better plans to what was listed above but they had no way of paying for them at the time. While they even went so far as to charge a sewer tax, the tax itself was more than the average citizen could afford. Since that was the case, the plans for more sewers was put on hold until funding could become available and time was not on their side because things went from bad to worse.

    Between the years of 1850 and 1854, progress was being made and the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was moving forward with new plans for sewers and proper drainage but worker safety was becoming an issue and this slowed the progress of the drainage installation due to deaths during construction from men becoming sick. Although some safety apparatuses were invented, who they were going to and whether or not they used them was a different story, thus this slowed the momentum of the drainage project and more in fighting within the commission became more public.

    Another board reconstruction of the Metropolitan Commission of sewers was taking place around 1854, the year the cholera outbreak became history due to the stealth in which it seized the city and the toll it took on its people. In the article dated from 1854 from the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers, when the meeting comes to order a man makes a motion to ask the board, why the commission is still meeting even though the Board of Health now has the authority and plan to build a new drainage system to combat the outbreak which was more or less dictated by a higher authority. Metropolitan Commission Of Sewers.
 The Times (London, England), Wednesday, May 03, 1854; pg. 12; Issue 21731.

    While the MCOS, was dragging its feet and being weighed down by red tape the powers that be had to make a decision and they choose the branch of government that was doing its job to help predict, prevent and remove the cholera from the streets of London. The Board of Health was now leading the charge and the Commission was fading fast in the dense outbreak of cholera.

  2. I found an advertisement and a selection of Letter’s to the Editor that give a glimpse into the progression of thought regarding the nature of cholera. As evidence of cholera being transported via water builds up, the onus shifts from individuals onto governing entities to control the problem.

    My first and earliest dated item from “The Times” comes from a page full of classifieds in 1840. I found an interesting advertisement for a medicine touted to cure multiple ailments, including those caused by, “putrid miasma.” This reflects the thinking of the time that smells were the primary cause of certain disease that we now know are caused by other factors. Nevertheless, “Dr. Norris’s Drops” claim to be supported by “unbiassed [sic] testimonies” from many people from different backgrounds. (SMOKY CHIMNEYS effectually CURED, 1840)

    In the next piece, the brilliant John Snow makes his case to the editor that a recent report to the Board of Health is inaccurate. Snow is convinced that there are particular water companies that are contaminated and are being ignored. He has the numbers to prove it. Snow writes, “In the first four weeks of the epidemic the deaths from cholera were 14 times as numerous among the populations supplied by the water of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company as among that supplied with the better water of the Lambeth Company, taking into account the respective number of these populations.” Snow was also ahead of his time, realizing that cholera was not the only problem caused by drinking water tainted with sewage. He had a hunch that, “many other diseases, besides cholera, can be shown to be aggravated by water containing sewage…” (Cholera and the Water Supply, 1856) Today, we find such an observation laughably obvious, but we needed people like Snow to change the paradigm.

    The same year that John Snow threw his evidence in the face of old paradigms, a letter to the editor was written titled, “The Drainage of the Thames.” The author bombards the Metropolitan Board with his frustrations. Apparently a, “man of science” had propagated an idea to the board that involved turning the sewage into, “useful and inoffensive manure.” The Metropolitan Board wouldn’t entertain the idea, much to the disgust of this author who mocks the board. “The chairman and the majority must love stinks, have a natural aversion to a clean river . . .” (The Drainage of the Thames, 1856) This hyperbolic mocking is not different than what we see today in our political discourse. Also, an unwillingness to back scientifically based initiatives is not as rare as it should be today. Some things never change.

    Over ten years later, in 1866, the undeniable logic of John Snow’s original observations seem to have taken hold, at least with some. A letter entitled, “The Broad Street Pump,” shows an understanding of contamination, mentioning an outbreak of cholera that was caused by a water-closet leaking into a well. A bold statement is made by these authors, one of them an M.D., on how to prevent cholera from spreading when it rears its ugly head. They recommended that every water pump in the city should be closed, “during the continuance of cholera..” (The Broad Street Pump, 1866) Slowly, but surely, the paradigm was shifting to a scientifically accurate view thanks to hard evidence.

    Sources cited:

    SMOKY CHIMNEYS effectually CURED, Feb 26th, 1840

    Cholera and the Water Supply, June 26th, 1856

    The Drainage of the Thames, Dec 5th, 1856

    The Broad Street Pump, July 31st, 1866

  3. In mid-eighteenth century Britain, innovations in manufacturing technology triggered a widespread Industrial Revolution, with small rural cottage industries being phased out by large urban factories. This shift created a huge demand for unskilled laborers, and the populations of cities like London and Manchester grew exponentially, almost overnight.

    However, due to lack of proper regulation and crude infrastructure, this Industrial Revolution carried with it some major repercussions that went ignored well into the nineteenth century. There was a poem published in the Times in 1833 titled “The Cotton-Factory Children”, which describes children essentially being stolen from their families for the sake of Britain’s economic interests. As a result of the ever-expanding demand for labor, a lot of children, many of whom were under the age of ten, picked up dangerous factory positions, working long shifts and neglecting school entirely. If they did not die during, or as a result of their job, without any education, they were forced to dedicate the rest of their lives to working in the factories. Another large repercussion, as described by a Times article in 1834, was the outbreak of Cholera. Due to both overcrowded urban centers, and lack of proper sanitation systems, a very deadly contagious disease was able to spread through Britain’s water supplies, infecting (and soon after killing) thousands of people. But again, because the majority of people living in these urban centers (and thus exposed to the disease) were of lower socioeconomic standing, this problem went unsolved until the death toll reached catastrophic proportions.

    It was not until these problems grew too large to ignore that reform began to occur. An 1850 article describes the passage of a series of laws known as the Factory Acts. These laws began to regulate the number of hours and conditions under which people could work, especially pertaining to women and children. It specifically mentioned the newly placed importance of “preserving children’s health and means of education”, as well as placing women in a domestic role. This shows the societal realization that economic prosperity will not last if the future generation is destroyed in the process. Also, an article published in 1851 announces the commission of underground sewage systems in London, a long-overdue change, since the lack thereof was a major cause of the Cholera epidemic. This shows how London’s infrastructure was finally able to “catch up” and begin to properly sustain its massive urban growth.

    In conclusion, Britain’s Industrial Revolution, while overall a landmark event, occurred almost too fast for its own good. The problems that came along with rapid expansion went ignored for far too long due to the sector of society that they affected, and were not dealt with legislatively until they began to trickle up into the higher socioeconomic classes.

    Works Cited:

    “CHOLERA.-It was stated last week by a contemporary medical journalist, that the malignant cholera had again.” Times [London, England] 8 Sept. 1834: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.

    “The Cotton-Factory Children.” Times [London, England] 17 Jan. 1833: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.

    “Metropolitan Commission Of Sewers.” Times [London, England] 4 Dec. 1851: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.

    SAMUEL FIELDEN. “The Factory Acts.” Times [London, England] 18 Feb. 1850: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.

  4. My major interest regarding the cholera epidemic is the response of not just the general public but of the government. Some articles that demonstrate political action were articles about quarantine and sanitary regulations, criminal jurisdiction, and the response to the neglect from a clinical institution to children.

    The response of the government and institutions that impact the safety and health of the public are significantly important for saving lives. In “Quarantine and Sanitary Regulations,” for example, much was being debated between the General Board of Health and the Privy Council Office. One of the main debate topics was if the victims of Cholera should be quarantined and many representatives of the Privy Council Office claimed that this type of response was not going to protect the public from this spread. I found it interesting that the panic of this epidemic drove skepticism about the cholera research.

    In addition to this article, a related article that demonstrates government response is “The Cholera in Paris.” This article demonstrated the differences between the outcomes of clinical institutions. Public health institutions that were spoken about were the Hospitals in Paris and the Civil and Military Hospitals. The issue that was brought to light was that the outcomes were very different. According to “The Cholera in Paris,” there were thirty-four cases of cholera and sixty-two deaths in Hospitals in Paris. However, there were 1,009 cholera cases in a military or civil hospital and 563 deaths after three days of processing.
    It is astonishing how policies impact the lives of the residents. In “Quarantine and Sanitary Regulations,” there was no final decision mentioned, but this was a hardship to the victims of cholera and their families. In conclusion, as a result of these types of epidemics, government has expanded its relations and knowledge with external institutions that may help in making decisions. Something that I learned, and did not see in The Ghost Map, was some in-depth cases that involved a glimpse of the health institutions and government actions.

    The Times. (1849, April 11). Criminal Jurisdiction. On the 1st of Next, p. 2.
    The Times. (1849, May 28). Quarantine and Sanitary Regulations. The Times, p. 5.
    The Times. (1849, Jan 16). The Cholera Amongst The Pauper Children At Tooting. The Times, p. 8.
    The Times. (1848, Nov 06). The Cholera. The Times, p. 6

  5. While doing research through “The Times Digital Archive” for a timeline of the cholera epidemic from the perspective of those who lived and, as they suspected, breathed it, I found interesting points to add on to what we read in “The Ghost Map” in our first class session. I pulled significant dates from the reading to get a better understanding of what the ideology behind cholera was in different time periods, and stages of the outbreak.

    Beginning with 1818, when the disease was first traveling through southern Asia, a British soldier wrote, “The epedemic disease (cholera morbus) has found its way into the town of Mindapoor, and no less than 4 or 5 souls are daily snatched away.” (1818 EI 4) This was the first account after 1817 documented from a British soldier encountering the disease, which was later broke out in Britian around 14 years later.

    The second account researched was that of a Dr. H.S. Morris who wrote in a letter to the editor, “Thus our cholera … reigns over a great part of Europe, reigning epidemically for a time as the late influenza did. As to its contagious nature, I can never admit” (1832 ET 5) This I found intriguing due to his last statement, still reassuring that in 1832, in the midst of an outbreak, the public & medical professionals were not confident in how the disease was spreading.

    The third individual look into the time line brought me to November 1848, where there were talks of a cure during another epidemic that would claim 50,000 lives. Here a physician briefly explains some remedies to cure the ailments of cholera, while admitting, “no method of treatment has been used which is in a fair degree successful.” (1848 TC 2) Which shows that there is still a desperate search to find any concoction or medication that will cure the symptoms of cholera, or wipe out the disease completely.

    Following the aftermath of the 1848-1849 epidemic, the sense of a breakthrough is found in an article from 1850 where the writer states, “The experience of this calamity has abundantly justified the use of sanitary measures, which it becomes out duty to organize and perpetuate.” (1850 TT 4) Stating that after the shortfalls of medicine and remedies trying to cure the disease, the Brits found that an emphasis on sewage systems and sanitation on a large scale was the true deterrent of cholera within London, as well as around the country.

    The timeline of articles gives great insight to a first-person view of the epidemic on the topics of cure, prevention, and aftermath. From the first citing of what the disease is capable of, to what it takes to take down an epidemic, every step along the way is well documented.

    Sources Cited
    1. “East Indies.” Times [London, England] 10 June 1818: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.
    cited as (1818 EI 4)

    2. H.S. Morris, M.D., et al. “To The Editor Of The Times.” Times [London, England] 21 Feb. 1832: 5+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.
    cited as (1832 ET 5)

    3. A PHYSICIAN NOT PRACTISING. “The Treatment Of Cholera.” Times [London, England] 18 Nov. 1848: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.
    cited as (1848 TC 2)

    4. “London, Thursday, January 31, 1850.” Times [London, England] 31 Jan. 1850: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.
    cited as (1850 TT 4)

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