following images are examples of documents relating to cholera outbreaks
in 19th Century Dundee, Scotland.
was one of many contagious dieases which killed people in the 19th
century, and in Dundee, when a number of Cholera epidemics swept
through the town during the 1800s.
bacteria (Vibrio cholerae) is transmitted by water or food which
has been contaminated with the faeces of people who have the disease.
Symptoms include severe diarrhoea and dehydration, which can lead
to shock and death if left untreated.
why did Cholera spread so rapidly in the towns and cities of the
in the 19th century would have been smelly and crowded, with noisy
markets and narrow cobbled streets traversed by horses and carts
and littered with deposits of horse dung. Street-side butchers and
fish vendors like those found at Butchers Row and Fish Street would
often toss innards and unwanted flesh into street gutters, and householders
threw refuse from tenement windows into the streets below. In the
early 1800s, toilets were outdoors and shared by many families living
in the same tenement block, and few public washing facilities were
available for bathing. Dung heaps were often situated too close
to public wells and triggered complaints from citizens about their
drinking water being contaminated with faeces.
families were poor and children were known to rummage for 'rags
and bone' in people's 'dung heaps' (places where bodily wastes were
collected) under their houses 1
Disease was rife. Many people believed that bad odours carried disease
into their houses and their bodies, and complaints to the authorities
were made about the sewer smells infiltrating homes.The poor disposal
of all waste matter, inadequate sewerage and drainage facilities,
and poor water supplies were all contributing to the escalating
unsanitary conditions in a town with a growing jute industry and
a rapidly growing population.
Although Police Commissioners were appointed in 1824 (with responsibility
for lighting, paving and cleansing the town), it wasn't until the
latter half of the 19th century that sanitary improvements began
to be made. Medical Officers of Health and Sanitary Inpectors were
first appointed in the 1850s and 1860s, and with the introduction
of the Dundee Police and Improvement Bill 2
in 1871, major improvements to drainage works, streets, houses and
health were made. Places like Butchers Row and Fish Street were
demolished and the town wells were closed down in 1874 after piping
was laid from the Lintrathen Resovoir to the town of Dundee.
information can be found in original documents contained in the
Lamb Collection and the Dundee City Archives. A large portion of
the material has been digitised and is available for online viewing
Street & Butcher Row - Drawings by C. S. Lawson (Lamb Collection
you click on the images below, you can view them at an enlarged
These images may take some time to download.
Burial Ground - Register of Burials
September 1829 - May 1835
pages of the HOWFF Burial Register detail burials in October 1832,
the majority of causes of death being marked as 'Cholera'. Many
of the deceased have no listed 'Designation' other than 'from Hospital'.
Many of the victims were buried in a special area of ground reserved
for cholera victims.
HOWFF was ground gifted to Dundee in 1564 by Mary Queen of Scots
for use as a burial ground. Registers of burials only exist from
1772, and the ground was closed in 1857. At first, very little information
about the deceased was noted down, but from the 1820s onward, the
entries become very detailed, including the street in which each
person died, so indicating the extent of the epidemic's course through
Owler was becoming darker and darker in complexion, through inhaling
daily the pestiferous atmosphere...' In this broadsheet, the
plight of an Englishwoman whose home was infiltrated by sewer gases
is reported, including letters written about the incident and statements
to court judges from George Owler, the woman's husband. There is
also a map of the property, off Carmichael St. and its proximity
to the main sewer drain.
Horrible! Horrible!' is the title of this article, the purpose of
which is to publicise the wrong-doings of the Sanitary Inspector
who is claimed to have slowly and vindictively poisoned the woman
by connecting a trap from her bedroom to the main sewer. Cholera
was a major killer during this period, and many people were justifiably
scared of the unhealthy living conditions, and demanded reform.
of the Board of Health, Cholera
report issued by the Council after a General Meeting held at the
Steeple Church, aimed to warn the public about the dangers of infectious
diseases and the prevention of them. The Report was produced after
consultation with the Board's counterparts in Edinburgh.
Board recommends that people of all ranks go out as little as possible
at night, and to clothe themselves more warmly. During the prevalence
of an epidemic, all assemblages of large bodies of the working classes,
unless at church, should be avoided.
Board of Health and Cholera
assessment is for the expenses incurred by the Dundee Board of Health
in the Prevention and Cure of Cholera, and includes receipts, expenditure,
bills of mortality and Conspectus of Cholera. Provost William Lindsay
states in the report that the epidemic prevailed in Dundee for a
period of thirty weeks, during which time it attacked over eight
hundred people, although it is also probable that many cases were
not reported. The total number of deaths is reported at five hundred
was published by order of the Police Commissioners of Dundee, in
respect of the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Act, and
was issued by Henry Austin, Secretary of the General Board of Health.
The report states
that attacks of Cholera are uniformly found to be most frequent
and virulent in low-lying districts, on the banks of rivers, and
where there are large collections of refuse, particularly amidst
Town Clerk's Letter Book
Petition to Dundee Magistrates and Town
March 1825 - March 1826
Signed by 12
proprietors and occupiers of properties at the foot of the Hilltown,
this petition to the Dundee Magistrates and Town Council complains
about a property at the foot of the Hilltown being used as a slaughterhouse
and dung stance.
complain that they are subjected to a 'nuisance almost intolerable
arising from the smell and vermin which collect about the slaughterhouse
and dung stance'. The Council ordered the occupier of the ground
to be removed and instructed that care should be taken when letting
it in future - to make sure it was never again used for those purposes.
Report on the Practice in the Royal Infirmary of Dundee
15th June 1836
medical report was written by Dr.James Arrott, Physician to the
Infirmary and includes a table of medical and surgical cases, including
a table showing fever statistics. An Epidemic of cholera commenced
in Dundee in April 1832, when a total of 512 people died.
Crichton was surgeon at the Infirmary and presents a report on surgical
cases. He was born in Dundee in 1772 and pursued his medical education
in Edinburgh. He qualified as a surgeon in 1790, and designed his
own type of instruments before returning to Dundee as one of the
original visiting staff.
following documents are contained in the Lamb Collection:
1. Children Hunter - L308(18)
Police and Improvement Bill (Minutes of Evidence) - L467(29)
Local Studies Department,
Central Library, Dundee