Poor relief in the time of cholera
We reported yesterday on the Scottish Records Association conference on healthcare in Scotland before the NHS. One of the speakers discussed cholera outbreaks and the measures taken to deal with them. There was a major outbreak of cholera in Scotland in 1832, traces of which can be found in a variety of record sources - there was a spike in mortality, which can be traced in burial registers; newspapers of the time feature regular reports of cholera cases and attempts to cope with the consequences; and Kirk Session records often at least mention the epidemic.
Inchinnan, in Renfrewshire, was no exception. The Kirk Session and heritors were so concerned that they formed a committee of health to try to cope with the health crisis:
At a meeting of the heritors and Kirk Session held at Inchinnan on the 26th day of January 1832
The committee didn't waste much time - they met again four days later, having carried out an inspection of much of the parish:
At Inchinnan, the thirtieth day of January 1832. We the Committee appointed at the meeting of Heritors and Kirk Session to inspect the different dwelling houses in the Parish, for the purpose of removing nuisances and providing for the comfort of the indigent, report that we this day commenced our survey at the Manse, and visited all the families to the North of the old Greenock road, as far as Peter Barr’s Gateside, and in addition Greenhead, Broomlands, and Luckensford.
This is a mix of reasonable preventive measures and concern for the general well-being of the poor of the parish, but I have to admit I was a little surprised to learn the heritors agreeing to build a "necessary", essentially a public toilet, although it was likely very basic, perhaps little more than a hole in the ground. The notion of potatoes causing cholera was somewhat more surprising though.
The Committee met again the next day, having completed their inspections:
Inchinnan, Feb 1 1832
Two weeks later, the Committee met again. Clearly, their concern had increased. They ordered a printed circular to be printed, giving advice to parishioners, and used poor funds to buy a stock of medicines for the use of the poor in the parish - an interesting example of public health care provision before the 1845 Poor Law required local authorities to do so.
By now the parish authorities were concerned about strangers bringing the disease to Inchinnan, and were warning parishioners to have no dealings with vagrants and unlicensed hawkers. Interestingly, they were also ordering follow-up inspections of places they'd previously visited where they'd ordered the removal of "nuisances".
Four days later the printed circular was ready for distribution to every house in the parish:
At Inchinnan Feb 21st 1832
The text of the circular makes interesting reading:
Laudanum of course was a tincture of opium. While it could certainly ease the most obvious symptom of cholera - diarrhoea - it really wasn't a cure, and as one of the speakers at the SRA conference pointed out, opium poisoning was a significant problem in Scotland in the 19th century.
The next entry is three weeks later. It would appear that the exhortations to parishioners not to deal with vagrants and unlicensed hawkers had not had the desired effect, as the heritors decided to hire a Constable to patrol the road to keep strangers out:
Inchinnan March 12th 1832
Unfortunately, there are no further minutes of the health committee, so it's not clear what the outcome was, but it is clear that there was concern for the health of paupers, at least in one parish in Renfrewshire, although doubtless there was likely an element of self-interest in preventing an outbreak.
That cholera was not eradicated is however made clear by the fact that immediately below a copy of the printed circular in the Kirk Session minute book is a note, in a different hand from the surrounding entries, and dated some years later, with suggested treatments for cholera outbreaks:
Evidently, treatment of cholera hadn't advanced much in the intervening years.
Genealogy and Family History - A mix of our news, curious and intriguing discoveries. Research hints and resources to grow your family tree in Scotland from our team.