Cholera Outbreak at Blantyre

cholera_noticeIn December 1848, an unwelcome and ugly disease arrived upon Blantyre. At that time, a pandemic had started to sweep through Europe and the disease inflicting fatalities, was Cholera.

Blantyre Works Mills was the first to be hit in our local area. By the end of December 1848, two people were dead. The first fatal case was that of a man named Cameron who was employed as a labourer. Also, and proving at the time that Cholera crossed over class too, the Dye Works manager’s wife Mrs Strathearn was struck down and died the same day which started many other cases. By the end of the month, deaths were at six people.

The Caledonia Mercury newspaper considered the Blantyre cases strange, for although it appeared in Blantyre, Bellshill, Motherwell and Bothwell, there was no known case in Hamilton, a much larger town.

Of course, at the time nothing much was known as to how Cholera was caused or spread. We know today that the disease is caused by drinking polluted water, but at the time, it was widely thought that it was airborne and indeed the local Health board issued posters such as this one, which was clearly “grasping at straws” to say the least with such prevention methods as “keeping your home tidy” and avoiding drinking beer excessively!

The newspaper appeared dumbfounded that such a larger town as Hamilton could not be affected when it’s surrounding town’s were. Looking into detail a little more, this was absolutely due to the fact that Hamilton had improved it’s water supply, running pipes throughout the town, but this didn’t happen in Blantyre until the 1880’s.  The area of Blantyre Works Mills was the most densely populated area in Blantyre and even with the Mill owners infrastructure, sanitation and water supply was lacking. Towards the end of the 1800”s, Cholera thankfully became rare and was usually only evident where a natural watercourse or tank was polluted by some animal carcus or unfortunate dead bird. It all seems to logical when you look back it now and a wonder that attention wasn’t given more to the supply of water.

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