This newspaper image shows workmen spraying and mopping the streets of London in order to prevent the spread of cholera, an infectious intestinal virus that can cause rapid death through dehydration.
Between 1832 and 1854 there were recurrent cholera epidemics throughout urban Britain, particularly in London. One of the most severe was in Soho in August 1854, which killed 127 people in three days and 616 inside a month. This tragic outbreak was important in establishing a causal link between poor sanitation and cholera: the district doctor John Snow was able to prove that the infection had spread from a single water pump in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). He was later able to prove that the general water supply in Broad Street was being pumped from polluted parts of the Thames.
Prior to 1854, the prevailing theory on the spread of cholera and similar diseases was that they were ‘miasmic’; i.e. caused by the supposed airborne presence of rotting organic matter. This was an ancient theory with wide acceptance throughout the world, and was only completely superseded when Louis Pasteur outlined his Germ Theory of infection in 1861.
- Article by:
- Liza Picard
In a time when diseases like smallpox, cholera and TB were insatiable and continued to relapse in epidemical waves, Liza Picard explores how medical pioneers and health innovations shaped the landscape of medicine in the 19th century.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- The novel 1832–1880, Power and politics
Middlemarch is set in the period leading up to the 1832 Reform Act. Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot uses the novel to examine different kinds of reform and progress: political, scientific and social.