The cholera and the burial of cholera victims, 1866

Liverpool Mercury, Aug 20th, 1866

The Cholera

The number of admissions into the workhouse hospital for cholera victims since Friday, five, during that time one death has occurred and there have been three patients discharge. The total number of admissions since the outbreak of the epidemic is 172, and of deaths 87.

During Saturday and yesterday there were 13 admissions to the sheds in Ashfield St, 10 deaths, 6 patients discharged cured, leaving 38 cases under treatment. The new admissions were from the following localities, Regent St, two cases, Carlton St, Sherwood St, Athol St, Hopwood St, Burlington St, Back Portland St, Paul St, three cases, Stockdale St and Tarlton St, Everton.

In the town 34 cases have been reported during the last two days at the following places, Regent St, Whitley St, Chadwick St, Carleton St, three cases, Caradoc St, Portland St, two cases, Back Portland St, Kew St, Dryden St, Newsham St, Rachel St, Collingwood St, Beau St, Rose Place, M'Kee St, Holly St, Devon St, Finch St, two cases, Lace St, Addison St, Harrison St, Cavendish St, two cases, Stockdale St, Cherry Lane, Paul St, two cases, Ray St and Gascoyne St two cases.

In Toxteth Park two cases terminated fatally, in addition to those previously reported, in Bell St and Cotter St.

In reference to a statement which appeared on Friday denying that any case of cholera had occurred in the rural district of Toxteth Park, a correspondent says it is necessary to explain that in making these returns it is impossible to give the various distinctions adopted by medical gentlemen in certifying cases as "Asiatic cholera," "English cholera," or "Diarrhoea" neither would it serve any useful purpose to do so, as far as the general public are concerned. We are informed that the case to which allusion was made occurred at Newstead Rd, off Smithdown Rd, the deceased being a married woman from London on a visit to her friends. She sank after three days illness from diarrhoea, although every aid was afforded which medical skill and kind attention of her friends could bestow. It appears in one medical district of Toxteth Park there were last week 47 new cases of diarrhoea, and 4 of cholera, whilst in the first five days of the past week 96 cases of diarrhoea and 9 cases of cholera occurred.

The dead from cholera

To the editors of the Liverpool Mercury

Gentlemen - Dr TRENCH, the medical officer of health for Liverpool, has at my request very kindly consented to allow his reply to a letter of mine to be published. The information contained in Dr TRENCH'S letter is of importance at the present time, and you will no doubt readily give the correspondence a place in your columns, - I am your faithfully, R. D. DAWSON-DUFFIELD

Sephton Rectory, August 18, 1866.

The Rector of Sephton's letter to Dr TRENCH

Sephton Rectory, Liverpool, Aug 10, 1866

Sir, - I am sure you will be kind as to forgive me for soliciting from you some suggestions as to what you consider right to be done with regard to the burial of persons who have died from cholera.

I am sorry to say three deaths from one family have occurred in the township of Thornton, and I am told this morning another member of the same family is attacked with the same complaint. As the complaint may spread in this populous parish, I think it absolutely necessary to adopt some rules about the burial of persons who have died of cholera. It has been the custom here to inter several bodies in one grave, whether the persons have died of any infectious disorder or not. I consider it my duty to forbid more than three bodies to be placed in the same grave. Since the cholera has prevailed in the neighbourhood I have desired that no person who has died of that complaint should be buried in any grave in which more than one body had been previously interred, and if a person who has died from cholera were buried, I have given orders that no other body should for the present be interred in the same grave. It is right that I should guard with care against too much space in the churchyard being occupied by one family, and I never allow more than two breadths, except in some very unusual case. I should deem it a favour if you would give me any suggestions on the following points :-

1, How deep do you think a grave should be made for the body of a person who has died of cholera ?

2, Do you think, if a certain depth of earth or quicklime be laid over the coffin of a person who has died of cholera, the grave might be again opened for the interment of another body, or do you think that in every case a fresh grave should be made for the body of each individual who has fallen victim to the disease ?

3, How soon after burial of a person who has died of cholera might the grave be again opened for the interment of another body ?

4, Do you consider it desirable that persons who have died from cholera should be buried in any particular part of the churchyard, and that such part of that churchyard should remain undisturbed for some time to come ?

I have refused to allow a person who died of cholera to be brought to Sephton from another parish for burial, as the deceased had no relations buried here.

For any suggestions you may be so kind as to give me I shall be greatly obliged to you, - I am sir, yours faithfully


Rector of Sephton


Dr TENCH'S letter to the Rector of Sephton

Public Offices, Medical Officer of Health's Department, Liverpool, Aug. 13, 1866

Dear Sir, - It is general opinion of physicians that in cases of death from cholera the materies morbi clings to the corpse, and may from it be communicated to the living, hence the propriety of immediate burial of the dead from this disease, but it is also right that the coffin should contain some disinfectant to arrest the emanations of contagion. The best for this purpose is M'DOUGALL'S or CALVERT'S powders, both of which contain carbolic acid, the antiseptic principle of which checks fermentation, kills the germs or sporules of animal and vegetable life, and neutralises the deleterious qualities of all miasmatic emanations. The inside of the hearse should also be freely sprinkled with these powders. Another mode of packing a cholera corpse in the shell is to place over the body and around it a layer of charcoal, which has the property of consuming all emanations by that quality which chemists term "eramacausis" or silent combustion.

With these precautions, which in my opinion ought to have been imperatively enjoined by the orders in council, there need be no risk to the attendants at a funeral. I directed M'DOUGALL'S powder to be used in removing the corpses from the Jessie Munn

I consider your arrangement in restricting the number of bodies dead from cholera which may be buried in one grave to be excellent. Although science has no certain facts by which to estimate the probabilities of the seeds of contagion being retained for any length of time in the grave, and although many persons believe, probably with some degree of truth that a layer of soil will act in the same manner as a layer of charcoal, and only allow the escape of the carbonic and other gases which are the results of oxydation of animal matter, yet in the absence of certainty you do well to close the grave altogether for a time after the burial of a cholera patient. The question is for how long ? You remember how the sexton in "Hamlet" answered the Prince - "Faith, if he be not rotten before he die he will last you some eight or nine year, a tanner will last you nine year." The clown was strictly right, for on average it takes eight years to return the body to dust. The exceptions do not, as he thought, depend upon the thickness of the hide but on the nature of the alluvial strata. A clay soil through which the oxygen-bearing water cannot percolate will keep a body un-decomposed for very many years. The gravedigger of a locality is the best judge of the time required in a locality, but it would be well never to open a grave while decomposition is progressing. But suppose necessity requires it, or the friends, backed by the right of private property, demand it, then the sexton should be directed to sprinkle the soil as he excavates with a solution of carbolic acid in the proportion of one part acid to 30 of water. The clergyman who officiates should also, for the protection of himself and others, see that this is done.

I don't consider that a separate part of the churchyard need be allotted to the cholera dead. As for the depth of graves, I think four feet to be a guarantee of perfect safety.

[Dr TRENCH has explained that he means four feet from "the coffin lid to the surface",] - I remain, dear sir, yours respectfully, W. TRENCH.


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