Cholera inquest, 1866

Liverpool Mercury, May 5th, 1866

Cholera in Liverpool

Inquest on the body of a child

Yesterday afternoon, an inquest was held before Mr J. WYBERGH Jun, deputy coroners on the body of a child Everd Binne de Boer, whose death was alleged to have been caused by cholera.

The first witness examined was Binne Tejeerd de Boer, the father of the deceased, who gave his evidence through an interpreter.

He said, "I am a waggoner and a native of Friesland, Holland. The deceased Everd Binne de Boer was my son, he was three years of age. I left home on the 25th April last, via Rotterdam and Hull to Liverpool, en route for America, the deceased was then in good health. On reaching Liverpool I boarded with my family at the Brunswick Hotel, Hanover St. On Thursday evening last the deceased became very thirsty, drank a great quantity of water, and was greatly purged that night, but not cramped. On the following morning I went on board the steamer Helvetia, bound for New York, which was lying in the river Mersey, with my family, the deceased being one of them. That day the doctor refused to pass the deceased, and ordered me and my family ashore. We were then taken to the hospital and afterwards sent to the workhouse, Brownlow Hill. I carried the deceased and on reaching the workhouse found he was dead. Before the deceased was taken ill he was full in the eyes, but afterwards they became sunk"

In reply to the coroner it was stated that the child was in good health up to the time of being attacked. He had supper at 7pm before he was taken ill, the meal consisted of bread, butter, coffee, milk and sugar. For dinner he had soup, meat, vegetables and potatoes.

The Coroner, "Was it what they call sour krout?"

Mr GOETZEE [the bookkeeper at the hotel] said it was not, the dinner consisted of turnips, potatoes, meat and soup.

The Coroner, "How many people slept in the room?"

Witness, "About 40."

Mr GOETZEE said there was room for 62 in the apartment it was a very large room.

The Coroner, "What are the dimensions?"

Mr BLAKE, the beadle, said it was a private hotel, which was not registered, and consequently the health officers had no control over it.

The Coroner, "Can you tell me the dimensions of this room where 40 people slept?"

Mr HAMMERSTEIN [the proprietor of the hotel] "It is a large room, I do not know the dimensions."

The Coroner, "How many windows are there in it?"

Mr HAMMERSTEIN, "There is a large skylight, and four or five ventilators round. It is a tremendous room."

The Coroner, "Were these windows closed?"

Mr HAMMERSTEIN, "They were open all day, some are closed at night, the top one was closed."

The Coroner, "Do you know which were open, and which were closed on this particular night?"

Mr GOETZEE, "The three ventilators were open and the skylight shut. There is a stove in the room."

The Coroner, "But is there an open fireplace communicating with external air?" - No Sir.

The Coroner to Mr GOETZEE, "You say there were about 40 people? Yes Sir, The Coroner, "Is that about the usual number you have every night ?"

Mr HAMMERSTEIN, "There are very few people in the house now."

The Coroner, "I want to know how many people you have in the room."

Mr HAMMERSTEIN, "It is very seldom full."

The Coroner, "Did you call it full on this particular night, when you had 40 people?"

Mr GOETZEE, "No Sir"

The Coroner, "Then how many people have you in the room when you call it full?"

In reply to this question it was stated that when full they had about 60 people in it.

James GRAHAM PC 193, stated that on Wednesday afternoon last he was on duty in London Rd, and about a quarter to one the first witness and family were passed to him by PC 678, on their way to Liverpool workhouse from the screw steamer Helvetia, he carried the deceased in his arms. He did not see the deceased until they reached the workhouse, and on being uncovered saw that the boy was dead, the eyes being very hollow.

Robert ROBERTSON one of the resident surgeons of the Liverpool workhouse, said that on Wednesday the deceased was admitted there, dead. The eyes were greatly sunk, and the body attenuated, the features sharp and prominent. There were lividity in the lips and purple discoloration of the hands and feet. Witness was unable then to account for death. He had made a post mortem on the body today in the presence of Dr GEE and Mr RAYNER, surgeon. The vessels of the brain were gorged with blood, and the substance of the brain dotted with minute spots of blood, which was very dark, the lining membranes of the ventricles of the brain were very much congested. The spinal column was in the same condition, the right side of the heart gorged with blood, and thick, but rather of a tarry consistency. The left side of the heart vessels were empty. Both lungs were highly congested and filled with frothy serum. On laying open the intestinal canal he found a large quantity of thick starchy fluid. The follicular structure of the walls of the small intestine were swollen and the solidary and mesenteric glands enlarged and very prominent. The stomach was in the same condition. The bladder was congested and quite empty, as well as the liver, spleen and kidneys. Had never seen a post mortem examination in case of cholera, but from what he had read on the subject he had no doubt, from the post mortem appearance in this case, that death was due to Asiatic cholera.

The Coroner, "Have you ever treated cases of Asiatic cholera before ? - I have only seen one, but it is very doubtful whether it was a case of Asiatic cholera or not.

The Coroner, "Is it not a fact that poison and Asiatic cholera have sometimes been mistaken in their symptoms ?" - Yes, they may, and sometimes they are, but I don't think from the post mortem appearances in this case there was any poisoning.

The Coroner, "In poison, in decayed meat or decayed vegetables would they not sometimes produce symptoms of irritant poison ?" - I do not think I have seen any case in which poisoning has taken place from decayed meat or vegetables.

Dr GEE, physician to the workhouse said, " I am physician to the workhouse and have acted in that capacity for about 18 years. During that period I have had experience of cholera in two epidemics, two visitations of cholera. All the symptoms very much resemble each other. I have not seen persons immediately after having died of cholera. I did not see this child immediately after his death. I was present at the post mortem examination and saw the child then"

The Coroner, "Was there anything particular in the child's expression, from your previous experience, which would enable you to form an idea of what he died from?" - The child's expression and appearance resembled very much the expression of a person who had died from cholera.

The Coroner, "Was the face discoloured ?" - Yes, it was livid, the eyes were sunken and slightly open.

The Coroner, " Can you say whether those were characteristics of a person dying of cholera ?" - Yes. In continuation witness said, " I saw the post mortem examination made. I concur with Mr ROBERTSON entirely as to the opinion he has formed as to the cause of the child's death. I believe the seeds of this disorder was latent in the child when it came over to this country after a voyage. I have noticed, particularly in 1848 and 1849, that after a rough passage crossing the channel the emigrants were peculiarly predisposed to the development of the poison."

The Coroner, "You have heard of the number of people who sleep in this room as described by the hotelkeeper. Would you expect it to be brought out more clearly by overcrowding of this kind ?" - I think it would be, but I am not in a position to give correct information as to the nature of the room, as to the adaptability of the room, for the purpose and for the number of people who have slept there, but I shall make a point of going up and seeing the room, and take the measurements of it. Witness added that he had to attend a meeting of the health committee on the subject.

The Coroner, "But, assuming that persons sleep in an ill-ventilated room, that would tend to favour the disease, to promote it ?" - Decidedly.

In reply to a question by the coroner as to whether any other persons belonging to the house had died, Mr GEE, stated that two persons had died in the workhouse brought from the establishment, he saw them before they died, and the symptoms were decidedly those of cholera. The Coroner said, the father of the child had stated that the illness began with thirst, was that a symptom ? Dr GEE, said it was a constant symptom. The post mortem examination corroborated entirely the account given by the father.

The Coroner, in directing the jury, said they could have no difficulty upon the evidence in coming to a correct conclusion as to the cause of death. The surgeon of the workhouse Mr ROBERTSON declined to give a certificate of the cause of death in the first instance, which made it necessary to hold an investigation. Both Mr ROBERTSON and Dr GEE had not the slightest doubt the cause of death was the type of cholera called, Asiatic cholera. Upon that evidence he thought he need not offer any further observations. He had put some questions to Mr ROBERSTON, because he believed - indeed, he knew for a fact - that before now the symptoms of cholera had been considered as similar to those of poison, but there did not seem to be the slightest ground for supposing in this case that there had been any poison, and by poison he did not mean any intention of poisoning, but the poison which arose from eating certain kinds of food.

Whilst the jury were considering their verdict, the Coroner said he was sorry to find that this lodging house was not within the provisions of the health act, it was not subject to inspection.

Mr HAMMERSTEIN said it was not, but he was prepared to admit any medical man, either from the health committee or otherwise, to visit it. A medical man went there every day.

Mr GEE, said, he was surprised to find there was no open fireplace, and in answer to a question by the Coroner added that he thought a stove would render the air more impure than otherwise.

Mr HAMMERSTEIN, said, he would ask the health committee if any alteration could be made. It was a very lofty house.

The Coroner replied, that he did not mean to say the disease was caused by the imperfect room of the house, because the probability was that these people had the seeds of the disease when they came there. He was afraid that putting men in a crowded room would tend greatly to develop the disease.

Mr HAMMERSTEIN said, he would not take in any persons whilst the cholera was prevalent in Holland and other places.

The Foreman of the Jury asked whether the child slept in the same room with the people who had since died of cholera to which Mr HAMMERSTEIN replied, that it did not, it was a different room, a larger room. He also stated that no one died in the house from cholera. Immediately they became ill he removed them to the workhouse.

In reply to a question it was stated, that before the room was converted into a dormitory, it was submitted to the inspection of the health officers. They had seen the number of beds in it.

The Coroner asked, if the officers were informed how many people were intended to be put in it, and it was stated in reply, that they had seen the room, but did not know how many were to sleep in it.

In reply to a question by the Foreman of the Jury, Mr HAMMERSTEIN, said that in the room where the child died they arranged for 60. It was a large attic and had plenty of air.

The Coroner reminded the jury that the question of overcrowding was subordinate to that of the cause of death ? Mr GEE would tell them that cholera was not the result of overcrowding. [To Dr GEE], Is it not so ? - Dr GEE, Quite So, - The Coroner, It is a poison in the atmosphere, Dr GEE, It is a poison in the atmosphere conveyed from one person to another.

The Jury, returned a verdict that the child died from Asiatic cholera, coupling with it that the health committee would take particular care to see that the house was purified.

The Coroner said, he had no doubt, after they had decided that the death was due to Asiatic cholera the health committee would take such measures as were necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

Dr GEE, hoped he might be allowed to visit the house. He intended to visit the room that afternoon, and was going to see the health committee on the subject.

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