Cholera in South Wales

Up ] [ Cholera in South Wales ] What is Cholera? ] Why did Cholera spread across industrial South Wales? ] Cholera in South Wales - the events ] Evidence: A wc from the 1890s. ] Evidence: Providing a safe water supply for Swansea. ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - housing ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to water supply ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to rubbish and sewage ] Cholera in Wales - consequences ]

Cholera first appeared in India in 1818 and quickly spread into north-west Europe. The approach of the disease towards Britain was very well documented throughout the 1820s. The Tory government of the time was still coping with the political fallout of the Radical movement and very little was done to prepare the country for what was to come. A Central Board of Health was set up as a contingency measure and a number of towns set up local boards of health to issue information and advice about the disease. As the way that the disease spread was not understood any advice was almost entirely useless.

 

In October 1831 the first case of Cholera was reported in Sunderland. In an attempt to contain the disease a quarantine was set up around the port to prevent infection spreading. The political climate of the day would not accept such a control on people's movements and considerable anger and unrest followed from the traders and businessmen of the port. The attempt at control was abandoned and the disease spread rapidly. 

Above: Cholera chronicle from Swansea's The Cambrian, June 1849.

The unsanitary conditions of the Welsh towns in the 1830s were to prove an excellent breeding ground for the disease and by May 1832 the first reports of Welsh Cholera began to appear. By June all major towns were affected to some degree. The fact that Cholera appeared whilst the country was obsessed by the political debates of the Reform Act crisis meant that the spread of the disease did not feature in the minds of prominent politicians.  Unfortunately, the records for the 1830s make it very difficult to get much information on the early progress of Cholera. It is difficult to measure the impact but a best guess suggests that perhaps 400 people died in the Swansea area with more dying in Cardiff. 

Merthyr also suffered in the 1832 epidemics but the surviving records (which are very poor) suggest that the impact of the disease was limited, probably because Merthyr's real industrial growth and sanitation and pollution problems came later in the 1830s. By 1849, Merthyr's overcrowding and lack of sanitation ensured that the Cholera epidemic of that year would be catastrophic and over 1400 people died in five months. 

The epidemic of 1849 is much better documented. An isolated case came to Swansea in October 1848 and a small outbreak occurred in Cardiff in January 1839. However the disease only really took hold in the summer months of 1849 and wreaked havoc throughout the coalfield.  Local newspapers in Cardiff and Swansea chronicled the progress of the disease in weekly reports as you can see from the extract from Swansea's Cambrian above. 

[ Cholera in South Wales ] What is Cholera? ] Why did Cholera spread across industrial South Wales? ] Cholera in South Wales - the events ] Evidence: A wc from the 1890s. ] Evidence: Providing a safe water supply for Swansea. ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - housing ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to water supply ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to rubbish and sewage ] Cholera in Wales - consequences ]

 

 

The View for Sunday 7 January 2001

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