Cholera in Merthyr

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 ]

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The cholera was present in two forms in the town. firstly it came as an epidemic disease striking the town in 1832, 1849, 1854 and 1866. It also existed as an endemic disease such as diarrhea and dysentery which existed all year round and often killed the very young or very old. 

Although records are unclear it has been estimated that perhaps 160 people died in the cholera epidemic of 1832. There were basic precautions taken by the Local Board of Health (which had been set up in November 1831) . The role of the Board was to advise on the treatment and containment of the disease. They were largely responsible for encouraging houses to be limewashed, and clothing of infected people to be burnt. 

The epidemic of 1849 has been described as 'murderous'. It fell on a largely impoverished population struggling to live in the poorest parts of the town such as Pont y Storehouse. 

Right: An extract from Swansea's Cambrian for June 1849. Tragic tales such as this were reported throughout the summer of 1849. 

This epidemic was very strong and wrought havoc on the  population. The unsanitary conditions ensured a long spell of the disease, but it is likely that the death toll would have been worse were it not for the fact that the population of the town was predominantly younger people who coped with the disease better than children or the elderly. The Poor Law Board of Guardians assumed the responsibility of taking preventive measures. Nine extra medical officers were appointed to help the affected population and they were supported by a series of lay workers who helped remove victims from their houses and thus reduce the chances of the disease spreading.  A House of Refuge was created to house healthy people removed from houses where the disease had struck, thus reducing the chances of the disease being transmitted further.  An overflow burial ground was opened at Pant to accommodate the  500 victims for this epidemic. 

Although the disease was present in the background for the following years it did not erupt into epidemic again until 1854 when 524 people died. A large House of Refuge was built off the Brecon Road and more care taken to isolate affected cases. The lower casualty rate indicates the slightly improving diet and health of the townspeople and the success of these techniques,  as many people would have caught the disease but made a recovery after a bout of severe illness. Also by this time the Local Board of Health were much more thorough in ensuring cholera victims were removed from their houses and cesspits and privies were sealed up or cleaned out on a more regular basis. The House of Refuge was later enlarged as the Fever Hospital of the Board of Health. 

The final epidemic in 1866 claimed 116 victims, the lower number testament to the improved treatment and isolation of infected people. By this time the House of Refuge was seen as a fully fledged cholera hospital.

 

 

The View for Sunday 7 January 2001

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