Health of the
|Prince Albert married Queen Victoria in 1840 and they had nine children,
but in December 1861 he fell ill and died. Prince Albert had caught
TYPHOID, a disease that is caused by drinking either dirty water or
milk, or eating dirty food. The usual cause of typhoid was allowing
drinking water to be polluted by sewage.
The death of her husband was a great shock to Queen Victoria. How
could one of the most important people in Britain die from a disease
like this? Was this common? Were rich and poor just as likely to die
from diseases like this at the time of the Great Exhibition?
The big killer disease of the mid-nineteenth century was CHOLERA which
was caused in a similar way to the disease Prince Albert had died
of. Cholera had arrived in Britain for the first time in 1831, probably
arriving on ships bringing imports from China.
Doctors had little idea about the causes of cholera. Most accepted
the miasmatic (read on!) theory of disease. They believed that diseases
were caused by the air somehow being polluted by waste. This came
about because severe outbreaks of disease often happened in hot summers
when there was a great deal of rubbish lying in the streets. As the
rubbish rotted, it gave off a stronger and stronger smell. This, many
doctors believed, caused disease.
Cholera was most dangerous in the new industrial towns of the north
or in the centre of big cities like London. Here people lived in crowded
housing. Most people got their water from a tap in the street and
often the supply was pumped out of a nearby river. This river could
easily be used for sewage disposal at the same time. In London, one
water company drew water out of the River Thames from a point right
next to the outlet of the Great Ranelagh Sewer.
In the new industrial towns, cholera was even more dangerous because
many of the houses had been built quickly with no attempts at planning.
Often there was no sanitation and no fresh water. In one street in
Bolton the people used a trench at the back of the houses as a toilet,
which was cleared out and the mess stacked up against the end wall
of the last house. The mess was taken away every six months.
There was a second big outbreak of cholera in 1848, a third in 1853
and a fourth in 1866. Each time thousands of people died swiftly and
in terrible pain. They suffered violent vomiting and diarrhoea, coupled
with very bad stomach pains. The actual cause of death was often dehydration
(not enough water).