Cholera in St. James: Sources

There now exists a huge trove of material about the St. James, Westminster cholera outbreak, nearly all of it accessible to any researcher with an internet connection, and more is added every year. It’s overwhelming for anyone and confusing to many. So it’s hardly surprising that many journalists and researchers frequently rely instead on secondary sources (many containing pump-handle and disease-mapping tales, among others), or cherry-pick a few documents.

The following table of contents extracts from that trove what someone might find useful in understanding what John Snow and his contemporaries thought happened during the first ten days of September 1854, when they came to know it, and how. For example, the document containing the discovery that there had been cholera in the Lewis household at 40 Broad Street at the end of August 1854 is placed in the table of contents when Henry Whitehead first learned of it in the spring of 1855. I’ve selected documents intended to encourage readers to indwell as much of contemporary uncertainty, mystery, and fear as possible. Document introductions and marginal notations will be geared to enhance readers’ understanding of an historical event and context in which the vocabulary, medical and public health assumptions, technology, and worldviews differ significantly from our own. Text will be pitched at a level of complexity designed to be accessible to undergraduates, regardless of their declared or intended areas of specialization. Hopefully, such a source book will prod new generations of students to challenge common misperceptions of the Broad Street pump episode. So far, nothing else has.

Every document in the following table of contents is readily available, free of charge, on the internet. Some are already transcribed on the John Snow Archive and Research Companion; many of the government blue books are not transcribed, and I have already selected sections from them to abstract and transcribe. The organization in the proposed table of contents is chronological. Some items are entire documents; most are excerpts that focus only on aspects of the local outbreak in St. James, Westminster. All documents will be accompanied by short introductions and explanatory notations in the side-bars. In addition, questions to consider, pitfalls to avoid, and pedagogical instruments (whether in the course pack itself or as links to other web site) will be interleafed with the documents, although not included in the table of contents.

Selected Review of Secondary Literature on Snow’s Investigations


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Table of Contents for a Projected Course Pack of Primary Sources

Introduction, Abbreviations, & Chronology

I. A natural experiment in Horsleydown (July/August 1849)
John Grant, “Report on the Condition of Surrey Court, Horsleydown,” (Metropolitan Commission of Sewers).

Extract from John Snow, On the mode of communication of cholera [MCC] (1849).

Review of MCC in London Medical Gazette [LMG] (14 September 1849).

II. Cholera theories, reports, and facts at mid-century
Lancet accounts of Snow’s Westminster Medical Society presentation, “On the pathology and mode of communication of cholera [“PMCC”],” and subsequent discussion.

Extracts from Snow, “PMCC,” in LMG (2 & 30 November 1849).

Excerpts from General Board of Health [GBoH], Epidemic Cholera of 1848 & 1849 (1850).

Editorial, LMG (2 February 1849).

Excerpts from Snow, “Mode of propagation of cholera,” Medical Times [MT] (29 November & 6 December 1851).

Excerpts from General Register Office [GRO], Report on the Mortality of cholera in England, 1848-49 (1852).

III. 1853-54 cholera epidemic: the run-up to the Broad Street outbreak (and beyond)
Extracts from Snow, “On the prevention of cholera,” Medical Times and Gazette [MTG] (8 October 1853).

Extracts from GRO, Weekly Return of Births and Deaths in London [Weekly Return].

Snow, “Cholera in the Baltic fleet,” MTG (12 August 1854).

Extract from Whitehead, The Cholera in Berwick Street (October 1854).

Summations and extracts from St. James, Westminster parish records.

IV. A long week (Thursday 31 August–Friday 8 September 1854)
Extracts from Whitehead, Cholera in Berwick Street (1850).

Extract from Snow, letter to editors of MTG  (23 September 1854) on his initial investigations in the outbreak area.

Extracts from Snow’s Case Books.

Extracts from the Times.

Extract from the Weekly Return ending 2 September 1854 on cholera deaths.

Reporter’s account of a visit, published in The Builder.

V. What really happened? Why did it happen?
Extract from the Weekly Return ending 9 September 1854 on cholera deaths.

Snow, letter to editors of MTG (23 September 1854) [remainder].

Extract from Whitehead, Cholera in Berwick Street (1850).

Extracts from Whitehead, “The Broad Street pump,” MacMillan’s Magazine (1865).

Edmund Cooper’s report on “state of drainage” in St. James for the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers [MCS], as reported in the Times (27 September 1854).

Dr. Stewart’s letter to editors of MTG (30 September 1854) about the “cholera in St. James.”

Dr. Stewart’s report in MTG (7 October 1854) on the impact of the local cholera outbreak on Middlesex Hospital.

Dr. Parkes’ critique of Snow’s Broad Street outbreak investigations as described in the 2nd edition of On the mode of communication of cholera [MCC2] (1855).

St. James, Westminster parish Cholera Inquiry Committee report [CIC]: “Dr. Snow’s Report” (dated 12 December 1854, although published in July 1855).

Second set of extracts from Whitehead, “The Broad Street pump” (1865), in place of his report for CIC.

CIC: “Mr. York’s Report (dated 1 May 1855).

Fraser, Hughes, & Ludlow (GBoH inspectors), “Report on the Outbreak of Cholera” (1855).

CIC: Introduction; and Marshall, “General Report” (25 July 1855).

Medical Council to GBoH, “Report on Cholera-epidemic of 1854″ (26 July 1855).

Summations and extracts on cholera from Weekly Returns, January until 26 August 1854.

Summations and extracts from Weekly Returns, 16 September 1854 until the end of the year.

Snow, letter to editors of MTG (2 September) on initial findings in South London.

Snow, “On the communication of cholera by impure Thames water,” MTG 9 (7 October 1854).

Snow’s testimony before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Medical Relief & Public Health (5 March 1855).

Lancet editorial ridicules Snow’s Parliamentary testimony (23 June 1855).

Parkes’ view that Snow’s reasoning about the Thomas Street outbreak in 1849 is strongest evidence presented in MCC2.

The attending physician disputes Whitehead’s hypothesized index case for the St. James outbreak.

Glossary and Bibliography