book background

"Dr. Snow on the communication of cholera"

View this document as a PDF

(20 November 1885): 4, col. F

Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries, the Times Digital Archive.

To the editor of the Times.

Sir,--The Times of the 13th inst. has a leading article [editorial] on the cholera in Spain, containing some references to the researches of my late brother, Dr. Snow; and I ask the favour of a brief space in the Times for a statement of the facts with regard to those references.

Your article says:--"It was only when the inhabitants of a court in Broad-street, during the London epidemic of 1854, were struck down in very large proportions, that the sagacity of the late Dr. Snow caught at the possibility of water being a common channel for the diffusion of the poison, and led him to institute observations for the purpose of confirming or disproving his hypothesis."

Dr. Snow prosecuted his researches and furnished abundant facts in confirmation of his theory, long before 1854. During the season of 1849 he published several pamphlets, wrote letters to the Times and the medical periodicals, maintaining the conclusions which are now universally accepted by the faculty. So far from the case of the Broad-street pump suggesting in 1854 the possibility of water being a common channel for the diffusion of the poison, the remarkable facts of this case were of the same character as those with which he had already become familiar. But in this case the facts took what may be called a dramatic form; and the immediate abatement of the cholera--when, on Dr. Snow's urgent appeal, the authorities removed the handle of the pump--was the means of bringing his theory before the notice of the general public, and hence the mistaken impression has arisen that his researches commenced with the case of the Broad-street pump.

I must strongly demur to the statement that "Dr. Snow had no opportunity of obtaining absolute proof of the soundness of his views." His work On the Mode of Communication of Cholera" (Churchill), published in 1855, and now lying before me, is crowded with specific facts, to the same purport and equally decisive with those which you quote from Mr. Netten Radcliffe's observations in 1866; and I have the testimony of distinguished London physicians to the fact that the outbreak in London in 1866--eight years after Dr. Snow's death--was held in check by the following of the light of his researches.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

Thos. Snow.

Underbarrow Parsonage, Kendal, Nov. 16.

[Reverend Snow was correct that his brother's cholera theory and researches antedate the Golden Square outbreak. But, ironically, his explanation of the Broad Street pump episode shows that he has accepted the mis-perception that removal of the pump handle by the local authorities ended the local outbreak. In his previous letter to the Times he says that Snow's MCC2 lies open before him. If he had opened it before writing this letter and refreshed his memory of his brother's account, he would have noted that the outbreak was essentially over days before the handle was removed.

What is illuminating, however, about Rev. Snow's mistake is that he suggests that the mis-perception was commonplace among the general public. He does not mention Richardson's memoir from 1858, which would not have been widely known among the general public. PVJ.]

bottom of book image