Cholera Arrived

Europe has lived through many many epidemics and pandemics, but the arrival of Cholera in 1832 from India came at a time when its cities were seething with the poor, and there were still economic and social problems in the aftermath of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary Wars.

In Britain, they were fortunate to have discovered that it was waterborne, thanks to the work of John Frost who noted that brewery workers, who were drinking beer in Soho were not getting sick as the locals who were reliant on a communal pump. The response, thanks to Edwin Chadwick, was eventually to build an extensive clean water and sewer system to serve the capital.

Due to the ongoing chaos in Paris, they were less up to speed with science, still blaming it on miasmas, or foul airs, so their response was more directed at opening up the crowded alleyways of the slums, demolishing a large area so cholera was the first trigger for slum clearance. This is from The Journey of Martin Nadaud A Life and Turbulent Times by Gillian Tindall:

“Typically, plagues such as cholera were believed to have been brought by strangers from elsewhere. Also, the middle classes felt threatened by the squalor of working class life, and thus cholera was generally connected with those other feared contagions, immorality, irreligion and dangerously radical ideas. All these elements were present in the attitude of rural France to the epidemic in Paris, [though similar illnesses had been around ] Cholera was seen as the embodiment of the wicked city, and in central France there was much alarmed middle class talk of the itinerant masons carrying it home with them (like republicanism and fancy clothes) and contaminating decent country folk. However, an inquiry by the Gazette Medicale at the end of the year revealed the true pattern:

‘There was some contamination in Seine-et-Oise, the Loiret and the Loire-et-Cher and even, at the last gasp, in the Indre. Essentially, from the gates of Paris outwards, men were seen to collapse by the roadside…Some, who had taken the coach, only succumbed beyond Blois, in the region of Chateauroux. In the end none brought the cholera into the Creuse, The carriers of the sickness had all died on the way. ‘

For once, the problems of bad country transport proved to be a good thing – it protected the countryside from the sickness of the city.

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