The Repository of all Things Historical for the Ancient Welsh Town of Carnarvon

  Castle Square, Carnarvon. Published by Williams & Hughes, Bridge Steet, 1850



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A terrifying new disease arrived in Britain in late 1831. It first made its appearance at Sunderland, where the first official casualty, William Sproat, a keelman of Fish Quay, died on the 20th. of October. By the 9th. of January 1832 it had caused the deaths of 215 of the inhabitants of the town. After this it spread rapidly through the country, causing 800 deaths at Newcastle-upon-Tyne by the summer. 3166 died at Glasgow. By April the disease had reached Liverpool (1523 deaths), and Hull. Manchester, Leeds and Bristol were also badly affected, as were many other sea-ports and towns. The disease was particularly rampant in the slum areas of the large industrial towns and cities. It arrived at Flint in May, and spread rapidly through North Wales, officially arriving in Carnarvon in October. This disease was known as Asiatic Cholera, or "Cholera Morbus".

There were two deaths in the town during July which are recorded in the Llanbeblig burial register as being due to Cholera, however official sources claim that the first deaths occurred in early October. As can be seen from the first report carried by the Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald on the 21st. July, fears over these two deaths were allayed by the insistence that they were caused by English Cholera, which was strange as this disease had been known about for centuries, and was not considered to be all that serious. What is certain, however, is that the fast approaching epidemic was viewed with some concern, and with understandable fear. This was enough to move the officials of the Town to convene a meeting for the purpose of discussing the next steps, and they went as far as to send two well-known local doctors to Dublin to see the effects of Cholera for themselves. In accordance with government guidelines, it was also decided to establish a Board of Health to oversee the fight against the disease.

Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald 21st. of July:

TOWN MEETING - On Monday evening, in pursuance of a requisition, a meeting of the inhabitants of Carnarvon took place at the Guildhall, for the purpose of considering what measures of precaution should be adopted against the dreadful malady which is still so active in some parts of the Kingdom. Towards the end of last week, two respectable members of the medical profession in this town, Mr. O. O. Roberts and Mr. W. Morgan, visited Dublin, in order, by personal observation, to make themselves more fully acquainted with the nature and causes of the disease. At the meeting, these gentlemen stated at considerable length, the result of their enquiries: and although they differed in opinion in respect to some of the physiological characteristics of the malady, they perfectly concurred as to the steps which it was desirable for the meeting to take. It was at once resolved to establish a Board of Health, the usual directions having previously been furnished by our excellent representative Sir Charles Paget. We are happy to say there has been no case of Asiatic cholera at Carnarvon. Two deaths which occurred last week, under somewhat suspicious circumstances, excited a momentary alarm; but they were beyond a question cases of the ordinary English cholera, and in both instances, the predisposing causes were obvious. We have the authority of our medical practitioners for assuring the public that, in their remembrance, the town was never more healthy than it is at present. The following statement from the Parish Register is both striking and satisfactory:-

"The number of funerals at Llanbeblig, the Parish Church of Carnarvon.

  1829 1830 1831 1832
May 12 09 17 08
June 17 11 09 11
July to 16th. 14 03 06 07
  43 23 32 26

"The average number of funerals in the last four years from 1st. May to 16th. July is 31; and the funerals during that time. in the present year, have been only 26.
"J. W. TREVOR, Vicar."

Things remained quiet in the town until early August, when a bad outbreak of smallpox occurred. This lasted for two months, and just as the worst of the smallpox was receding, the Cholera struck with a vengeance. There was one reported death in early September, then nothing until October, when the Cholera began to spread like wildfire.

The Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald reported on the 20th. of October:

CHOLERA - We grieve to state that, since our last publication, that appalling and mysterious malady, the epidemic cholera, has shewn itself in the town. With a single exception, the cases that have occurred have been confined to the poor-house. In eight instances the disease has terminated fatally. The Board of Health, established here, as a measure of precaution, several weeks ago, has been indefatigable in its benevolent labours; and too much praise cannot be given to the humane and generous exertions of our medical practitioners. A house in which medicines are to be gratuitously dispensed to the poor, by a competent person under the direction of the medical men, has been engaged in Bangor-street: a subscription has been set on foot for supplying the afflicted poor with clothing, bedding, fuel, &c: and every effort is made to arrest, if possible, the progress of the disease or to assuage its malignity. Those whom Providence has blessed with abundance will now feel, we are persuaded, that the call upon their humanity is imperative and loud. Major Nanney has liberally offered to supply the cholera patients in the poor-house with any wine or spirits that may be required.

How terrifying it must have been to have sunk so low as to be in need of the poor house, and then to have to face the realisation that they were locked up with an unknown, fatal, disease that had no cure. Those on the Board of Health must have felt just as helpless, having to fight the disease without knowing its cause, or how to treat it. The final sentence above is most telling, with Major Nanney's offer of wines and spirits to the poor house inmates obviously thought of as some sort of effective cure. In the next edition, the Herald reports:

CHOLERA - Since our last publication, there have been ten cases of epidemic cholera in the town, two of which have terminated in death. Eight patients have recovered. One of the most recent cases of the disease has occurred on the criminals' side of the County Gaol.

Another institution, another possible source of a large number of deaths. As it was, the above mentioned death at the town gaol, that of 41 year old William Prichard, was the sole fatality to occur there. Due to the unknown nature of the disease, a number of fancy cures were being touted, no doubt by well meaning but generally misguided individuals. A typical example was printed in the Herald, again in the 27th. October edition:

RECIPE FOR THE CHOLERA - (From a Correspondent) - One pint of best French brandy, one ounce of Cayenne pepper, shake them well together, and in one hour it is fit for use. When the stomach is attracted with violent pains, (formerly called the dry colic, now styled cholera), take a wine glass full of best brandy and three teaspoonful of the above decoction; if the stomach is not relieved in five minutes, repeat the dose, which will with certainty remove the spasms and comfort the bowels. The above was given an eminent practitioner in Liverpool, and never known to fail.

Quite how the poor were supposed to afford a pint of best French brandy was conveniently ignored! As October turned into November, there were no signs that the Cholera was abating, and the deaths were slowly mounting. The Herald reported on the 3rd. of November:

CHOLERA - This fearful disease, we lament to say, still continues among us. Within the last seven days, there have been thirty new cases, nine deaths, and fourteen recoveries. Since the commencement of the disease, on the 18th. ult., it has exhibited itself in fifty-nine cases, nineteen of which have terminated fatally.

Still more weird and wonderful cures and preventatives were being dreamt up, as these two from the 3rd. of November edition of the Herald illustrate. Throughout history, charlatan doctors, or "Quacks," were quick to jump on to any bandwagon and earn a fast buck or two with their worthless, and more often than not, dangerous, concoctions. An outbreak such as the present cholera was a Godsend to these shady operators, and their dispensations would have been available on every street corner in every town and city in the country. Most of them would have been made up of some sort of alcohol, with perhaps a couple of natural ingredients added to mask the taste. While these were not inherently dangerous to the consumer, if they did happen to be unfortunate enough to have caught the disease it would have been of no benefit at all, the only outcome being to deprive them of the hard-earned cash they could barely afford to lose. Other quack cures had dangerous amounts of poisonous ingredients present, and probably contributed to the untimely end of many who partook of them:

WARM BATH IN CHOLERA - A medical gentleman informs us that the warm bath is of great service both as a preventative and remedy in Cholera. While Carnarvon possesses such an admirable establishment for the purpose as that of the Baths in Church-street, a seasonable hint like this ought not to be neglected.

A PLAN FOR THE PREVENTION OF THE MALIGNANT CHOLERA - By John Burne, M. D. - Being assured, from a very extensive personal experience, that the malignant cholera gives a warning or premonition of its approach in almost every instance, and that, if this warning is attended to, an attack of the dreadful disease may be prevented by remedies of a simple kind, and within the reach of every person, I feel it my duty, at the present crisis, to make this information as generally known as lies within my power. I am, moreover, impelled to this step as a means of satisfying the very frequent inquiries made of me on this all-engrossing subject.

The warning or premonitory symptoms above alluded to consist in a griping looseness of the bowels, which renders the person affected liable or predisposed to an attack of the cholera; so that if, in this state, he is so indiscreet as to be intemperate, or to eat of things which are known to be indigestible, or to disagree with the stomach, then it is that the cholera is apt to intervene.

Let it not be supposed that, because a person has this griping looseness of the bowels, he must of neccessity, have the cholera! far from it; for almost every one has been affected with this looseness, more or less. What I insist upon is, that the cholera is precceded, with very few exceptions, by this griping looseness for twelve, twenty-four, or thirty-six hours, often for five or six days, and that, therefore, this disorder of the bowels is a warning or premonitory stage not to be neglected. It is a popular error to suppose that a person in health may be suddenly seized and struck down by the malignant cholera. The cholera may and does attack, suddenly, persons who are already affected with disordered bowels, but not otherwise.

In proportion as a person is intemperate so is he liable to be seized with the cholera. Healthy persons, of regular habits, need not be under any apprehension whatever.

The following will be found an effectual treatment for the premonitory griping looseness of the bowels, and consequently a means preventative of the cholera:

First; take a dessert spoonful of castor oil, with ten drops of laudanum, floating in a little peppermint water, or weak brandy and water, and repeat this dose in two or three days if the greiping should return.

Next day, take carbonate of magnesia, ten grains, confection of opium, five grains, camphor mixture and peppermint water, of each half an ounce, made into a draught.

Let this draught be repeated twice a day, (the days on which the oil is taken excepted,) and continued for a week, if neccessary. Should the bowels become sluggish, as is the case sometimes, then add three or four grains of the powder of rhubarb to each magnesia draught.

The important fact, that the malignant cholera is preceeded by the greiping looseness of the bowels being established, it follows that, if due notice of this circumstance could be given to the whole of the population of any town or village threatened with an invasion of the cholera, or in which the cholera has actually made its appearance, and provision made that all persons affected with this looseness might be treated as above recommended, the spreading of the cholera might be arrested and its threatened invasion prevented.

I cannot too strongly recommend local boards of health and the gentlemen and clergy of villages to circulate this information extensively by means of short hand-bills, and the heads of families to make it known to every member of their household, with a desire, at the same time, that every individual should apply for assistance immediately that he becomes affected with the griping looseness of the bowels.

I am sanguine enough to believe that, if full effect could be given to this plan, the progress of the dreadful malady which is now spreading alarm and death throughout the United Kingdom might soon be arrested, and the disease itself ultimately annihilated.

As the death toll continued to rise, the town's inhabitants turned to prayer. On the 10th. of November the Herald reported:

CHOLERA - Wednesday was set apart as a day of humiliation and prayer on account of the fearful ravages of the cholera among us, and it affords us sincere pleasure to record that the day was most solemnly observed by the inhabitants, of every class. The churches, and the other places of worship in the town were thronged with serious worshippers. Our respected vicar the Rev. J. W. Trevor conducted the service at St. Mary's chapel. Soon after the congregation was dismissed, the members of the Board of Health held their usual daily meeting, when the following resolution was unanimously passed: "That the warmest and most heart-felt thanks of this Board be presented to the Rev. J. W. Trevor for his kind and attentive conduct on all occasions, as their chairman, and more particularly for having promoted the observance of this day, as a day of religious solemnity, and for his appropriate, eloquent, and truly impressive discourse delivered this morning."

In the same edition, the Herald was finally able to announce some good news for a change, with a decline in the number of cases, and deaths, and a generous donation to a fund for the poor:

CHOLERA - It affords us unspeakable pleasure to have it in our power to state that this fearful disease is on the decline in Carnarvon. Since our last publication there have been 15 new cases, most of them in a comparatively mild form, 6 deaths, and 15 recoveries. In all, from the first appearance of the disease among us, on the 15th. of October, there have been 74 cases, and 25 deaths.

HANDSOME DONATION - Lord Willoughby de Eresby, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, whose genorosity we have more than once had occasion to record, has sent to the Fund for the relief of the poor in this town who may be suffering under epidemic cholera or are in peculiar danger of its attacks, the munificent contribution of fifty pounds. His Lordship has also signified his readiness to repeat the donation should circumstances unhappily call for it. This is true nobility.

A week later the long-awaited news was delivered. The relief the writer felt is apparent in every word, and one can only imagine the joyous reception this news would have received by every inhabitant of the town. The Herald, 17th. of November reported:

CHOLERA - It is with feelings of more than ordinary pleasure that we record the total disappearance of this appalling malady from among us. Not a single case, in any shape or form, has occurred in the town during the last six days. From the commencement of the disease on the 15th. of October, there have been seventy-five cases, twenty-nine of which terminated fatally. The Board of Health has been most anxiously employed in improving the condition of the poor; and to this cause, under a divine blessing, we have no doubt, the present healthy state of the town is mainly to be ascribed.

As the realisation that the disease had finally run its course sank in, it was decided to wind down the operations of the Board of Health as it was felt that it was no longer necessary to the well-being of the townspeople. The final victim of the disease had been buried on the 19th. of November, and it must have been a happy day to those intrepid individuals who had strived against all the odds to fight the terrible onslaught that was Cholera. The Herald of the 8th. of December stated:

BOARD OF HEALTH - We are happy to find, that, the Board of Health, in this town, deems its regular sittings to be no longer necessary. We do no more than an act of common justice, when, we gratefully acknowledge the assiduity and zeal with which the Board has laboured, in every way, to increase the comforts of the poor, and, thus, under the blessing of Heaven, to stay as far as possible, the desolating progress, of a mysterious and terrible disease. We understand that it is intended to call a public meeting, a few weeks hence, before which will be laid a report of all that has been done, in reference to the epidemic cholera, since its first appearance among us.

Sadly, there is no record of this final meeting available, and no account was printed by the Herald. Further investigation has revealed that the records generated by the Board of Health during these intense few weeks have not survived, so we are unable to have a look at the working practices they adopted, the decisions made, and the fears they helped lay to rest; neither are we able to record the names of the officials so charged with the welfare of the town beyond the brief mention of a few in the local press.

The outbreak had lasted for two months.

Name Abode Date Age
Ellen Jones Carnarvon July 11 57
Jane Thomas Carnarvon July 18 73
Thomas Thomas Carnarvon September 11 31
John Roberts Carnarvon October 02 32
Margaret Hughes Carnarvon October 10 43
William Jones 1 Carnarvon October 13 55
Margaret Ellis Carnarvon October 15 30
Mary Evans Carnarvon October 16 09
Margaret Owen Carnarvon October 16 57
William Jones Carnarvon October 17 12
Dorothea Hudson Carnarvon October 18 Abt. 46
Mary Williams Carnarvon October 22 44
William Williams Carnarvon October 22 13
William Prichard Carnarvon (Gaol) October 27 41
Samuel Hughes Carnarvon October 27 46
John Jones Carnarvon October 27 59
John Pierce Carnarvon October 28 12
Jane Hughes Carnarvon October 30 42
Richard Jones Carnarvon October 30 28
John Owen Carnarvon October 30 63
Ellin Evans Carnarvon October 31 03
Ellin Dorkins Carnarvon November 02 39
John Edwards Carnarvon November 02 35
William Jones Carnarvon November 03 33
Margaret Roberts Carnarvon November 04 55
Catherine Lewis Carnarvon November 04 67
Mary Owen Carnarvon November 06 57
Mary Thomas Carnarvon November 06 63
Ann Parry (Stranger) Carnarvon November 08 Not Known
William Humphreys Carnarvon November 10 50
Margaret Thomas (Stranger) Carnarvon November 10 21
Mary Jones Carnarvon November 12 53
Griffith Pierce Carnarvon November 14 63
Ellen Humphreys Carnarvon November 19 80

1 C. M. is noted in the register. Cholera Morbus?


Cholera in Wales - G Penrhyn Jones, National Library of Wales Journal Vol X/3 Summer 1958.
King Cholera - Joseph O'Neill, Family History Monthly 84: September 2002.
Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald - Various editions.
Llanbeblig Parish Burial Registers.

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