Cholera hits the island in 1832

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Cholera hits

the island in 1832

From the biography of Dr George Symes Hooper by Alex Glendinning, posted to the Rootsweb CI Group in 2000 following a request for information about the 1832 cholera epidemic in Jersey

1833 report

Dr G S Hooper's report A Paper on the History and Statistics of Asiatic Cholera in Jersey was published by Jersey Central Board of Health in 1833 and has been reprinted several times since, most recently by the Education Department in 1988. He had been secretary to the board during the epidemic of 1832 and was actively involved in combatting the disease.

The Board of Health had been specially convened at a sitting of the States on 28 October 28, when news of a growing cholera morbus problem in England and Europe had reached these shores. They were given extra powers and money to try to prevent the introduction of the disease. As there were few troops in the Island at the time, hospitals were prepared in every parish, often in empty barracks.

The cause of cholera was still unknown, but as it tended to attack those living in poverty, a check was undertaken to locate families with no visible means of support (not chargeable to the parish) and return them to their place of origin. This prompted such an outcry that the attempt was called off. Dr Hooper noted the poor drainage and sewers of the lower, flat part of town. Many of the streams that ran through St Helier were still open and choked with rubbish and there was a drought in progress, the stench in Hilgrove Lane was particularly bad. The Board of Health agreed that something had to be done and a new drainage system was approved, begun in 1831 and still in progress two years later when he was writing his paper.

Cholera arrives

When cholera reached Jersey on 6 August 6 there had been a heavy downpour of rain the previous day and Dr Hooper theorised that the movement of all the accumulated filth in the streams helped spread the disease. Hilgrove Lane was one of the first places to suffer outbreaks.

A Cholera Hospital was fitted out by August 12, in a building donated for the purpose by Edward Nicolle, Philip Nicolle and Philip Winter three days before. They owned a property at the bottom of the Rope Walk (now Kensington Place) and as Dr Hooper reported that the building was near to several of the worst affected areas (Cabot's Yard in Sand Street and Parade Place) and stood alone, close to the sea, this may have been it.

Unfortunately, as most people were used to being treated at home for illnesses, patients were often not brought to the Hospital until they were close to death and could not be saved. He studied the progress of the cholera, trying to work out if it was contagious, by looking for evidence of contact between infected people, but was frustrated by the fact that the disease rarely attacked everyone in a specific district, often taking one or two and then not returning to the area for several weeks. He was never able to trace its original source.

Modern medicine has discovered that cholera is transmitted by a bacterial infection from contaminated water or food. As the patient becomes very dehydrated, treatment was by fluid and salt repletion, boosted today by applications of sodium chloride and antibiotics - unknown in the 19th Century.

Newspaper reports

The Chronique de Jersey ran a column entitled Cholera Morbus in each of their issues of the period, reporting on the disease and the Board of Health's preventative methods. In the issue of 28 August 1832 a list of the town districts, their specially appointed Présidents and Médecins, prepared by Dr Hooper, shows that he was responsible for Mont au Prêtre sur la Ville, an area that encompassed Rue du Val, Le Geyt Street, Burrard Street, Union Street, Craig Street, Upper Don Street, Grove Place, Vieux Chemin, Rue de Hue, Chemin Neuf, Clarendon Road, Devonshire Place, Sligo Street, Vauxhall (where he lived and had his surgery), Belmont Road and Bath Street. His Président was Edward Nicolle.

In the crowded confines of the General Hospital, then a poorhouse, there were fewer attacks than expected and the garrison at Fort Regent only suffered one confirmed case, although their surgeon Mr Vowel reported many bowel complaints and decided that they had survived a mild version of the disease.

During the attack at Cabot's Yard, the whole population of the area were moved to tents at Westmount while their homes were cleaned and all bedding and clothing burnt. About three hundred people were fed and dressed altogether, at about 80 at any given time, and only one or two contracted the disease. This was put down to wholesome air, (enforced) cleanliness and an improved diet.

The disease spreads to the countryside

The rural areas began to send in sufferers from 18 August and by the time it had run it's course, cholera had attacked every parish except St Mary, and every sizable settlement except St Aubin. Gorey Village was next worst affected after St Helier.

According to Dr Hooper's carefully kept statistics, 803 people were taken ill and 347 died over an eleven week and five day period. The deaths were so concentrated in the poorer parts of town, that the Rector of St Helier had to inaugurate a new Strangers' Cemetery (below Westmount) on 27 August to cope with the extra burials.

On 27 October the Board of Health reported the Island free of cholera and adjourned, the very day that the first case was reported in Guernsey.

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