by George Graham,

Published for HMSO, London, 1848, page xxv on 3rd quarter 1846


In the course of gathering data on the births, marriages and deaths for 1846 from the Annual Report of the Registrar General, I encountered the following passages.  They form part of the essay on the conditions prevailing in the country, the weather, the harvest and state of trade.  The content would be worthy of a campaigning journalist but was written by civil servants.  It must have made unpleasant reading for the government and perhaps this is why later editions of the Annual Report of the Registrar General are made up entirely of tables with no preamble.

The registrar of Hulme its Chorlton District, near Manchester, observes:

When we take into consideration that the infants of the poor are, many of them, fed upon innutritious and improper food, and a large portion of them in this district are constantly drugged with narcotics, such as Godfrey’s cordial, paregoric, and miscalled infants’ preservatives, inducing a morbid and congested state of the primae vie; that they live in unhealthy localities, in ill or non-ventilated dwellings, surrounded by an atmosphere pregnant with noxious exhalations, we cease, in some degree to be surprised (these remote and predisposing causes existing) that, when an epidemic affecting the abdominal viscera prevails, it should prove so extensively fatal, and more particularly when these poor infants, many of them, have not had the advantage of judicious medical treatment, consequently no chance of recovery. During the last quarter there have been registered very few deaths of children of the higher class of society caused by bowel complaints, they being in a great measure exempt from the predisposing causes before enumerated, and having had the advantage of proper medical assistance. The 298 deaths certified, include many that have been seen only once or twice by regular practitioners, having been previously attended by druggists. Deaths not certified, 88, include those where it has not been convenient to get a medical certificate, and those who have not had attendance during the latter weeks of their illness. Deaths, not certified, where there has been no proper medical aid, 93, include those that have been attended by druggists, or have had no medical assistance whatever.

The registrar of Deansgate in Manchester remarks:

Of the 279 children, the deaths of only 126 were certified, so that 153 died without any proper medical assistance having been procured for them, and of the certified cases a large number were stated in the medical certificates to have been in a hopeless state, having been ill several days or weeks before medical assistance was sought. The chief cause of mortality has been diarrhoea, and this of a very controllable character when taken early. Here we have 153 children dying in one district alone, and in one quarter, without any reasonable attempt having been made to save them, and if the deferred cases were added, the number would probably not fall short of 200. It is difficult to think of this frightful waste of life without feeling that all other circumstances affecting the mortality of large towns dwindle beside it into insignificance. It is indeed deeply to be deplored that no proper provision has hitherto been suggested, and carried out for the preservation of the children of the poor. In all Manchester there is but one children’s dispensary, and this has but two medical officers. Such institutions should be numerous in large towns, and much good might be effected; but the unfortunate out-door occupation of the women, by causing the withholding of nature’s nutriment from the children, is terribly destructive to the latter.’

How pitiful is the condition of many thousands of children born in this world!  Here, in the most advanced nation of Europe, in one of the largest towns of England, in the midst of a population unmatched for its energy, industry, manufacturing skill, in Manchester, the centre of a victorious agitation for commercial freedom, aspiring to literary culture, where Percival wrote and Dalton lived, 13362 children perished in seven years over and above the mortality natural to mankind. These ‘ little children,’ brought up in unclean dwellings, and impure streets were left alone long days by their mothers, to breathe the subtle, sickly vapours, soothed by opium, a more ‘cursed’ distillation than ‘hebenon’ and when assailed by mortal diseases, their stomachs torn, their bodies convulsed, their brains bewildered, left to die without medical aid, which like Hope should ‘come to all’ the skilled medical man never being called in at all, or only summoned to witness the death, and sanction the funeral


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