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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

Living Conditions

63. Fever Epidemic in Glasgow, 1818

Texte intégral

1Robert Graham was Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and a physician in the city’s Royal Infirmary. In 1818, during the typhus epidemic in Scotland, Graham wrote an account of the condition of the patients he had examined, which, he thought, would help to understand the causes and treatment of this disease (typhoid bacillus was first identified in 1880).

2R. Graham, Practical Observations on continued Fever, especially that Form at Present Existing as an Epidemic, with some Remarks on the most Efficient Plans for its Suppression, Glasgow, 1818, p. 56-58.

Origin and propagation

If any man wonders at the prevalence of continued fever, among the lower classes in Glasgow, or at its spreading from their habitations, let him take the walk which I did to-day with Mr. Angus, one of the district Surgeons. Let him pick his steps among every species of disgusting filth, through a long alley, from four to five feet wide, flanked by houses five floors high, with here and there an opening for a pool of water, from which there is no drain, and in which all the nuisances of the neighbourhood are deposited, in endless succession, to float, and putrify, a waste away in noxious gases. Let him look, as he goes along, into the cellars which open into this lane, and he will probably find lodged, in alternate habitations which are no way distinguished in their exterior, and very little by the furniture which is within them, pigs, and cows, and human beings, which can scarcely be recognised till brought to the light, or, till the eyes of the visitant get accustomed to the smoke and gloom of the cellar in which they live. I have been to-day in several dens of this kind, where I did not see persons lying on the floor near me, till Mr. Angus, whom a previous visit had taught where to find them, inquired after their health. I was in one closet, measuring twelve feet by less than five, on the floor of which, he told me, six people had lain, affected with fever, within these few days and where I saw the seventh inhabitant now confined. We found, in one lodging-house, fifteen feet long, by nine feet from the front of the beds to the opposite wall that fifteen people were sometimes accommodated; and when we expressed horror at the situation in which they were placed, the woman of the house, somewhat offended, and, I believe, a little alarmed lest we should cause some enquiry to be made by the Police, said, in support of the character of her establishment, that each family was provided with a bed, and that she very seldom had any body lying on the floor. I shall only mention one other instance of misery. In a lodging house consisting of two rooms, separated by boards, the first thirteen feet by eleven, the other fifteen by eight, twenty-three of the lowest class of Irish were lately lodged. To-day there are fourteen of whom two are confined with fever, three are convalescent, and one only bas hitherto escaped. There are only three beds in this house, (denominated, with that facetiousness which enables an Irishman to joke with his own misery, Flea Barracks,) one of them in a press half-way up the wall, the others wooden frames, on which are laid some shavings of wood, scantily covered with dirty rags. A man, two sons, and an adult daughter were lying side by side on the floor of the first room, their bedding of the same materials with the others, and the boys being destitute of shirts. Could imagination feign a combination of circumstances more horribly conducive to disease and immorality?

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