Cholera in Walsall in 1832. From the Narrative of the Eventful Life of Thomas Jackson (1847)

I pass over a gloomy lapse into the year 1832. That memorable year. It is well remembered by me, for the sufferings I had to endure in the very heart of it. It will be remembered, too, by all, as a matter of history. I allude to the period when this country, and especially this district, was afflicted with that awful visitation the Asiatic or spasmodic cholera. The town and neighbourhood of Bilston were first attacked by the epidemic, in all its virulence, carrying off, at one deadly sweep, more than six hundred of the inhabitants, in less than three weeks; meanwhile it was also finding its way to Walsall; and, as was thought by the medical gentlemen, by way of the canal, direct from Bilston.

Their opinion seemed to be borne out by the facts that followed, leaving no doubt that the dire disease had been attracted by the water. The first victim that perished by it, in Walsall, was a man who lodged in a house on the bank of the canal terminus; he was well and dead in twenty four hours. Another man working in a boat shared the same fate. The whole neighbourhood, that stood within the breeze of wind from this part of the canal, became immediately infected with the disease.

My dwelling stood in the midst; and not more than forty yards from the water. I saw a young man at work on the canal side, who was there taken ill; he went home sick - took the disease with him, gave it his wife, and in two days they died. The whole neighbourhood had it in their houses. From the sickening and agonising pains in the stomach and bowels, with the torturing cramp in the limbs, life, in the strongest men, seldom held out more than thirty hours. So terrifying was the number of deaths, daily, that no one cared to put them into their coffins; neither could bearers be obtained, to carry the dead to be buried; so that a man was employed by the authorities, with an old hearse and one horse, to go round the neighbourhood, from house to house, twice a day, to carry off each corpse as soon as possible.

The disease had been making havoc three or four days before it seized upon me. I was in hopes we should have escaped; but, no, it was written in the lot. My wife and I were sitting at breakfast with open doors, it being very hot, in the month (about the 4th) of August. I was suddenly seized with dimness of sight and giddiness in the head. It was the epidemic. I got up and staggered to the door for air, but was forced to hold myself by the wall. My wife, alarmed, advised me to try to go to the doctor who lived just below. With much difficulty I did stagger there. I found his surgery crammed full of applicants, craving help for their dying friends at home. He looked me in the face and saw what I wanted. He then made me drink a draught of about two ounces of something, bidding me go to bed immediately. I staggered home again; my wife got me to bed. On telling her of the draught, she became more alarmed, knowing that many around us who had had these draughts went to sleep under its potency, but never awoke again. I had to take my chance of that.

The power of the medicine soon threw me into a lethargy or stupor; yet I had about me some sense of understanding. As I lay upon my back, my stomach and breast seemed ready to burst with fullness; heaving and falling at long intervals, similar to the stroke of immense bellows. In this state I lay in agonizing pain till afternoon. My finger and toe nails turned black as ink. The doctor had just got time to run up to see me. He had a peculiar method of treating his cholera patients, by which he saved many. It was by stripping the body, laying it naked on the floor, and dashing two or three buckets of cold water over it; then put them to bed in the blankets, with medicine and so forth.

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