Source 9

Extracts from a newspaper, the Chatham News, dated 10 November 1866, about an inquest held into a death caused by cholera near the Brook, (the renamed Old River Bourne), close to the River Medway in the Kent town of Chatham. Catalogue ref: MH13/47. 

A Coroner’s Jury, after a careful investigation have pronounced that one victim of cholera has perished from the use of bad water on the Brook. Though not in the verdict, it logically follows that the opinion of the jury, was that the victim’s little brother also perished from the same exciting cause, and that the other persons who have recently died on the Brook from cholera became susceptible to the choleraic poison which exists in this country from having drank impure water. A consideration of Mr. Ely’s evidence, on which the jury gave their verdict, leads to this conclusion. That gentlemen, who has been most unjustly assailed for merely doing his duty, said the children were not attacked till the family, from an accidental circumstance, had to drink water from the north side of the Brook—till they were attacked, he had no cholera cases on the side of the Brook where they lived. On the north side of the Brook there have been a number of fatal cases of cholera—when Mr. Nye’s family were compelled to drink water from the north side, two children died from cholera, and a third was attacked with choleriac diarrhoea: the conclusion was obvious—that bad water was the exciting cause of the fatal outbreak. That Mr. Nye’s children died from cholera, was the unanimous opinion of a number of surgeons—military, naval, and civil—who were at the inquest, also that the exciting cause was the consumption of impure water. The verdict of the jury—men of independent spirit, who judged only from the sworn testimony before them, not from fluctuating gossip—was sufficiently empathic—“Death from cholera, arising from the use of impure water”. Nothing could be more distinct than that. 

Now that the necessity for closing polluted sources of water has at length been tardily recognised by the authorities of Chatham, we trust that the action that has inaugurated by an order of the Board of Health for the closure of the wells on the Brook, will not cease until the whole of the foul surface wells of these towns are filled in, covered, and their mission of mischief ended, 


Chatham Dockyard, 2nd November, 1866 

My Dear Mr Ely [Medical Officer] 

With Redman’s assistance I have made a partial analysis of the water of a well from the Brook near that shut up; I send you result. You see it has many of the characteristics of the other surface wells about here—large amount of solid impurity and of chlorides, excess of organic and volatile matter, and the latter contamination and its partial and imperfect oxidation; the water, however, show an unusual amount of the ordinary impurities shows traces of ammonia. Does the graveyard on the slope of the hill contribute anything to these? 

None of these shallow wells drawing their supply of water from a surface soil that is honeycombed in all directions with cesspools are to be used with safety; they differ in degrees of foulness, but their closure entirely would be a wholesome sanitary regulation, especially in a crowded neighbourhood where a single infected cesspool draining into a well might convey typhoid fever, or cholera, or any other of the diseases connected with depraved water supply to the whole community.  

Yours very truly,  


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[Mr. Ely was the Medical Officer for the Medway Union who gave evidence at the inquest and Henry Hadlow was Assistant Surgeon at Chatham Dockyard whose letter to Mr. Ely was read to the jury at the inquest and is included here]. 

  1. Why has this inquest been held? 
  2. What were the conclusions of the inquest? 
  3. Does this article suggest any difference in understanding about the origins of cholera from the first outbreak in 1831-2? Give your reasons. 
  4. What does the article infer about the relationship between the Chatham authorities and the General Board of Health? 
  5. Why is Henry Hadlow’s letter important evidence for understanding the spread of cholera?