Family Lessons 28: Asiatic Cholera


My 5x great grandmother was one Christiana Nelson, born at Giggleswick in 1787. 63 years later, she contracted 'Asiatic Cholera' at Skerton, Lancaster, and was pronounced dead within 12 hours. The Victorians were understandably terrified of so lethal a disease, in much the same way as their late twentieth-century descendants regarded AIDS- dangerous, lethal and quite possibly the result of uncleanness or loose morals.

Edwin Chadwick published The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842), demonstrating that there was a direct link between poor living conditions, disease and life expectancy. This investigation inspired the Public Health Act of 1848 and the establishment of the General Board of Health, of which he was the first director. Although this was a year before my ancestor’s death, it was not able to reform the nation’s sanitation so quickly, and with its relatively poor understanding of contagions. I suspect that Grandmother Christiana drew little consolation from such a body as she lay there, discharging her vital fluids. 

The NHS website rather primly (though reassuringly) asserts:

Cholera is an infection that can cause severe diarrhoea. It's not found in the UK, but there's a very small risk of getting it while travelling in some parts of the world.

Chadwick and his later colleagues achieved their goal- but it was too late for old Christiana. One day, this world shall be relieved of its pain, chaos and iniquity. The Lord Jesus is resolved to return and finally set things aright. Though heaven prepares for its invasion of earth and individual believers are redeemed already, we continue to suffer and die in the meantime. Yet for the Christian, death is but the passageway leading to heaven; to the unbeliever, it is the stairway to an even worse version of this sick world.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess 5:23. 

This text makes for more joyful reading than poor Christiana's death certificate:

18 October 1849 Main Street, Skerton. Christiana Nelson, female 63 years, wife of Robert Nelson, cotton weaver, Asiatic Cholera 12 hours, certified, Robert Nelson Present at the death, Main Street, Skerton, 19 October 1849