TO THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES GRAHAM, BART,

HER MAJESTY’S PRINCIPAL SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT

Poor Law Commission Office, Somerset House, 9th July, 1842.

SIR,

On the 14th May, 1838, the Poor Law Commissioners presented to Lord John Russell a report “relative to certain charges which have been disallowed by the auditors of unions in England and Wales;” together with two supplementary reports; one a “Report on the prevalence of certain Physical Causes of Fever in the Metropolis, which might be removed by proper sanitary measures, by Neil Arnott, M.D., and James Phillips Kay, M.D. ;” the other a “Report on some of the Physical Causes of Sickness and Mortality to which the Poor are peculiarly exposed, and which are capable of removal by Sanitary Regulations exemplified in the present condition of the Bethnal Green and Whitechapel Districts, as ascertained on a personal inspection by Southwood Smith, M.D., Physician to the London Fever Hospital.” (See Fourth Annual Report, App. A, No. 1.)

On the 29th April, 1839, the Commissioners received from Dr. Southwood Smith a “Report on the prevalence of Fever in Twenty Metropolitan Unions or Parishes during the year ended the 20th March, 1838,” which they appended to their Fifth Annual Report. (App. C, No. 2.)

In August, 1839, Lord John Russell addressed the following letter to the Commissioners

Whitehall, August  21, 1839.

GENTLEMEN,

“THE Queen having been pleased to comply with the prayer of an humble address presented to her Majesty, in pur­suance of an order of the House of Lords, dated 10th August, 1839, that Her Majesty will be pleased to cause inquiry to be made as to the extent to which the causes of disease stated in the Appendix A, No. 1, of the Poor Law Commissioners’ Fourth Annual Report, and Appendix C, No. 2, of their Fifth Annual Report, to prevail amongst the labouring classes in the metropolis, prevail also amongst the labouring classes in other parts of England and Wales, and that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause the results of such inquiry to be communicated to the House,’—I have to desire that you will cause inquiry to be made accordingly, and that you will prepare a report upon the result of such inquiry, and transmit the same to me, in order that it may be laid before the House of Lords.

I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant.

J. RUSSELL.

With the view of making the inquiry directed by Lord John Russell’s letter, we addressed, in the month of November following, an instruction to our Assistant Commissioners to report, upon such parts of the subject as were likely to come under their observation. We likewise addressed letters to the several Boards of Guardians of Unions in England and Wales, and their respective medical officers, requesting them to furnish us with information in answer to certain queries. (App. Nos. 1, 2, and 3.)

The steps which we thus took for conducting the inquiry which we were instructed to make have produced a large body of information, from which we have selected for our present Report that portion which seemed to us most important to the public, and most worthy of consideration by Her Majesty’s Government.

From the reports transmitted to us by our Assistant Commissioners we subjoin a report from. Mr. Gilbert on the sanitary condition of the labouring population in Devon and Cornwall:the reports from Mr. Mott and Mr. Power with relation to the sanitary condition of the population of Manchester and the adjacent manufacturing districts, which will be found to be corroborative of the reports of Dr. Baron Howard and Dr. Duncan: one from Mr. Twisleton with relation to the sanitary condition of the population of Norfolk and Suffolk: one from Mr. Tufnell with relation to the sanitary condition of the labouring population of Kent and Sussex: a report from Mr. Parker on the sanitary state of the labouring population in the counties of Berks, Bucks, and Oxford: one from Mr. Weale on cottage accommodation in the counties of Bedford, Northampton,. and Stafford,a report from Mr. Senior on the sanitary condition of the labouring population in the counties of Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, and. Rutland: one from Sir Edmund Head on the dwellings of the labouring classes, and on the means of procuring better cottage accommodation in the counties of Gloucester, Hereford, Monmouth, Salop, Worcester, Brecknock, and Radnor; three reports from Sir John Walsham on the condition of the dwellings of the labouring population in Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland, and Cumberland; and a communication from Mr. Day on the cost of erection, repairs, and rents of labourers’ cottages in Salop, Cheshire, and North Wales.

We have likewise received several valuable reports upon towns and districts in England from medical men resident upon the spot.

We have obtained a report from Mr. Hodgson and a committee of medical gentlemen of Birmingham on the sanitary condition of the labouring population in that town.

We also append a report on the sanitary condition of the dwellings of the labouring classes, &c., in Manchester, which we have obtained from Dr. Baron Howard, physician to the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary of that town:

  • Also, one on the condition of the labouring population in Liverpool, from Dr. Duncan
  • One on the condition of the labouring population in Derby, from Dr. Baker :
  • One on the condition of the labouring population of Truro, from Dr. Barham :
  • One on the condition of the labouring population of Brighton, from Dr. Jenks.
  • One on the sanitary condition of the labouring population in the town of Wolverhampton, by Dr. Dehane.
  • One on the prevalence of fever in the parish of Breadsall, Derbyshire, by Dr. Kennedy and Mr. Senior.
  • One on the sanitary state of the town of Stafford, by Dr. Edward Knight.
  • One on an improved description of cottage tenements for the labouring classes, by Mr. Edmund Ashworth.
  • One on the sanitary condition of the town of Lancaster, Dr. de Vitrie.
  • One on the sanitary condition of the town of Leeds, by Mr. Robert Baker.

The detailed statements which we received from the Boards of Guardians, and the Union medical officers, were too voluminous for insertion at length in the present Report; but we have caused them to be carefully examined, and some of the most important results which they contained have been extracted in the manner which we shall presently explain.

It will be observed that the inquiry which we were directed by Lord John Russell to make, in accordance with the address of the House of Lords, was limited to England and Wales. Subsequently, however, we received instructions from the Marquis of Normanby, dated 28th January, 1840, directing us to extend our inquiries to the causes of disease and destitution amongst the working classes in Scotland.

On the receipt of these instructions, we caused a circular letter to the medical practitioners to be sent to the provosts of all the Scotch burghs, with a request that they would put us in communication with the officers of the medical charities and establishments within their jurisdiction. In the same letter we stated fully the objects of the inquiry, and requested to be informed as to the general state of the main sewers, drainage, &c., of the several towns. (Appendix, Nos. 4 and 5.)

In Scotland, with a few exceptions, none of the medical profession are engaged in the public service as medical officers; and we were therefore compelled to rely on the exertions of the private medical practitioners, from whom we received extensive, zealous, and efficient aid. The President of the College of Surgeons of Edinburgh communicated to us a resolution passed by that body, recommending that all members and licentiates of the college should give every aid in their power to the inquiry into the sanitary condition of the poor. We directed additional queries to be issued to the members of the college, from some of whom we received information similar to that obtained from the medical officers in England.

With respect to the sanitary state of towns and districts in Scotland, we subjoin the following reports from medical gentlemen :—

  • A report from Dr. Arnett upon Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • One report from Dr. Scott Alison on the sanitary condition of the colliery population of Tranent, and the adjacent districts :
  • One report on the condition of the labouring population of Musselburgh from Mr. Stevenson, surgeon :
  • One report on the condition of the labouring population of Ayr from Dr. Sym:
  • One on the condition of the labouring population, Stirling, from Mr. W. H. Forrest, surgeon
  • One on the condition of the labouring population in Dum­fries, from Dr. M‘Lellan:
  • One on the sanitary condition of the poor of Aberdeen, by Drs. Kilgour and Galen
  • One on the sanitary condition of the town of Lanark, by Mr. John Gibson, surgeon :
  • One on the sanitary condition of the city of St. Andrews, by Mr. Adamson, surgeon :
  • One on the sanitary state of the town of Greenock, by Dr. Laurie ;
  • One on the sanitary condition of Tain and Easter Ross, by Mr. James Cameron, surgeon.

We have likewise received a report on the sanitary condition of the labouring population in Inverness, from Mr. Anderson, solicitor; and one on the sanitary condition of the Old Town of Edinburgh, by Mr. William Chambers.

As our inquiries led us to believe that considerable doubt exists as to the provisions of the existing law of Scotland upon matters concerning the public health, and as there is not in Scotland any local administrative machinery similar to that of the English unions which can exercise a superintendence over the health of the working classes, we obtained the services of Mr. J. H. Burton, advocate of Edinburgh, to report on the legal provisions existing in that city and in other parts of Scotland, and on the additional legislative measures which appeared, front the reports of the medical gentlemen, to be expedient for the improvement of the sanitary condition of the population of that part of the empire.

We also obtained the services of Mr. Charles R. Baird, of Glasgow, writer to the signet, who was pointed out to our notice by the circumstance of his having paid much attention to the condition of the labouring population of that city to report on the powers with which the local authorities are at present invested by law, and the additional powers they may need for the protection of the health of the inhabitants.

It will be observed that the letter of Lord John Russell, in accordance with the address of the House of Lords to Her Majesty, merely directed us to make inquiry as to the extent to which the causes of disease, stated in the Reports of Drs. Arnott and Kay, and of Dr. Southwood Smith, to prevail amongst the labouring classes of the metropolis, prevail also amongst the labouring classes in other parts of England and Wales, and to transmit the results of that inquiry to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. We should, therefore, have complied with the letter of our instructions if we had merely laid before you the information which we have collected in answer to the inquiries which we circulated. It appeared to us, however, that so large a mass of miscellaneous evidence would not be likely to convey a distinct view of the subject of inquiry if we presented it in an undigested form to Her Majesty’s Government; and we, therefore, requested our secretary, Mr. Chadwick, to peruse the information which we had received, (including the returns from the boards of guardians and union medical officers,) and, by comparing the different statements with such authentic facts bearing upon the question as he might collect from other sources, to frame a report which should exhibit the principal results of the inquiry which we were instructed to conduct. We subjoin the Report which Mr. Chadwick has prepared in accordance with this request ; and we present to you this, and the other accompanying documents, in the full assurance that, as they contain matters seriously concerning the welfare of the community in general, and particularly of the working classes, they will receive the attentive consideration of Her Majesty’s Government.

We have the honour to be, Sir,

Your very faithful and obedient Servants,

GEORGE NICHOLLS,

GEORGE CORNEWALL LEWIS,

EDMUND ‘WALKER HEAD.

The full report is available here but it is reproduced as pictures, not text.

The Contents of the report (work in progress)

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