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From: "" <>
Subject: Re: [CHS] cause of death
Date: Sat, 9 May 2009 09:34:12 +0100 (GMT+01:00)


It wasn't just workhouse inmates either Ian; my 3 X great grandfather's cause
of death at 75 years of age was given as "decay of nature" in 1839 and he was
a reasonably wealthy innkeeper. Six years later in 1845 his widows cause of
death was also "decay of nature" at 79 years; this was not certified and no
medical attendant was present so it sounds to me as if they just didn't know -
the same registrar recorded both cases. This was a long time before 1895 but
things obviously hadn't moved on much in fifty years.

Regards - Joan

----Original Message----
From:
Date: 08/05/2009 16:22
To: "Cheshire"<>, "Fred Waring"<.
net>
Subj: Re: [CHS] cause of death

I think the answer to your question, Fred, is cultural rather than medical.
The cause of death, I would suggest, says more about her status than her
health. You need to appreciate that in 1895 the state of medical knowledge was
still primitive. Some older practitioners, for example, were still unconvinced
by germ theory. Also, this wasn’t a daughter of Queen Victoria, it was a poor
unfortunate inmate of the Workhouse. It's likely there would have been little
concern about her death and less about the cause of it, especially if she had
been in decline, as seems to have been the case.

“Decay of nature” sounds like a suitably vague, all-encompassing phrase to
enter on a form and close the matter. The Registrar was hardly likely to
respond to the Workhouse Master, “Hold on, you can’t just say ‘decay of nature’
like that. Has there been a post mortem? I need to know how this lady
actually died. Go back and find out what it really was she died of.” They
both probably regarded it as an entirely adequate description of the decline
into death of a workhouse inmate. Neither could have had the faintest inkling
that what they were recording would be scrutinised 114 years later, in the
light of more than a century of medical progress and social enlightenment.

In 1767 & 8 the burial register at Leeds commonly included the cause of death,
and these included: teeth, palsy, swelling, wearing, suddenly, apoplexy,
decline, mortification and fits. These could relate to a multitude of medical
conditions, known or unknown at the time. Significantly, the vicar didn’t
bother to record any cause at all if the person had died in the workhouse.
Things had certainly moved on by 1895, but not necessarily by a huge amount.

Ian Cameron





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