Archiver > ENG-THAMESWATERMEN > 2004-01 > 1073943950

Subject: [ENG-THAMESWATERMEN] Re: Infant mortality in early 1800s
Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2004 16:45:50 EST

Hello Listers , Jeanette's comment on the burial rate of children at St
Nicholas prompted me to do a Google . The following webpage is well worth a visit
for anyone with an interest in the living conditions of their ancestors:


Just to give a little taste , here is an excerpt ( running through the 18th
century but which I think starts to answer Jeanette's query about the start of
the 19th century - St Nicholas seems fairly average for infant mortality ):


To judge from the Bills of Mortality, nearly 40 per cent of deaths in London
between 1700 and 1750, and about a third thereafter, were due to deaths among
children under two years old. Of every 1,000 children born in early
eighteenth-century London, over 350, perhaps 400, would be dead within two years, and
fully half of all London burials throughout the century were of children. These
heavy losses were not confined to the poor . In healthy Putney, Edward Gibbon
lost all six of his brothers and sisters in infancy. More accurate records
kept by the relatively prosperous and sober Quaker community suggest that infant
mortality was even higher than the Bills of Mortality imply. Quakers lost a
third of their children in their first year of life, nearly a half before they
were two, and about two-thirds before their fifth birthday, between 1700 and
1775. Significant improvement came only between 1775 and 1800, when 23% of
Quaker children died in their first year, and 47 per cent before they were five. In
Canada today, for comparison, the infant mortality rate is less than 6 per
thousand live births. In countries like Haiti the rate has fallen from 139 in
1978 to 68 in 1998.

The causes of this enormous infant death rate, and its late
eighteenth-century decline, are uncertain. The ‘searchers', whose diagnoses are recorded in the
Bills of Mortality, blamed about 12 per cent of infant deaths on 'teething',
and around 75 per cent on 'convulsions'. This was a popular catch-all
diagnosis which could cover the early stages of smallpox, and perhaps other childhood
diseases, including measles, scarlet fever diphtheria and whooping cough, as
well as the symptoms of gastritis, and infantile diarrhoea. Infants were
especially vulnerable to gastric disorders and it is significant that the old
description of these disorders, 'griping the guts', fell into disuse as the word
'convulsions' became more popular. Smallpox, one of the great eighteenth-century
killers, was mainly a disease of infants and children, and most adult
Londoners, unless they were migrants, had already had the disease. Well over 50 per
cent of Quakers who died of smallpox between 1650 and 1800 were under five, and
the disease did not often cause death among the over-thirties.

The plague was gone for good, but other infectious diseases seem to have
increased in intensity in the early eighteenth century, particularly smallpox,
typhus and tuberculosis ('consumption'), which probably accounted between them
for about 60 per cent of non-infant death.. Typhus appears, as 'fever' or
'spotted fever', in every year's Bills of Mortality constituting about 15% of
London's recorded deaths from 1700 to 1775, and 11.5% from 1775 to 1 800, and
smallpox was ever-present causing about 8 per cent of recorded deaths. From time to
time a particularly strong outbreak of one disease or another pushed mortality
to unusual heights. There was also a seasonal pattern of tuberculosis,
influenza and typhoid in the winter months when thick unwashed and louse ridden
clothing was worn day after day with dysentry and diarrhoea in the summer, when
flies transmitted bacteria from filth to food and water was at its most foul.

The death rate fell from 50 per 1,000 in the 1770s to 32 per 1,000 in the
early 1830s, but accurate figures are only available from the 1840s, after the
introduction of voluntary civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in
1837. Outbreaks of typhus, cholera, smallpox and influenza created
fluctuations in mortality figures, but in general London's annual death rate was around
24 per 1,000 people between 1840 and 1870, one or two deaths per 1,000 above
the national average, and below that of Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and most
of the great European cities. Its birth rate was near the national average of
35 per 1,000, giving London a 'natural' growth rate of over 1 per cent a year.
Between 1870 and 1901 London's mortality rate fell, in line with the national
trend, to 17.1 per 1,000, only a fraction above the English average, but
since its birth rate also fell to 29 per 1,000, its natural rate of growth
remained almost unchanged. For comparison, the current gross death rate in North
America is 8.6 per thousand.

The improvement in London's health was largely the result of the decline of
seven infectious diseases: whooping cough and scarlet fever (specialist killers
of young children), tuberculosis, typhoid, smallpox, typhus and cholera.
However, between 1850 and 1900 the infant mortality average in the United Kingdom
was still as high as 150 per thousand.

For more , visit the webpage - for more on cholera , Google gives oodles.
Best wishes to all Listers,
Robert Hillier

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