London, Volume 6
CXL.-Bills of Mortality.
CXL.-Bills of Mortality.
In the week ending the , the number of deaths in the metropolis exceeded the average mortality by upwards of . There was ance a time when a fact like this would have produced a panic among the citizens, and have arrested the gaieties of the West End; for an increase in the fatality of ordinary diseases was generally regarded as a precursor of the Plague: but, excepting members of the medical profession, undertakers, and sextons (whom it must not be considered ungracious thus to link together), this increase of - in the number of deaths is unknown to nearly all the world besides --a sure sign of the little interest which it excites, when scarcely common gossip adopts it as a
It was with the view of communicating to the inhabitants of London, to the Court, and the constituted authorities of the City accurate information respecting the increase or decrease in the number of deaths, and the casualties of mortality occurring amongst them, that the Bills of Mortality were commenced. London was then seldom entirely free from the Plague, and the publication of the Bills was calculated to calm exaggerated rumours; and to warn those who could do so conveniently to leave London wvhenever the pestilence became more fatal than usual. The Bills were commenced in , during a time when the Plague was busy with its ravages, but they were not continued uninterruptedly until the occurrence of another Plague, in , from which period up to the present time they have been continued from week to week, excepting during the Great Fire, when the deaths of or weeks were given in Bill.
In , Captain John Graunt, a citizen of London, who appears to have lived in , published a work entitled'Natural and Political Observations
| on the
in which he gives an account of the manner in which they were prepared.
Maitland, in his
says that the Company of Parish Clerks was strictly enjoined by its charter to make report of all the weekly christenings and burials in their respective parishes, by o'clock on Tuesdays in the afternoon; but a bye-law was passed, changing the hour to o'clock, on the same day, in order, says Maitland,
About , the utility of the Bills having been generally recognised, the Company of Parish Clerks obtained a licence from the Star Chamber for keeping a printing-press in their Hall, for printing the Bills; and it was ordered that the masters and the warden of the Company should each of them have the keeping of a key of the press-room door. In there were editions of the Weekly Bills printed, with the casualties and diseases, and the other without. The former was a foreshadow of the newspaper of later times, which devotes a column instead of a line, to
and other casualties. Graunt says,
--he conceived that the wisdom of the City had designed them for other uses, and began to examine them; and the result was the work already mentioned, which is curious, and not without value as a step towards just conclusions. He had to combat some singular notions, , that the population of London was to be reckoned by millions;
He speaks of
and all this he was himself apt enough at time to believe,
--a notion about as reasonable as the idea which prevailed amongst intelligent persons years ago concerning the population of Nankin and some of the other cities of China. Turning to the Bills, he showed that if there were millions of inhabitants of London, the deaths being about , the proportion was only in , which common
|experience at once disproved; and as to the proportion of men and women, there were, he says, men to women; in which he was wrong on the other side, the number of females being always in the larger proportion; at the present time, for example, being about to . The population of London he reduced from millions, according to the popular notion, to , or males and females. The deaths were about in . In the parishes comprised within the Bills of Mortality included the parishes within the walls, parishes without the walls, and contiguous out-parishes in Middlesex and Surrey. In the city of was included in the Bills; in the parishes of , , Stepney, , Hackney, and Redriff. Other additions were made from time to time. At present the weekly Bills of Mortality include the parishes within the walls, parishes without the walls, out-parishes in Middlesex and Surrey, including the district churches, and parishes in the city and liberties of . The parishes of Marylebone and , with some others, which at the beginning of last century had only a population of persons, but now contain , were never included in the Bills.
The nosology of the old Bills of Mortality is not without interest as an index of the state of medical knowledge at the time when they were commenced. Some of the obsolete heads would puzzle a medical practitioner of the present day. In we have
deaths; in this instance the age of the deceased being substituted for the disease. By
was meant merely a child not yet a month old, the appellation being derived from the chrisom, or cloth anointed with holy unguent, which infants wore till they were christened. In the number entered under this head was only ; but as they decreased the number set down to convulsions increased, the name of the disease which carries off so many infants being at length substituted for the term indicative merely of age. In there were but
being the last time this entry appears; and
occurred for the last time in .
is another curious entry, under which we find deaths in , in , in , and in , after which it does not reappear, and soon afterwards
no longer occurs.
however (of which
was an abbreviation), occurs during the casualties for several years afterwards; and it is most likely that these appellations were bestowed on persons who wasted away without any very obvious cause. Dysentery, the disease of camps, and of those who live as if in camps, carried off its thousands annually in the crowded and dirty parts of old London; though it did not appear in the Bills under this name, but in more homely and expressive than delicate. Scarlet fever, the deaths in which amount at present to about a-year, is not found in the oll Bills till , when the number of deaths from it is stated to be only , and the next year only , the fact being that it was long confounded with measles, even by physicians. The old synonymes for water in the head (hydrocephalus) were
and both referred to changes produced by this disease in the shape of the head. In they very properly began to be classed together. The head
which was never omitted in the old Bills, has puzzled the medical historian; since the choking sensation in the throat (globus
| hystericus), to which it seems to bear the nearest affinity, is by no means--a fatal or even dangerous disease.
is used for phthisis or consumption. Graunt has some curious speculations on the introduction of the
for the time in . Some of the casualties recorded are not likely to recur amongst us. In there was
Graunt congratulates his fellow-citizens that
the number of entries which occur under the head
in the course of years being ; but then he seems to have exempted
Then again he observes that
The chief value of the Bills of Mortality for upwards of a century after their institution consisted, in the public estimation, of the warning which they afforded as to the existence or progress of the Plague, which during the Middle Ages and to the end of the century was at all times either an active agent in the work of destruction or apparently suspending its ravages only to recommence them with greater fury. Sir William Petty, in his
published in , says:
Again he remarks:
Within the years preceding the period when he wrote there had been great Plagues, namely, in , , , , and . In the last years the total number of deaths in London, from all diseases and from the Plague, was as follows:--
| years they were under ; in they rose to ; in they amounted to ; in to ; in to ; in to ; in to , diminishing after from to in the following year, and then only twice rising above in the interval between and . In there were deaths from the Plague, and in the following year only . Immediately followed the Great Plague, with its victims. With the exception of there were a few deaths from the disease in each year until . After this the heading
in the Bills up to inclusive was filled up by ed opposite.
The excessive mortality occasioned by the Plague must naturally have affected many interests, and have had a general influence on the ordinary course of life in those times. The supply and demand of labour, for instance, experienced its operation; but the equilibrium was soon restored. Graunt notices how quickly the greatest plagues of the City are repaired from the country. He estimated the yearly supply of strangers to London at , and shows how speedily the births rose to more than their ordinary height after the Plague. The years and , it will be recollected, were plague years; and it will be seen that years afterwards the christenings each time rose higher than the number in the year preceding the Plague.
The accounts of the havoc made by the spasmodic cholera in London in the year appear scarcely credible, although, according to the late Mr. Rickman (
), they are supported by circumstantial evidence which appears to be conclusive. The disease began its ravages in London early in November, and
that it soon became necessary to set apart fields for additional places of burial. The Lord Walter Manny at this time purchased acres and a rod of land, in which place, says the historian (Barnes's
printed in ), there were buried within year more than persons, besides those interred in churchyards, churches, and monasteries. Stow says that he had seen and read an inscription fixed on a stone-cross which attested that the number of burials was as above-mentioned.
We pass over the plagues of the and centuries, and those of , , and , already mentioned, until we come to the Great Plague of , the history of which has been made familiar to us by the vigorous and graphic pen of De Foe.[n.228.2] Notices of the approaching pestilence occur in Pepys's
Under the date of , he says:--
Ships from Holland were enjoined, by an Order in Council issued in , to perform a quarantine of days in Holehaven. Between the and , the Weekly Bill of Mortality gave intimation that person had died of the Plague in London. No other death from the same disease occurring until the week in February, not much alarm was excited. In the last week in deaths from the Plague were reported in the Bills, but in the following week there were none. In the week in May the return was deaths and parishes infected, but in the following week only persons died. The next weeks, from to , the numbers were , , and . At
Pepys found () all the news is
Early in June the weather was remarkably hot; the
and he adds:--
Under the influence of a hot and stagnant atmosphere the pestilence rapidly extended in the month of June, the number of deaths rising from to , and in the last week to . A general panic seized the inhabitants, especially those at the West End, the infection having spread from its centre in over the adjacent parishes. The nobility and gentry began to leave town, and the Court soon followed. The following entries are from Pepys: .--
The mortality was for some time confined chiefly to the poorer classes, the greater proportion of victims being children and females. On the a Court of Privy Council had been held at , when a Committee of the Lords was formed for
and, under their orders, directions drawn up by the were issued, which contained instructions for the treatment of the Plague, and for preventing infection, of which was as follows:--
and quacks of all kinds, were busy at work distributing their invitations for people to come to them for
advertised that he
Pepys tells us that
Many persons wore amulets; and others produced inflammation of the tonsils by keeping myrrh, angelica, ginger, and other hot spices in their mouths. By the end of July, however, so destructive had the ravages of the disease become, that the faith in quacks was pretty nigh extinguished. In the week the deaths were , and in the last they had risen to . The disease was at its height in St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, St. Andrew's, , Danes, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and in , in July. Then decreasing in these parishes, and travelling eastward, it raged in Cripplegate, St. Sepulchre's, St. James's Clerkenwell, and , and Aldersgate; while the City, , Stepney, Whitechapel, , , and Ratcliffe remained comparatively free. Early in July the City authorities, availing themselves of an Act of James I.,
established the following regulations. They divided the City into districts, and appointed surgeons, examiners, searchers, nurses, watchmen, and buryers in each, who were required to hold a red rod or wand of feet in length, open and evident to be seen, as they passed through the streets. They ordered that every house which the disease might enter should be marked by a red cross, a foot in length, painted on the door, with the words
placed above it. The house was then to be closed, and all egress prevented for the space of month. The order directed,
Many who were thus shut up, communicating infection to another, eluded the vigilance of the watchmen, or bribed them, and by their escape disseminated the contagion. Regulations were also issued for the speedy burial of the dead. In the daytime officers were appointed to remove the bodies of persons who died in the public streets. The dead-cart went its rounds during the night only, and the tinkling of a bell, and the cry of
intimated to the living the necessity of performing the last offices for their friends. At the end of alleys which the dead-cart could not enter, it remained, while the buryers, with links in their hands, carried forth the victims of the preceding hours. Uncoffined, unaccompanied by mourners, the corpses in the dead-cart were carried to a common grave capable of holding a large number of persons, and dug in the churchyard, or, when that was already full, a pit was dug in the outskirts of the parish. In the of a complaint is made that
| in some of these burial-places
None but the refuse of society could be procured to bury the dead. Besides the principal--pesthouses, in the fields beyond , removed in (the site of which was long afterwards indicated by a small street called Pest-house Row), and at in , there were other temporary ones in different parts of London; but they were not general receptacles for infected persons, but only for those who could pay for being allowed to remain.
Early in August the Plague began to make its way more rapidly in the City. In the same space of ground which now contains a population of , there were at this period nearly times that number crowded in narrow and badly ventilated streets. The general condition of the City, except in or great thoroughfares, resembled the worst-conditioned
of the present day. Less attention was paid to personal cleanliness, and refuse accumulated in the streets, and both the sewerage and the supply of water was defective. The poorer population might not be scantily fed, but their diet was less favourable to health and of a less wholesome variety than the same classes can now obtain. These were predisposing causes of the Plague. From the to the the deaths in the parishes, of all diseases, were only , but by the end of the month and the beginning of September the pestilence swept over the City with a fury which had not marked its visitations in the out-parishes. The general return of deaths in the weekly Bills rose from , for the week ending , to , in the week ending . From to the number of deaths from all causes was . The Rev. Thomas Vincent, in his tract entitled
gives a fearful picture of the rapid progress of the Plague in August and September.
Speaking of the month of September, Mr. Vincent says:--
Strong-minded men were bewildered amidst the harrowing scenes which surrounded them. Awful predictions and tales of supernatural calamities increased the horrors of the time. A sword of flame, stretching in the heavens from to the Tow-er, was seen by crowds; for disorders of the mind and morbid fancies follow in the train of a great pestilence. Fanatics walked through the streets denouncing the judgments of heaven on the inhabitants; bearing on his head a pan of burning coals; another proclaiming--
a constantly going about uttering as he past, in deep and solemn tones,
The ravings of the delirious, the paroxysms of persons struck with the Plague, the wailings of those who had lost all their relatives and friends, were common sights and sounds in the public streets.
On the the Lord Mayor issued a proclamation by the advice of the Duke of Albemarle and of the Aldermen, enjoining fires to be kindled in every street, court, and alley of London and , to purify the pestilential air;
| injunctions were followed, and the fires were lighted on the and kept burning until a heavy and continuous rain extinguished them. In the week ending there was a slight decrease in the number of deaths, but in the following week they were higher than they had yet been. Dr. Hodges, a physician practising at the time in London, who wrote a history of the Plague, entitled
states that on night of this week more than deaths occurred. The disease had now reached its point of culmination; and in the week following the deaths (from the Plague) diminished , or from to ; and for the remainder of the year they were, for each week, as follows :--Weeks ending , ; , ; , ; , ; , ; in the week ending , they rose again to , as many persons who had removed now returned, and there was less caution used in avoiding the contagion. In the following week the number declined to ; in the week ending , to ; , to ; and in the week of December they were only ; but in the weeks ending and they again rose to and But the citizens had now become reassured, and returned to their homes or resumed their wonted employments. The total deaths of the year were , of which were of the Plague; but most writers assert that the number was greater, as in the confusion and consternation which prevailed, and the frequent deaths of clerks and sextons by whom the returns were made, an exact account could not be kept. Evelyn, Pepys, and a few other writers give us a picture of the external appearance of London during this period of desolation. Several houses were shut up, the inhabitants of which had either died or fled into the country. Many servants were left homeless, and artisans and labourers were deprived of employment. Some found employment as nurses, watchmen, and in the performance of other duties created by the necessities of the time. Charity was dispensed with a free hand, the King giving a-week; the City ; and the Archbishop of Canterbury and others were free with their bounty. The markets, throughout all the time of the Plague, were supplied, through the exertions of the City authorities, much better than could have been expected. The west-end of the town was the to be deserted, and, , Pepys, returning from , which was
St. Bartholomew's fair was forbidden in August. The Courts of Law were adjourned to Oxford in October; and Court was removed to Nonsuch, in Surrey, about the middle of August. , when the Plague was at its height in the City, Evelyn says,
Pepys visited the Exchange, which he wondered to see so full,
, Pepys has an entry as follows:--
Many of the churches were forsaken by the parochial clergy, and their pulpits were frequently occupied by those ejected by the Act of Uniformity. , Pepys and his wife went, for the time after the Plague, to their church in St. Olave, , where the clergyman, who had been the to leave and the last to return to the parish,
The Archbishop of Canterbury remained at his post. By the end of November, according to Pepys, the York waggon recommenced its journeys to London, after having discontinued travelling for several months. Early in December the town began to fill, so much so that Pepys feared it would cause the Plague to increase again. On the he writes that the shops begin to be open. The West End still continued comparatively empty; and on the Pepys observes-
Again we quote Pepys, who, under date , writes-
Early in February the Court returned to , which tended greatly to the revival of confidence, and
according to Clarendon, who adds, that
It is evident that the apprehension or existence of the Plague conferred upon the Bills of Mortality their chief value and interest. The Lord Mayor every week transmitted a copy to the Court; and on of his visits to Pepys says, the Duke of Albemarle
The reports are still professed to be made weekly
They profess, moreover, to report the christenings and burials at the parish churches within the City of London and Bills of Mortality; that is, to have any utility at all, they should give the weekly and annual number of births and deaths (marriages they have never pretended to give) in a population of about , a contribution to statistical knowledge much to be valued. Not less important is it to ascertain the
in the population of the metropolis, and the ages
In the year , then, it would appear at the glance that, in a population of , there occurred births, and the average duration of life for each person should be above years to keep the population at its present height; but as we find in the Bills, that of those born nearly - are cut off before they attain the age of , what must be the average age necessary to keep a population of from declining, making ample allowance for immigration? Once upon a time the deaths in the City population were about in , but now, apparently at least, they are not in , a great extension of human life from an average duration of years to above a century! Nosology is a branch of medical knowledge which has been greatly improved within the last few years; but out of deaths, only are assigned to the heads of disease which have a place in the Bills, and are attributed to the vague term
We have stated that the deaths in the week ending the amounted to upwards of above the
| average mortality; but the
issued by the printer
and applying to a population of , instead of , gives us the comfortable assurance that
and this is the report made to the Queen's Majesty and the Lord Mayor. Now, without being unduly censorious, we may be allowed to express regret that an institution which once justly claimed respect and gratitude should not at once have been put an end to when its functions ceased to be useful and its authority was no longer entitled to respect. The Bills of Mortality are now utterly valueless. In they reported deaths, and in only , while the population had been constantly increasing at a rapid rate. In , out of deaths, the causes of decease were returned as unknown in cases, or in ; and in , out of deaths, are returned in which the cause of decease was unknown, or less than I in . The Company of Parish Clerks might at least have expected to have been supplied with the returns of mortality from the clerks of the metropolitan churches; but this is not the case. The parish of , , ceased to make returns in ; and in the parishes of All Saints, Poplar, and , , followed its example; and in the clerks of St. Bartholomew the Less and , , became defaulters. The fact is, that instead of deaths being reported annually, there should be about . Besides the contumacious parishes which refuse to contribute to the formation of correct Bills of Mortality for the metropolis, there are no means by which the Parish Clerks' Company can procure returns of the burials in cemeteries and in the places of interment belonging to dissenters; and the defects from this cause, in Maitland's time, now above a century since, exceeded a-year.
As we would speak with real respect of the past exertions of those who for above centuries have had the preparation of the Bills of Mortality, so we may be allowed to compare the issued weekly from the office of the Registrar-General at with the old
still issued by the parish clerks. The new system of registration commenced , and under the Act for establishing it the registration of all births, marriages, and deaths became compulsory. In the case of deaths the funeral ceremony cannot be performed unless the clergyman or minister has received a certificate from the district registrar stating that proper information has been given respecting the person who has died, the age, and the cause of decease. Thus the
cannot be rendered defective by contumacious parish clerks, nor by the interment of dissenters in burial-grounds attached to their meeting-houses: the inference is, that it is as perfectly accurate as it is possible to be--a reality and not a sham. The Registration Act has necessarily put to the rout those ancient matrons called
who until within the last halfdozen years were accustomed to go, as in Graunt's time, to inspect the bodies of deceased persons for the purpose of enabling the Parish Clerks' Company to compile their weekly and annual medical statistics. At the foot of the Bill of Mortality for there was a notice to the following effect :--
they were added to the
In the Bill for , as already noticed, the difficulty here spoken of has increased. The only
therefore is that prepared at the RegistrarGeneral's office. The of these Weekly Bills was commenced , and the series has been continued from that time without interruption. The total number of deaths in the week, in a population of , ranges from to upwards of . The registrars who officiate within the districts which comprise this population amount altogether to . They are supplied with blank forms, in which they are required at the termination of the week to copy from the register-books the age and cause of death in every entry which has been made during the week. The forms are then immediately forwarded to the office of the Registrar-General. Notes are here taken of any extraordinary forms of disease, and of all cases in which the circumstances attending death appear to be of a remarkable character. The department of Vital Statistics is superintended by Mr. Farr, whose valuable reports are well known. The deaths are next carefully counted, noticing the distinction of sex, and the numbers are then entered in a book opposite the several districts in which they occurred. The ages and diseases are now transferred by means of to a printed and ruled sheet prepared for the purpose, and which contains entries of distinct diseases and casualties. The very valuable articles on
in the Annual Report of the Registrar-General, and the
in the Report, have been printed separately, and copies sent to all the registrars in England and Wales. They show the principle on which the innumerable varieties of disease are classified, and are calculated to render the returns more accurate. The weekly
shows the number of deaths under each of ninetyfour heads, and to a certain extent distinguishes the ages by a comprehensive classification, as
&c., the minuter specification of ages being given in the
which instead of being a demy halfsheet is a tolerably sized volume. We annex an of the
to which we have added an additional column showing the number of deaths in year:--
The and columns present the weekly average for and for , namely, ----, comprising, with the exception of the present year, and the latter half of , the whole period during which the Registration Act has been in operation. We are thus furnished with a standard by which the rise or fall of mortality from any disease (it must be recollected that we only present an of different heads) may be detected at a glance.
In fixing the limits of the metropolitan registration district the Registrar-General determined to apply the term metropolis in the most extensive sense of which it was susceptible, including every Superintendent-Registrar's district into which the suburbs extended continuously, and which, with the exception of inconsiderable portions, assumed throughout the character of town. At the office there is a map of the metropolis, in which the boundaries of the Superintendent-Registrars' districts and those of the Registrars' districts, into which the former are subdivided, are accurately traced. We are informed that Wandsworth and Clapham will next year be added, as a district. The following is a rough classification of the metropolitan district into great divisions, with the population and number of deaths in each, for the week ending .
This is scarcely the place even to glance at the advantages of an accurate registration of the most important events of existence,--birth, marriage, and death. If it shows that in such a district as Whitechapel the deaths of females are annually in , and in other districts of the metropolis in , or not onehalf so many; if it points out that the average age at which the largest class of persons die is in district years only, while the whole of another class in the same district attain the average age of , surely it will cause a mighty effort to be made to elevate those who are depressed by moral and physical evils, the causes of which are to a considerable extent remediable.
The remarkable accuracy of the Mortality Tables of the Registration Office is shown by the fact that in the we have abstracted only cases occur in which the causes of deaths are not specified, that is in . In the old Bill for the same week the number of unspecified cases is out of , or more than in . In compiling the New Table, it is in some instances found impossible, in consequence of the death or dismissal of a registrar, to obtain a return from the district in which he served until his successor has been appointed. In this event, which is of rare occurrence, it is usual to substitute an average (say or ) calculated on a few weeks preceding, and to explain the circumstance in a marginal note. Or it happens that the coroner, who is required by a provision of the Act to give information in all cases in which inquests have been held, fails to transmit his returns to the registrars within his bounds until the end of the quarter. But these are the only irregularities which are incidental to the preparation of these Bills; and fortunately they are inconsiderable in extent, unimportant as affecting the weekly results, and, moreover, are of such a nature as to admit of correction in the general summary of the Bills drawn up at the end of the year.
The engravings used as the head and tail pieces in the present number are taken from that fine series of compositions, improperly attributed to Holbein, called
and also the
&c. Of this
there were many representations, as Douce tells us, in his work on this subject,
Paintings of the
or Dance of Machabree, as it was sometimes called, constituted a popular picture gallery of the Middle Ages. There was in the cloisters of , which is said by Stow to have been executed at the cost of Jenkin Carpenter, who lived in the reign of Henry VI. It was commonly called the
and was destroyed by the Protector Somerset, who took down the cloisters as described in vol. iv. p. . Dugdale says that the painting at was in imitation of that in the cloisters of the Church of the Innocents at Paris. A painting of a Death'sDance, in the church of Stratford-on-Avon, probably suggested more than : passage in Shakspere. The poem on this subject by Lydgate, the monk of St.. Edmund's Bury, who lived in the half of the century, was doubtless. a welcome addition to the popular literature of England. It was entitled
and at the end it is said to be translated from the French,--
From the number of characters introduced and the dialogues between each of them and Death, the poem has all the interest of a drama:
The characters introduced are the
| Pope, Emperor, Cardinal, King, Patriarch, Constable, Archbishop, Baron, Princess, Bishop, Squire, Abbot, Abbess, Bayly, Astronomer, Burgess, Councillor, Merchant, Chartreux, Sergeant, Monk, Usurer, Physician, Amorous Squire, Gentlewoman, Man of Law, Parson, Juror, Minstrel, Labourer, Friar, Child, Young Clerk, Hermit. The head
or other character, is repeated throughout, and also the words--
The verses are simple, and not without touches of natural feeling coupled with impressive truths delivered in homely but striking language. They could not fail, as well as the paintings to which they referred, to make a deep impression on the popular imagination. We give verse of Lydgate's, in which, after Death has spoken to the Child, bidding it join the solemn dance-
[n.228.1] Companion to the British Almanac for 1835, p. 28, on the Bills of Mortality.
[n.228.2] In most mriodern editions of De Foe's work it is called the History of the Great Plague; in Mr. Brayley's excellent edition the title is properly given, A Journal of the Plague Year.