Cholera Amid The Bunting

Tuesday 4th September 1866 should have been a red-letter day for south Pembrokeshire. The railway linking Saundersfoot, Tenby and Pembroke Dock to the national rail network opened with great celebration: a special service carried the great and the good from Pembroke Dock to Whitland, welcomed by crowds thronging the platforms at Saundersfoot and Kilgetty stations to catch sight of the first train. In all ways this was good news for the local mining community.

The same day an event occurred just over a mile away near Hean Castle which took the gloss off these celebrations. For much of the summer the dead hand of cholera had inexorably made its way across the country. The death of John Thomas at Sardis Mountain after twelve hours’ suffering confirmed it had arrived.

No doubt memories of the disease’s previous visits to Pembrokeshire were vivid. Major epidemics had struck Wales in 1832 and 1849, the second of which caused such anxiety that people flocked to church and chapel in large numbers. Writing nearly four years later Rev. Thomas Ashford, minister of the local Zion and Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist chapels, recalled these increased attendances.

“The inhabitants were aroused out of their spiritual slumber, our places of worship were thronged, drunkards became sober, swearers began to pray, and many who had been halting between two opinions then gave themselves to the Lord and to his people. Thirty-five hopeful members were added to the church at Begelly and ten at Bethesda.”

In 1866 local newspapers had been both reporting the disease’s progress from London and Liverpool towards Pembrokeshire during the summer and including official recommendations as to preventative measures. Following John Snow’s work in London during the 1854 outbreak, one of these was to sterilize spring and stream water used for drinking and cooking, a good remedy which may well have reduced the number of deaths if it had been applied widely. That it was not resulted in at least eleven local deaths (shown in the following table) and more than 275 cases in the coalfield stretching from Saundersfoot to Lawrenny, very roughly five percent of the population.

Known local deaths from cholera during 1866 epidemic

Name

Residence

Death or burial date (D or B)

Age

John Thomas Sardis Mountain

4 Sept (D)

43

William Nash Begelly

6 Sept (D)

57

Philip Gunter Temple Bar

10 Sept (D)

43

Elizabeth Williams Sardis Mountain

10 Sept (B)

46

Margaret Hughes Thomas Chapel

12 Sept (D)

56

Ann Callen Sardis Mountain

14 Sept (B)

73

Mary Gunter Temple Bar

14 Sept (D)

10

Ann Williams Sardis Mountain

17 Sept (B)

20

Ann James Griffithston Hill

20 Sept (B)

7

Mary Williams Sardis Mountain

26 Sept (B)

11

George James Griffithston Hill

26 Sept (B)

26

Three mining families were hit hard by the visitation; in particular the Callen family of Sardis Mountain as not only did Ann Callen (widow of Joseph Callen) die but also her daughter, son in law and two grand-children.

This list is unlikely to be complete as new cases emerged in October as well, although by the end of that month the worst was over. Its range had been local  with few cases north of Narberth and seemingly none in Tenby. Indeed the Tenby Observer newspaper failed to record the outbreak at all, perhaps more concerned to keep such worrying news away from late summer visitors to the resort.

Sources

Death certificates, Begelly and St Issells parish burial registers & St Issells Burial Board register

Calvinistic Methodist Recorder journal, March 1853, article by Thomas Ashford

Note (23 July 2011)

There’s an interesting article discussing the main cholera epidemics in the county in  the recently-published 2011 edition of the Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society (Number 20)

“Cholera in Pembrokeshire in the nineteenth century”, Dr Ray Jones

Copies available from the Pembroke Bookshop

2 thoughts on “Cholera Amid The Bunting

  1. The cholera outbreak in 1866 was reported in the Pembrokeshire Herald of 21st September of that year, the tone of the report is matter ot fact and is not sympathetically aligned, the article is transcribed as follows:

    “Begelly ~ The outbreak of Cholera has prevailed very much in this and the surrounding neighbourhood this last fortnight. In Begelly parish there having been a great number of attacks,four have proved fatal.
    In Templeton also there has and still is a great number of cases, last week two proved fatal……As cleanliness and wholesome habitations are indispenably necessary all these are strictly scrutinised and where wanting the nuisances are ordered to be abated forthwith.
    Every facility is put within the reach of the poor to do so free of expense.There is lime and brushes supplied them in abundance; there is also medicine which is considered the best antidote against the disease,to be had at Begelly Rectory,at the Post Office Templeton and with the Guardians of the Poor in the respective parishes free of expense
    The medicine is prepared by Mr John Nicholas Dispensing Chemist Narberth and has proved most effective if taken in time”

    As will been seen from the article no victims are identified, this is most frustrating for historians.

  2. Hi, My great-great grandmother died in this cholera outbreak. I have her death certificate. She died on the sixth of September 1866. Her name was Martha Deveraux. She was 63. She was the wife of Thomas Deveraux of Roach.

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