I’ve mentioned that I’ve been researching my family tree, and a few days ago I was looking for details of one of my ancestors who lived in what was then a small village just outside Norwich. Looking on the parish records not only did I find the entry for his burial, but then noticed that the rector at that time had begun noting down what each person had died of. It was by no means complete, though, because he had added these notes for a year or so and then just stopped. Whether he’d got fed up with it or been told to stop for some reason, I obviously have no idea. But as I glanced through them, I became fascinated by them. I felt they left quite a lot of information about the place and time (rural England in the 1850’s) and thought a bit of it worth sharing.
My ancestor was on page 5 of these records, and the burials had all been conducted by the same rector from the first entry on page one. He added these notes from entry number two, through to twenty nine, then again for number thirty three, and then stopped. This is a summary of the relevant entries:
1 Male 5 weeks Dec 1851
2 Male 44 Dec 1851 paralysis
3 Male 14 Jan 1852 consumption
4 Male 53 Jan 1852 consumption
5 Male 6 Jan 1852 scarlet fever
6 Male 3 Jan 1852 scarlet fever
7 Female 17 Feb 1852 typhus fever
8 Male 33 Feb 1852 consumption
9 Female 3¾ Jan 1852 scarlet fever
10 Male 53 Feb 1852 liver complaints. Publican.
11 Male 61 Mar 1852 paralysis, consumption
12 Male 19 Mar 1852 consumption 2½ years
13 Female 62 Apr 1852 cancer
14 Female 78 May 1852 old age
15 Male 33 Apr 1852 consumption
16 Male 55 May 1852 decline and heart disease
17 Female 69 Aug 1852 old age
18 Female 5 Aug 1852 inflammation of bowels
19 Female 13 Aug 1852 typhus fever
20 female 21 Aug 1852 consumption
21 Female 76 Aug 1852 coroner’s inquest. Verdict died by visitation of God
22 Male 63 Sep 1852 coroner’s inquest. Verdict died from injury in the head caused by fall
23 Female 71 Feb 1853 paralytic stroke and old age
24 Male 49 Apr 1853 labourer. Decline
25 Female 71 Feb 1853 coroner’s inquest. died by visitation of God, She dropped down dead when in perfect health
26 Male 85 Apr 1853 labourer. Paralysis
27 Male infant May 1853 jaundice
28 Female 64 Jun 1853 drowned herself in 11 inches of water. Morbid religious depression. A dissenter. Verdict temp insanity
29 Female infant Jun 1853 thrush
After this there are no further comments from the rector, other than:
33 Male 72 Sep 1853 disease of heart
There is quite a lot that is of interest here, and just from a statistical point of view we can see that nine of the burials were children under sixteen – just under a third of the total. Of those six were five or under. Lots of children died in those days. Yet somewhat surprisingly, fourteen of them – roughly half – were over fifty, with four in their seventies and one of eighty five. A very good age for the time. There doesn’t seem much difference in the average ages males and females lived to, although this is a tiny sample, of course. All the rural poor had tough lives, both male and female, which brings us to the comments added by the rector.
Number twenty six really caught my eye. Male, aged 85, a labourer, died of what the rector calls paralysis. No old age pension for them, they worked until they dropped. Number twenty four is also described as a labourer. Obviously the rector felt it worth mentioning, although why just those two, who knows?
Then we have the common diseases we’ve pretty well consigned to the past, now. Scarlet fever. Typhoid. Consumption – properly called tuberculosis. They killed frequently, especially the young.
And when the cause of death couldn’t be determined, even by inquest? ‘Visitation of God’. Although why those ones weren’t just put down to old age I can’t imagine. Unless somebody saw something…
Two more comments I have to mention, though. Number ten, male, age 53, died of liver complaints. The rector had to mention he was a publican, of course.
And then there is number twenty eight. Female, aged 64, drowned herself in 11 inches of water. Morbid religious depression. A dissenter. Verdict temp insanity. The rector belonged to the Church of England, and I’m sure he relished the suggestion that dissenters were mad. All the different denominations of the church seem to regularly go to war with the others, which, if you fancy a bit of a giggle, I satirised here some while ago.