On the evening of Friday 6th of January, 1832, two sailors came to Doncaster, one aged 30, and the other aged 20. They stayed for the night at Flintham’s lodging house in Marsh Gate. The strangers had been living, for the previous 5 months, at Stockton, in the North of England. Six weeks before arriving at Doncaster they had left their lodgings at Stockton and began a meandering journey through the countryside taking in Hull, Leeds, Wakefield, etc, before finally arriving at Marsh Gate.
On arrival the two men were in good health, and after eating a hearty supper of fried beef and potatoes, they retired for the night.
At 6 o’clock the following morning, the younger of the two men, a stout, robust man, suffered from severe bouts of vomiting, and after breakfasting on coffee, was joined by his companion as they left the house in the direction of London. They arrived at Balby where they attempted to rest for the day and asked for assistance as they had no money. On being refused charity, the younger man turned to his older companion and uttered these words, “Jack, perhaps we shall have better luck at the next place”. He had scarcely uttered these words than he fell, as his comrade believed, lifeless to the ground.
After a short time he came to and was given half a cup of milk from a house in the village. Feeling a little better they decided to return to Doncaster which took them 2 hours, with difficulty. At the Poor-house in St Sepulchre Gate, which stood at the corner of Printing Office Street, a small quantity of Gin was given to him, and his friend carried him on his back to Flintham’s lodgings where he was attended to by four members of the Medical Board of Health. His condition gradually worsened so that by 2 o’clock on the morning of the 8th, he was dead. This episode was just the beginning as, although an isolated case, matters were to get a whole lot worse. During the month of June, a boat from the Marshland district arrived on the Don at and moored at Marsh Gate. On board was a man who ‘laboured under spasmodic Cholera’. He died shortly after arrival and a large number of the inhabitants of Marsh Gate went on board the vessel to see him. This one case brought a huge cholera outbreak to the town. A man by the name of Cooper first caught the infection. He died within 24 hours. This was followed on Monday the 4th June, near midnight, by an attack on William Ibbotson, “the intellectual powers of the victim remained perfect to the latest moment of his life, which terminated in convulsive spasms at ten minutes past one on the morning of the 6th, being just 25 hours from the commencement of the collapsed state of the deceased”.
15 cholera deaths are recorded for Marsh Gate between June 8th and 15th. Most of the deaths happened in the middle of the night where they were promptly buried in the cemetery by a Mr Edward Slack. Later, a cholera hospital was provided at the end of Marsh Gate which was known as Bridge Hall, and was the property of Richard Fountayne Wilson Esq. A hearse was generously given by a Mr Clemet to carry the deceased to the churchyard.
Some of those that died were:
- James McDowell – Sailor – aged 20 – Jan 8th
- William Ibbotson – Bricklayer – aged 53 – June 6th
- William Buckley – Waterman – aged 86 – June 8th
- James Watson – Waterman – aged 40 – June 11th
- Ann Rothery – Wife of James, Waterman – aged 38 – June 12th
- Caroline – Daughter of Thomas Pike, Waterman – aged 7 – June 13th
- Mary – Daughter of James Watson, Waterman – aged 4 – June 14th
- Mary – Daughter of Richard Rowley, Publican – aged 10 – June 17th
- Jonathan Batty – Waterman – aged 40 – June 18th
- Joseph Swift – Waterman – aged 65 – June 23rd
There were plenty of people who were willing to help the towns folk as much as possible during this time of distress. A letter dated June 18th, 1832, was sent to the Corporation and read:
“Dear Sir, I take the opportunity of addressing you, not only as chairman of the Board of Health at Doncaster, but also as one who takes a lively interest in administering to the wants and necessities of your poor townspeople, who have been, and may be, afflicted with that dreadful calamity, the pestilence. As animal food (meat) is strongly recommended, I have sent you, by my shepherd, six sheep, to be applied for that purpose; he has my orders to deliver them up to any person whom you may appoint to receive them. I am dear Sir, yours very respectfully, R. Littlewood”.
The Corporation promptly replied with a letter from the Mansion House on June 19th:
“My Dear Sir, I have the honour to communicate to you the warm and sincere thanks of the Board of Health, unanimously voted you this day for your liberal and considerate present of six very fine sheep which will be disposed of according to your kind intentions, by the committee, whose exertions on behalf of those distressed, have been unremitting. I remain, my Dear Sir, very sincerely, your obliged and faithful servant, George Holmes, Chairman of the Board”.
After a few years had passed connections were beginning to be made between sanitation and the disease. One observation went this way, ” The unhealthy home to which the worker returns is, in all probability, more unhealthy than the unhealthy workshop in which he has passed the day. At home he is surrounded by miasma (bacteria), and often has to contend with a filthy sewer amongst other things, contributing their quota to the savoury bouquet with which his nostrils are regaled. But let us not despair. The local Board of health is established. Sanitary improvements are encouraged and enforced. Pure water and pure air are indispensable to our very existence. Doncaster has made a stand against the in-roads of pestilence; but she must take heed she does not slumber in the work of regeneration. Much has to be done before a ‘Model Town’ is accomplished. If we have not hit upon the right plans, or set the right men in the right places then, woe to us and our children”.