Page images
PDF
EPUB

in 1840 in the sixty-sixth volume of this Review, and attention was called to the important light which they threw on public health and mortality. A further Report from the Poor-law Board in 1842, dealt expressly with the question of the sanitary condition of the labouring population ; and, in 1844, the first Report of the Health of Towns Commission was presented and published. All these had their use; the last named, more especially, proved for years the great magazine from which sanitary reformers drew their weapons.

Parliament now began to take up the subject in earnest. In the year 1846, was passed the first of a series of · Nuisances Removal Acts,' which have been altered and amended from time to time down to the year 1862. In their latest form they constitute one of the most valuable portions of our present sanitary code. By the common law there was a remedy for nearly every nuisance of importance by action or indictment; by the former at the suit of a private person complaining of a private injury, by the latter when the comfort of the public was concerned. But, though this sounded well enough in theory, the delay, the expense, and the cumbrous character of these proceedings, prevented their adoption unless in extreme cases. True, in many instances, the Court of Chancery had jurisdiction to interpose in a more effective manner by injunction against the perpetrators of the grievance; but then its aid was never sought except where the complainants possessed both money and determination, and when the evil was one of great magnitude. The new feature introduced in 1846 was the giving a summary jurisdiction in such matters to Justices of the Peace, and the consequences of the alteration have proved its wisdom. By a very small expenditure of time and money a nuisance proved to be injurious to health, can now generally be got rid of; so that there is little excuse for inaction,

Under the Acts now in question any premises in such a state as to be a nuisance, or injurious to health (including foul ditches, cesspools, &c., animals filthily kept, and hurtful accumulations or deposits), may form the subject of magisterial interference. Powers of entry and inspection are given to the sanitary authorities of the district wherever there is reason to believe that a nuisance exists, and, at the hearing of the complaint, the magistrates have power to make a really effective order ;ť and,

by

* Strictly speaking our enumeration of remedies is not complete without the mention of Courts Leet. These had originally a prompt and salutary jurisdiction in cases of nuisance, but it had become nearly obsolete, and its inefficiency is pointed out in the 1st ‘Report of the Health of Towns Commission,' p. 77. † The case of offensive trades and manufactures is to a certain extent exempted

from

over

by an invaluable clause, this power is expressly extended, so as to authorise them to interpose where any house is so crowded * as to be dangerous or prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants.' Upon proper medical testimony they can act in a decisive manner, and put a stop to such overcrowding.

We shall not dwell on the Baths and Washhouses Acts of 1846 and 1847, nor on the · Labouring Classes Lodging-houses' Act, passed a few years later. These Acts are enabling only, and not compulsory. Parishes may, if they please, adopt them, and raise money to carry them into execution.

The year 1848 witnessed the introduction of a comprehensive measure, known as the Public Health Act. This Act created a Central Board of Health, and contained a variety of special provisions of a sanitary nature. For our present object, however, it is not material to dwell upon them, because the metropolis was excepted from their operation.t Various Acts of a like nature followed, the general scope of which has been to establish Local Boards in most places of importance throughout the country, and, finally, to transfer the central authority to the Privy Council (21 and 22 Vict. c. 97, since made perpetual). We are now concerned with this latter point alone, and only so far as to observe that though, speaking generally, no direct authority is thereby vested in the Privy Council to interfere within the limits of the metropolis, yet an unlimited power of inquiry is given to that body, the effects of which, in stirring up the dormant energies of the parochial functionaries of this great city, may manifestly be of much use. Moreover, the medical officer attached to the Council is directed to report annually on matters affecting the public health, and the series of Bluebooks now before us, containing the fruits of such labours, throws light on many questions relating to London. As a sample we need only allude to the Report for 1863, on · Hurtful and Hurtfully-conducted Occupations, from which we shall make some citations presently. We have now reached in our historical

from this summary jurisdiction. Yet even the restricted power which exists in such instances has been frequently set in motion and exercised with excellent effect.

* There appears to be a very general relation between overcrowding and typhus, just as there is between bad drains and typhoid fevers and cholera.

† It would be wrong to omit to mention the valuable Reports published during its somewhat brief existence by the Central Board of Health, created by the Act of 1848, but now merged in the Privy Council. Their investigations into cholera are especially valuable.

We say speaking generally, because, whenever any part of England appears to be threatened with any formidable epidemic, very important and wide-reaching powers may be exercised by the Council. But such exceptional cases hardly fall within the limits of our present subject. Vol. 118.-No. 235.

survey

[ocr errors]

survey the year 1849, memorable for the second great visitation of cholera.

In the few weeks extending from September 10th to October 13th the metropolis alone lost upwards of 4000 of its inhabitants from this disease, which also raged with greater or less violence in many other localities. We cite from the · Annual Register' for that year an able summary of the results obtained by careful observation of the course taken by the pestilence :

•Wherever neglect, wherever depression, or vice or poverty, pressed down the population, there the pestilence raged with its retributive and warning arm—the sins of omission and commission were revisited on the lives of those who perpetrated or permitted them. In the great cities, the abodes of intermingled wealth and squalor, the pestilence had its chief seats; the foul drains, the surcharged cesspools, the fetid waters, were the fruitful reservoirs of death. From the filthy alleys and crowded lodging-houses, the abodes of want and vice, the pestilence encircled the neighbouring mansions and struck down their well-conditioned tenants. . . . Large towns, especially those which are badly placed or drained ; in these towns, the poorest and most crowded portions, the worst drained and ventilated alleys, the neighbourhoods in which noisome trades are carried on, are the spots in which nature and art combined to give full effect to the deadly visitation. Elevated and dry situations were as usual comparatively exempt, some even presented less than the usual average of mortality; but even in these favoured spots, man's neglect received its punishment, and some vile cesspool or filthy ditch attracted the pestilence to a village or small town in districts which were otherwise free froin the scourge.'

About the same period an interesting discovery in Chemistry gave a new impulse to the outcry against filth and neglect as predisposing causes to the attacks of Cholera. ļn the year 1840 Schönbein of Basle discovered the existence of a body which he termed Ozone, from its pungent smell ; and ten years later he described its characteristic properties and announced that it was produced in the atmosphere, especially during winter, as the result of electrical changes. It was from the first observed that this body had a great similarity to oxygen, so long known as a necessary constituent of the atmosphere for the support of animal life. Further research seemed to establish that the two were in fact the same element under different modifications, or, to speak technically, that ozone was allotropic oxygen. The newly-discovered form, however, was clearly endowed with far more activity, and was found to exhibit much stronger affinities than cominon oxygen. Experiments indicated that ozone combined with and changed, in a rapid manner, organic matters; and it therefore came to be considered as a great natural agent employed to neutralise the dele

terious

terious exhalations of decaying substances. Hence a solution was deduced for the perplexing problem, Why, when the predisposing causes of dirt, bad drainage, &c., were in no worse state than usual, one year rather than another should have been marked by an outbreak of Cholera ? The solution suggested of course was, that the predisposing causes remaining the same, there might in certain seasons be some deficiency of the disinfecting agent in the atmosphere. We have seen that ozone was stated by its discoverer to be especially produced during electrical changes; and, in fact, the chemist can himself obtain it by passing the electric spark silently through pure dry oxygen. Now, it has been confidently stated, as the result of investigation, that during a period of Cholera the manifestation of electrical tension in the atmosphere has been found to be diminished in a remarkable manner, and recourse has been had to direct experiment to ascertain the amount of ozone present at a given time in the air of any place.

One of its properties is to decompose iodide of potassium. Hence, if slips of paper be soaked in a solution of this substance mixed with starch, and when dry exposed to the air, they may be used as a test. If ozone be present, it will oxidise the potassium, and the iodine, being set free, will impart a brownish colour to the paper. When wetted, the paper exhibits varying shades of colour, from a pinkish white and irongrey to a blue, according to the amount of ozone.

Such experiments, when made during a Cholera season, have often failed to detect more than an insignificant quantity of ozone in the air around London.

Now, mankind are doubtless unable by any power of their own to affect the supply of ozone in the air above them; but it is manifest that this theory goes to enforce with tenfold power a duty quite within their reach, viz., that of keeping the surface of the earth on which they live as free as may be from those injurious exhalations which, in the absence of the great neutralising agent, riot unchecked as the producers of disease and death.

We have given the above theory as a matter of history, not as universally received at the present day. Unquestionably it prevailed at the time, and gave a stimulus to sanitary efforts. But, on the one hand, many chemists now speak hesitatingly as to the precise influence of ozone; while on the other hand, it seems that its great discoverer has recently announced a somewhat modified view of its nature. Oxygen, in fact, is reported to be

*

* It ought, however, in fairness, to be stated that the quantity obtainable at any time in the heart of a populous town is infinitesimal.

in danger of being degraded from the rank of an element. It is now suggested that it is a combination of ozone and antozone, -two elements of opposite properties, which are, under certain circumstances, set free in a pure form.* On the whole, however, there is little doubt that ozone stands in some definite relation to the purity and healthfulness of the air in which it is present; but we must, perhaps, wait somewhat longer for decisive experiments as to the exact nature of such relation.

In the passage above cited from the Annual Register the reader will notice that crowded lodging-houses' are enumerated as hotbeds of disease. In 1851 the Legislature took up this branch of the question, and by an Act which recited (most truthfully) that it would tend greatly to the comfort and welfare of many of Her Majesty's poorer subjects if provision were made for the well-ordering of Common Lodging-houses,' proceeded to require that all such houses should be registered and placed under the control of the local authorities for the city or place where they might be situated. In London the powers of the Act are executed by the heads of the police. The Act was amended and extended in 1853. No doubt this legislation had a moral and social, quite as much as a purely sanitary, intention ; but some of the sections had a most useful bearing on public health : as, for example, the clause which compels the owner or keeper of such a lodging-house to obtain an adequate water-supply and to do all works necessary for that purpose, and the provision that

any lodger seized with an infectious disease may be removed to an hospital by the authorities, and, if necessary, his clothes and bedding destroyed. Moreover, the general result of police inspection, in limiting the number of lodgers and effecting some improvement in their accommodation, cannot be too highly commended.

The years 1852 and 1853 were marked by more than one measure of great utility. Conspicuous amongst them stands the Metropolis Water Act. The growth of a vast city had by degrees rendered its great river more and more impure, and it was high time that those who for commercial profit undertook to supply water to the public of London should be placed under effectual control. Accordingly, it was now provided that no water supplied for domestic use should be taken from any part of the Thames below Teddington Lock; that the reservoirs should be covered, or else that the water should be filtered before distribution; that a general power of supervision should be exercised by the Board of Trade; and that sufficient water should be

* See the Quarterly Journal of Science,' April, 1865, p. 278.

supplied

« EelmineJätka »