1864: Smallpox death - workhouse accused


Gloucester smallpox epidemic, 1896: two convalescent children.

Alleged suspicious death of a boy

A correspondent wishes to contradict a rumour which has been circulated respecting the poor boy John Betts, who died on the 1st inst., from a virulent attack of small pox, in the Cuckfield Union Workhouse - viz., that he was not properly attended to, and that he was buried alive. He says it is a great pity that such scandal should gain credence without inquiry, as it tends seriously to injure those who are responsible to the board for the proper performance of their official duties.


Our correspondent states that every possible attention was paid to the poor boy both by Dr. L Byass and the nurse of the establishment, from the time that he entered the house up to his decease; that wine, brandy, porter, beef-tea, etc., were administered to him several times each day; that the nurse, at the risk of her life, attended to this herself; and that a man was constantly in attendance upon him day and night during his illness, and that upon his death, the doctor intimated that it was highly desirable that his remains should be interred that night.


These facts, it is trusted, will entirely dissipate any false notions which may have been entertained by the credulous part of the public respecting the case. It is further stated that after death every precaution was taken by the governor against the spread of the contagion (the disease having been of such a virulent character that Mr Byass said he had only seen one such case during his fifty years' experience.)


All the lad’s clothing was burnt, two beds, bed furniture, &c., the wards fumigated and whitewashed; and it is considered that thanks are due to the governor for his prudence and forethought in the matter - no fresh case having made its appearance since.


The Sussex Advertiser 25 May 1864


Photograph: Gloucester smallpox epidemic, 1896: two convalescent children. Photograph by H.C.F., 1896. Wellcome Images. Wikimedia public domain image.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.