Edwin Chadwick.

Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department online

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Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 17 of 27)
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improved regulations by the labouring classes without aid _ab extra_.
The labour of communicating information to them, to be attended to at
the time it is wanted, would be immense. Their sources of information on
the occurrence of such events are either poor neighbours, as ignorant as
themselves, or persons who are interested in misleading them and
profiting by their ignorance, to continue expensive and mischievous
practices. As against such an evil as the undue retention of the bodies
amidst the living the usual mode of effecting a change would be simply
by a prohibitory ordinance, § 91, of which information would be conveyed
practically by the enforcement of penalties for disobedience of the law,
which it is assumed they know. The appointment of a responsible agency,
which would be respected, to convey the information of what may be
deemed requisite for the protection of the living and exercise influence
to initiate a change of practice, appears to all the practical witnesses
examined, § 102, to be a preferable course, as being the most suitable
to the temper of the people, and as being the least expensive, as well
as the most efficient. The very desolate and unprotected condition of
the survivors of the poorest classes, on the occurrence of a death in
large towns, appears to render some intervention for their guidance and
protection at that moment peculiarly requisite, as a simple act of
beneficence. Mr. Wild was asked—

Amongst the poorer classes, is not the widow often made ill during
the protracted delay of the burial?—Yes, very often. They have come
to me in tears, and begged for accommodation, which I have given
them. On observing to them, you seem very ill; a common reply is,
“Yes, I feel very ill. I am very much harassed, and I have no one to
assist me.” I infer from such expressions that the mental anxiety
occasioned by the expense, and want of means to obtain the money, is
the frequent cause of their illness. My opinion is, that unless the
undertaker gave two-thirds of them time or accommodation for
payment, they would not be able to bury the dead at all.

You state that they have no persons to assist them; do they
frequently, or ever, on such occasions, see any persons of
education, or of influence, from whom they might receive aid or
advice?—I never hear of such persons unless they happen to be
connected with some local association, when the survivors are
visited and get advice, and sometimes relief.

If any gentleman were to visit them as a public officer, as the
officer of a board of health, would his recommendations have
influence with them?—Very great: the doctor now has the greatest
influence with them, but he does not attend them after the death.

John Downing, a mechanic, the secretary of a Burial Society, whose duty
it was to visit the remains of the deceased members, was asked—

After the death of the party have you ever, in visiting the
deceased, met any professional person or any gentleman attending to
give advice or consolation to the widow?—No. Never to my knowledge.

Then on what advice will the widow act on the occurrence of a
death?—On the advice of the poor people in the neighbourhood, or of
any friends or relatives that may chance to call upon them; but I
never knew either medical man or minister attend professionally to
give advice or consolation.

Is any notice of the death sent to the minister?—The working-classes
never think of that; the first thing and the only thing thought of
by them is to scrape together the money for the funeral.

Do you think that a medical officer, an officer of public health,
attending gratuitously to inspect the body and register the cause of
death, and to give advice as to the proper means of conducting the
funeral, and the steps to be taken for the health of the living
would be respectfully received and have influence?—I am very
confident that he would have a very hearty welcome. I think a deal
of benefit would be derived from it to the feelings as well as the
health of the parties.

§ 122. The curate of a populous district mentioned to me, as
illustrative of the practice in the crowded neighbourhoods in the
metropolis, that he had for a time lived in a house let off in lodgings
to respectable persons in the middle ranks of life, and though his
profession was known in the house, yet three deaths had taken place in
it of which he had no notice whatever, and only knew of them at the time
of the funeral. All the witnesses who have had experience amongst the
labouring classes, concur in the expression of confidence that the
visits and intervention of a public officer would at such a time be well
received by the poorest classes.

Mr. Hewitt was asked—

Do you conceive that respectable officers visiting the house of all
classes of the deceased immediately after the death, as medical
officers and officers of public health, to inquire as to the causes
of death and register them, would long fail to acquire powerful
influence in the suggestion of voluntary and beneficial sanitary
arrangements?—I think that an officer appointed from the first class
of physicians would be better received than a local medical man—as
an officer of the public health, whose opinions would be more
prized, and consequently would be sure to be received by all most
respectfully. Such an officer is calculated to do more good than can
easily be conceived, and would be able to execute such duties over
an extensive district.

Would they have that sort of faith in a physician that they would
not have in any local medical officer?—They would receive well any
gentleman, and would act upon his advice.

On the occurrence of a death, is there any one person of education,
or of superior condition in life, who comes near the working
classes?—Not one that I am aware; no one attends for such a purpose;
if any such person comes it must be accidental.

It may perhaps be presumed that it is rare that any death occurs
without some medical man or medical officer having attended the
case?—Very few, and in those cases inquests are usually held.

In the majority of cases, therefore, the labouring classes, on the
occurrence of a death, are left either to the advice of any
interested person who may come amongst them, or to the influence of
their equally uninformed neighbours?—Yes, certainly, that is the

§ 123. The principle of the measure proposed, _i. e._ a certificate of
the fact, and the cause of death, given on view of the body, and the
non-interment without such certificate, has been in operation perhaps
during two centuries. In the year 1595, orders were issued by the Privy
Council to the justices, enjoining them, that wherever the plague
appeared, they would see that the ministers of the church, or three or
four substantial householders, appointed persons to view the bodies of
all who died, before they were suffered to be buried. They were to
certify to the minister or the churchwarden, of what disease it was
probable each individual had died. The minister or the churchwarden was
to make a weekly return of the numbers in his parish that were infected,
or had died, and the diseases of which it was probable they had died.
These returns were to be made to the neighbouring justices, and by them
to the clerk of the peace, who was to enter them in a book to be kept
for the purpose. The justices, who assembled every three weeks, were to
forward the results to the Lords of the Privy Council. It is supposed
that this scheme of registration gave rise to the bills of mortality,
which have been preserved without interruption from the year 1603 until
the present period. It is conjectured also, that the appointment of
“searchers” originated at the same time. The alarm of the plague having
subsided, the office of searcher was, until the recent appointments of
registrars under the new Registration Act, given by the parish officers
to two old women in each parish, frequently pew-openers, who, having
viewed the body, demanded a fee of two shillings, in addition to which
they expected to be supplied with some liquor, and gave a certificate of
the fact and cause of death as they were informed of it, and this
certificate was received by the minister as a warrant for the interment.

§ 124. The Rev. Mr. Stone observes on this topic—

It would be well if the burial of the dead could be expedited by
some agency created for the purpose; something, for instance, like
the obsolete office of searcher. I never heard but one person make
an objection even to those inferior functionaries, and that one was
an educated person, who would probably have withdrawn the objection,
had the agency been one of a more refined, intelligent, and
conciliatory character. It might be a more delicate matter to secure
the removal of the corpse to be deposited elsewhere for any
considerable time before the burial; though, judging from one
practice, which has fallen under my observation, I feel justified in
supposing, that even this would not be met with universal
repugnance. A similar thing is now often done spontaneously from a
pecuniary motive, and for the purpose of evading burial dues. In my
parish ground, and, I believe, in others, the fees for the burial of
a non-parishioner, or person dying out of the parish, are double
those payable for a parishioner. But, if the undertaker employed is
a parishioner, this extra payment is easily evaded, by his
accommodating the corpse on his own premises. It is brought there
some time before the burial, and frequently from a considerable
distance; it then becomes a resident parishioner, and forthwith
claims the privilege of a parishioner. It claims to be admitted into
our burial ground at single fees; and, of course, the claim so made
cannot easily be disallowed. Indeed, by a little management, this
smuggling of dead bodies may be effected so that my clerk and
sexton, the only officers in my preventive service, may themselves
know nothing about it. It is probable, however, that such sanitary
arrangements as those adverted to would be best facilitated, and it
is certain that much mischief would be entirely prevented, by a
reduction in the amount of burial expenses. Indeed these expenses
ought, if possible, to be reduced for the sake of all classes,
whether they arise from too high a rate of burial fees, from the
prejudices of the people, or from the advantage that may be taken of
those prejudices or other circumstances by a class so directly and
deeply interested as the undertakers.

§ 125. Several physicians of eminence in the metropolis, who are
conversant with the state and feelings of families of the middle and
higher classes on the occurrence of a death, have expressed their
confidence, that the most respectable families, who are stunned by the
blow, and are ignorant of the detail of the steps to be taken when a
death has occurred, would gladly pay for the attendance of any
respectable and responsible person, on whose information they might,
under such circumstances, rely. As already stated, the physician takes
no cognizance of the arrangements for interments, and knowing the
feelings that commonly arise when the undertaker’s bill is presented,
carefully avoids giving advice, or doing anything that may implicate him
with the arrangements for the interment.

§ 126. In opening the consideration of remedial measures, it appears
incumbent to represent that there are many who, viewing what has been
accomplished abroad, and the inconvenience experienced in the metropolis
in respect to the oldest private trading burial grounds, object on
principle to the abandonment of acknowledged public functions and
services, and to leaving the necessities of the public as sources of
profit to private, and (practically for every-day purposes)
irresponsible associations. They submit, that if the steps in this
direction cannot be retraced, the public have claims that at all events
they shall be stayed. Such opinions may, perhaps, be the best
represented in the following portion of the communication from the Rev.
Wm. Stone.

It may be thought that, in alluding to these private burial grounds,
I have expressed myself strongly, and indeed I am not anxious to
disavow having done so. The subject seems to me to justify such a
tone of expression. In all ages and nations, the burial of the dead
has been invested with peculiar sanctity. As the office that closes
the visible scene of human existence, it concentrates in itself the
most touching exercise of our affections towards objects endeared to
us in this life, and the most intense and stirring anxieties that we
can feel respecting an invisible state. And, appealing thus to
common sympathies of our nature, it has been universally marked by
observances intended to give it importance or impressiveness. The
faith and usage of Christians have given remarkable prominence to
this duty. The ecclesiastical institutes of our own country indicate
a jealous solicitude for the safe and religious custody of the
receptacles of the dead; and there are few of us, perhaps, to whom
those receptacles are not hallowed by thoughts and recollections of
the deepest personal interest. It is reasonable, then, that the
reverential impressions thus accumulated within us should shrink
from the contact of more selfish and vulgar associations. And one
may be excused for thinking and speaking strongly in reprobation of
a system which degrades the burial of the dead into a trade.
Throughout the whole scheme and working of this system, there is an
exclusive spirit of money-getting, which is revoltingly heartless;
and in some of its details there is an indecency which I have felt
myself compelled to allude to in the tone of strong condemnation.

It is surely desirable that a state of things so vulgar and
demoralizing, should be put an end to, but at present there seems no
prospect of it. Of course, during the continuance of a competition
such as I have described, our parishioners will never return to our
parish burial grounds, and I have already remarked, that if they
did, they might not get interment there, inasmuch as it would,
perhaps, be found impossible to make our parochial system meet the
wants of any crowded population. There is little better chance of
the present offensive system of burial being superseded by the joint
stock cemeteries; for to the mass of our population these cemeteries
hold out hardly any advantages which are not possessed by the
private burial grounds, while they have to compete with those
grounds under disadvantages greater, in some instances, than those
which our churchyards have to contend with.

Indeed, even if it were practicable, I should be sorry to see our
people handed over for burial to a joint stock company. I am very
far from saying this out of any sympathy with the popular, and often
indiscriminate and unreasonable jealousy felt towards all joint
stock companies. Nay, I see obvious reasons why the cemeteries of
such companies should be a great improvement upon the present system
of private speculation in burial grounds. And it may be thought
that, as a clergyman and an interested party, I may naturally prefer
these cemeteries, because their proprietors, unlike the private
speculators, are required to indemnify the clergy for loss of fees
by some amount of pecuniary compensation. But I do sympathize with
the common repugnance to consign to joint stock companies the
solemnities of Christian burial; and I believe that this repugnance
is not more common than it is strong. “And so,” said a highly
intelligent gentleman, pointing to a cemetery of this class, “the
time is come when Christian burial is made an article of traffic.”
And since the legislature has been reported to be contemplating the
removal of burials from populous places, it has been commonly
suspected of having been led to entertain the measure through the
influence of joint stock cemetery proprietors. In fact the
repugnance in question is no more than what I have already adverted
to. It is the state of feeling which shrinks from associating the
touching and impressive solemnities of burial with the profits of
trade. So far as the trading principle is involved, the joint stock
company is no better than the private speculator. However
disinterested may have been the motives which have induced some to
become shareholders in these companies, and I have been assured upon
authority which I respect, that many have done so without any
expectation or hope of profit upon their shares, yet the primary and
effective character of these associations is undeniably that of
trading associations, and they cannot be rescued from that character
by even numerous individual exceptions. Their managers, like the
proprietors of the private grounds, are assiduous in soliciting
attention to their lists of prices; and affiches, painted in large
letters, and placed at various outlets of the metropolis, with
genuine mercantile officiousness, direct the public, as in a case
close by my own parish, “To the E. L. Cemetery, only one mile and
a-half.” Surely we may say, that this system also involves much that
is inconsistent with reverential impressions of the sanctity of
burial, much that must either offend or deteriorate the better
feeling of our population. Then again, as regards burial services,
and other details in the working of the system, with what security
can we consign these to the tender mercies of a trading company? Why
should not the money-getting principle eventually come to operate
upon these points also, and, as in the private burial grounds, tempt
shareholders to sanction indecent and mischievous condescensions to
the interests, habits, tastes, and caprices of the people? What
security, at least, is there equal to that which is afforded by a
clergy and parochial establishments, responsible to the civil and
ecclesiastical authorities of the country, or which would be
afforded by what, for reasons before mentioned, I should think still
preferable, a national plan of burial, placed under a departmental
control of Government?

The remedial measures hereafter submitted for consideration have been
deduced directly from the actual necessities experienced within the
field of inquiry, and such only are submitted as clearly suggested
themselves without reference to any external experience. The following
preliminary view of the experience of other nations is presented for
consideration on account of the confirmatory evidence which it contains,
as well as the instances to be avoided.

_Examples of successful Legislation for the Improvement of the Practice
of Interment._

§ 127. It appears that the evil of the expensive interments consequent
on the monopoly which the nature of the event, and the feelings of
survivors, gives to the person nearest at hand for the performance of
the undertaker’s service, is checked by special arrangements in America.
In Boston, and most of the large towns in America, there is a Board of
Health which nominates a superintendent of burial grounds, who is
invariably a person of special qualifications, and generally a medical
man. All undertakers are licensed by the Board of Health, by whom the
licence may at any time be revoked. The sexton of the church which the
deceased attended is usually the undertaker. The bills of the undertaker
are made out on a blank form, furnished by the public superintendent of
interment, to whom all bills are submitted, and by whom they are audited
and allowed, before they are presented for payment to the relations or
friends of the deceased. Previous to interment, the undertaker must
obtain from the physician who last attended the deceased, a certificate
specifying the profession, age, time of illness, and cause of death of
the deceased. This certificate is presented to the superintendent of
funerals. An abstract of these certificates, signed by the
superintendent of funerals, is printed every week in the public journals
of the city. The cost of a funeral for a person in the position of life
of the highest class of tradesmen in Boston, is about fifty dollars, or
10_l._ English, exclusive of the cost of the tomb. The price of a good
mahogany coffin would be fifteen dollars, or 3_l._ 5_s._ The price of a
most elegant mahogany coffin would be perhaps double that price. The
price of a pine coffin, such as are used for the persons of the
labouring classes, would be about four dollars. There is a peculiarity
in the coffins made in the United States,—that a portion of the lid,
about a foot from the upper end, opens upon a hinge. This, when opened,
exposes to view the face of the deceased, which is covered with glass.
The survivors are thus enabled at the last moment to take a view of the
deceased, without the danger of infection. In Germany, the coffins are
nailed down, every blow of the hammer frequently drawing a scream from
the female survivors.

§ 128. In the chief German states it is adopted as a principle, that
provision shall be made, and it is made successfully, for meeting the
necessities of the population in respect to the undertakers’ supplies of
service and materials; and that on the occurrence of a death, those
necessities shall not be given up as the subject of common trading
profits to whatsoever irresponsible person may obtain the monopoly of
them. At Franckfort provision is made for these services and supplies of
material at the lowest cost to the public as part of a series of
arrangements comprehending the verification of the fact of death on view
of the body, the edifice for the reception and care of the dead previous
to interment, and the public cemeteries, all under the superintendence
of superior and responsible medical officers. The expenses of the
supplies of materials are reduced so low under these arrangements, that
they no longer enter into serious consideration as a burthen to be met
on such occasions.

§ 129. At Berlin, a contract is made by the Government with one person
to secure funeral materials and services for the public at certain fixed
scales of prices. The materials and services are stated to be of a
perfectly satisfactory character; and yet the undertaker’s charge for a
funeral such as would here cost for an artisan 4_l._ and upwards, is not
more than 15_s._ English money; the charge for a middle class funeral is
about 2_l._, and for a funeral of the opulent class of citizens is
about, 10_l._ And yet I am assured that the contractors’ profits on the
extensive supplies required are deemed too high, and that the Government
will, on the renewal of the contract, find it necessary to protect the
poorer classes by a contract at a lower rate.

§ 130. At Paris, interments are made the subject of a _fisc_; but a
contract is made with one head to secure services and supplies to the
private individual at reduced rates, and so far the system works
advantageously to the public.

§ 131. The whole of the interments are there performed, and the various
burial and religious dues collected and paid under one contract, by
joint contractors for the public service at regulated prices, called the
_Service des Pompes Funèbres_. This establishment annually buries
gratis, upwards of 7000 destitute persons, or nearly one-third of all
who die in the city. The funerals and religious services are divided
into nine classes, comprehending various settled particulars of service,
for which a price is fixed. The appointed service for any of these
classes may be had on the terms specified in a tariff. This is found to
be a great benefit to testators and survivors, as it enables them to
settle the ceremonial with certainty, and without the possibility of any
extortion. The first class of funerals are of great pomp: they include
bearers, crosses, plumes, eighteen mourning coaches and attendants,
grand mass at church, 120 lbs. of wax tapers, an anniversary service,
and material of mourning cloth; and also the attendance of Monsieur le
Curé, two vicars, twenty-one priests, six singers and ten chorister
boys, and two instrumental performers, at a cost of 145_l._, for a
funeral superior in magnificence perhaps to any private funeral in

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Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 17 of 27)