ALEXANDER RITCHIE - A CASE OF CHOLERA IN LEIGH
Extract from the Burial Register of St Clement's Church
This entry in the Burial Register of St Clement's tells the sad tale of Alexander Ritchie, a young lad of 11 in 1832, but already earning a living on the fishing boats, working with William Cotgrove. At 2am on 29 March they left Leigh in a peterboat to fish off the Kent coast.
During the course of the day Alexander took violently ill with vomitting and diarrhea and they headed back to Leigh in a hard wind arriving at 11pm when the boy struggled out of the cabin and up the hard but had to be assisted by Mrs Partridge and Mrs Frost who had seen his distress. They took him to Mrs Frost's house and sent for his parents, all the while the boy swearing he would die. He appeared very faint with no life in him and could neither move nor stir. His parents (Alexander and Mary Ritchie) carried him home in their arms.
He was given a little brandy and water and a hot tile was put to his stomach and a bottle of hot water to his feet. Mr Bradley, the Leigh surgeon found him very cold from head to foot - no pulse whatever; he took a little blood from him and it was very dark; a hot bath made little difference. Although the body became warmer, the extremities were very cold and he was then wrapped up in a blanket, and given stimulants. Mustard poultices were applied to his stomach and feet.
Dr Asplin came from Prittlewell next morning and ordered blisters to the calves of the legs and a few grains of carbonate of ammonia to be taken every hour and poultices applied to the armpits. It was all to no avail and Alexander died.
Dr Asplin attended to view the body and signed the following paper:-
'Jonas Asplin, of Prittlewell, MD, states that he was called to the boy yesterday evening; he found him quite insensible when spoken to, but rolled about. Pulse not to be felt, eyes getting dim and somewhat sunk in the head, but features not remarkably contracted, nor were the extremities; tongue whitish; he was sinking fast. Some additional stimulants were ordered; but without any hopes of success; that he received intelligence this morning of his death, and having seen the body, is of the opinion that this is a case of simple cholera, arising from the severe exposure of a delicate subject to intense cold, which his occupation necessarily exposed him to, added to the privations to which he was subject, these boats having no means of comfort about them.
The doctor directed the body to be buried immediately. Bedding that William Cotgrove had picked up afloat and brought ashore, was also ordered to be burnt.
The Parish register states that Alexander died of English Cholera Morbus in consequence of taking up cloathes (sic) which were tied up in a hammock - soon after he had put on a hat he was seiz'd with a diarrhea and died in a few hours.
Luckily this was the only case of cholera in Leigh at this time, whilst elsewhere, and in Europe and further afield it was a dreadful year for the disease, the causes of which were little understood.