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Book of the Month

February 2006

Facts and Observations on the Sanitary State of Glasgow

Robert Perry

Glasgow: 1844
Sp Coll Mu26-a.29

February's Book of the Month is concerned with public health. Robert Perry's Facts and Observations on the Sanitory State of Glasgow was published in 1844 and relates to the epidemic of fever which occurred in the city the previous year. With the aid of reports from local doctors, tables of statistics and a colour-coded map, Perry sought to demonstrate the connection between bad sanitation, disease and poverty. The map is an example of the development of thematic mapping, used to illustrate major social issues such as health and crime. It also presents an interesting picture of Glasgow as it was, over 160 years ago.

Title page of Robert Perry's 'Facts and Observations
on the Sanitory State of Glasgow' (1844)
Robert Perry (1783-1848) studied at Glasgow University and graduated MD [Doctor of Medicine] in 1808. He was associated with the Glasgow Royal Infirmary for many years, initially as a surgeon. The title page of his 1844 publication describes Perry as Senior Physician to the Infirmary and also as President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, a position he held between 1843 and 1845.
Perry went on to become Vice-President of the Western Medical Club. He had also been an original member of the Glasgow Medical Society, founded in 1814.

He was very interested in the causes and effects of epidemics, a variety of which had affected Glasgow since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Facts and Observations was not Perry's first public statement. He had previously submitted a series of propositions on typhus to the Glasgow Medical Society. These were significant in drawing distinctions between typhus and typhoid fever. (His son also became a physician and published his own observations on typhus in the 1860s.)

Regarding the 1843 fever epidemic, Perry addressed his report directly to the Lord Provost of Glasgow:

Robert Perry (1783-1848)
Portrait by Sir Daniel Macnee
(Courtesy of The Royal College
of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow)

'I have been a desire to express the high sense I entertain, in common with your fellow-citizens, of your active benevolence, and of the deep and sincere interest you take in every measure for the alleviation of disease, and the relief of poverty. the knowledge that when you look at the appalling picture, you will employ all your energies, and the influence of your exalted station, in adopting such measures as will be best calculated to insure attention to the wants and circumstances of the poor.'

In order to demonstrate the correlation between disease and poverty more clearly, Perry attached a map to his report. He explained the nature of the illustration as follows:

'To show the progress of the epidemic throughout Glasgow, I have laid down and numbered the different districts upon a map
of the city...marking with a darker shade those parts where the epidemic was most particularly prevalent...'

A list of Glasgow parishes, marked on the map with roman numerals.

Overview of the map of Glasgow used by Perry.
The districts were numbered 1-17 and different colours used to indicate the level of the epidemic in each area.



A table of statistics, drawn up 'according to the best data which could be procured', gave the number of cases of fever attended to by the district surgeons as 14,000. (Evidently, the actual number of cases was even higher.) This meant that an average of 1 in every 12 people in the city had been affected. It was clear though that the cases had not been evenly distributed and Perry's report gave a bleak, and vivid picture of the spread of the disease:

'.those places most densely inhabited, by the poorest of the people, have suffered most severely. The epidemic, having once got into a densely crowded land or close, never ceased until it had visited every house, and in many of the houses every inmate.'

Over 1,000 cases were recorded in each of the districts 2, 3 and 4. By comparing these figures with the census return of 1841, Perry estimated that, in districts 3 and 4, over 20 per cent of the population had been affected.

Three of the districts most badly affected by the
epidemic, bordered by Stockwell Street,
Bridgegate Street, Trongate and Saltmarket.

District 12, bordered by Candleriggs and High Street with Bell Street running horizontally between them.
To assist his work, Perry had requested reports from the surgeons working in each district of the city. Their first-hand accounts revealed the appalling conditions in which many of their patients were living. District 12 was another of those badly affected and the local surgeon described how one family '...resided in a dark, damp cellar under ground...It was impossible to see without the light of a candle or lamp. Father, mother, and four of their family, were lying in this hole ill with fever.' In a small room in Bell Street were a widow and her four children. 'They had no one to assist them, and had neither bed, blankets, food, nor fire. They were lying upon the floor, and only covered with a piece or two of muslin cloth.'

Perry was clear that poverty and poor living conditions made people more susceptible to illness and that it also severely hampered the recovery of those who survived the attack of fever. One surgeon wrote that this could take up to two months '...where they had not the means of obtaining nourishing diet and comfortable clothing, which among the poor was generally beyond their reach.' Between May and December 1843, over 32,000 fever cases were recorded throughout Glasgow and the suburbs and at least 1300 people died.

There were many epidemics during the nineteenth century but gradual progress was made to improve public health. Reform took place nationally (for example, the Poor Law of 1845) and locally, including the appointment of Glasgow's first full-time Medical Officer of Health in 1872.

Perry's Facts and Observations was printed at the Gartnavel Press. This was attached to what was then known as the Royal Asylum for Lunatics. Originally opened in Parliamentary Road in 1814, the Asylum moved further west to the Gartnavel site in 1843. A printed note inserted in Perry's publication stated that:

'In order to aid the laudable design of Dr. Hutchison in exercising the mental and bodily faculties of the inmates of the Lunatic Asylum, the Printing of this Paper, the Colouring the Maps, &c, is wholly the work of the inmates.'

Dr Hutchison was actually Dr William Hutcheson, the Asylum's Physician and Superintendent at the time.

Perry's report was printed a year after the Asylum was moved
to a new site at Gartnavel. The map shows the old building
in the Cowcaddens area.
  As might be expected, many of the areas on this mid nineteenth-century map of Glasgow look very different today. Some of the buildings, lanes and roads no longer exist and others have been extended, re-named or put
to other uses. Some institutions marked on the map have since moved to other parts of the city.  
  For example, when Robert Perry was a student, Glasgow University was located in the east of the city, in buildings adjacent to the High Street. When the university was founded in the fifteenth century, this was the main area of settlement in the burgh of Glasgow. The university remained on this site for over four hundred years, moving west to the current Gilmorehill site in 1870. In contrast the Royal Infirmary, where Perry worked for many years, is still in the same location on Castle Street. However, having been extended a number of times in the nineteenth century, it was completely rebuilt in the early twentieth century.
The old site of Glasgow University in the east of the city, adjacent to the High
Street. Robert Perry was a student here when the Hunterian Museum opened
in 1807. The University moved to Gilmorehill in 1870.

The Royal Infirmary on Castle Street, where
Robert Perry was Senior Physician.
  An interesting feature on the map are the horse and cattle markets. The east end cattle market was set up in 1818 between Gallowgate and Duke Street. According to an account of Glasgow published in 1840, it had '...a commodious inn, stables, sheds, a byre to hold 120 bullocks in view, and 260 pens to contain 9,360 sheep.' Prior to this '...cattle of every description were sold on the streets in various parts of the city...'

By the 1840s various industries were also well established. Weaving factories, dye works, brick works, rope works, cotton works, tan works and distilleries are marked in a number of districts. There is also the hint of further development to come with the inclusion of a 'proposed dock', the site of the Kingston Dock which was completed in 1867.

Area bordered by Duke Street (top) and Beelegrove [Bellgrove] Street (right). The Cattle Market adjoined Graham Square, leading off the Gallowgate.

View of part of the south side of the river Clyde showing site of the Kingston dock which opened in the 1860s. Bridge Street railway station can be seen on the right. It opened in 1841 but was later superseded by Central Station on the north side of the river.
  The areas around George Square and Glasgow Green look largely unchanged from the 1840s. The Royal Bank and Royal Exchange buildings are still standing but now house, respectively, a book shop and an art gallery. Nelson's Monument, completed in 1807, still stands on Glasgow Green. In the same year the Town Council '...resolved to erect a new jail, and public offices, at the bottom of the public green.'

Part of the city centre, bordered by Buchanan Street, West George Street and Argyle Street/Trongate. The Royal Bank and Royal Exchange are on the left.

The Low Green and the High Green. The 'New Jail' is on the left. This section also shows St Andrew's Square, top left in District 1. The eighteenth century church of St Andrew
 still stands here.
  Every section of this map makes an interesting comparison with the current development of Glasgow. However, it is important to remember the purpose for which it was created, as part of Robert Perry's efforts to raise awareness of the causes of disease and its effects on the poor and to improve public health in Glasgow.
David Murray's bookplate pasted inside the front cover.

This copy of Robert Perry's Facts and Observations was received by Glasgow University as part of the Murray collection. David Murray
(1842-1928) was a Glasgow lawyer, antiquary and bibliographer. In 1927 he presented the University with his collection of over 15,000 printed books and 200 manuscripts. The collection is particularly strong in material relating to the city of Glasgow and surrounding area.

David Murray's signature written on
the front free endpaper.

James Cleland Description of the city of Glasgow : comprising an account of its ancient and modern history, its trade, manufactures, commerce, health, and other concerns Glasgow: 1840 Sp Coll Mu22-b.6

Alexander Duncan Memorials of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow 1599-1850 Glasgow: 1896 Sp Coll Mu21-y.30

Tom Gibson The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow: a short history based on the portraits and other memorabilia Edinburgh: 1983 Level 5 Main Lib Medicine A15.C7 RCP2

Robert Perry [son of Robert Perry (1783-1848) and President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow 1889-91] Observations on the present epidemic of typhus Glasgow: 1866 Library Research Annexe Y4-f1

James B Russell [Glasgow's first full-time medical officer of health], The evolution of the function of public health administration as illustrated by the sanitary history of Glasgow in the nineteenth century Glasgow: 1895 Sp Coll Mu25-d.11

The assistance of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow is gratefully acknowledged.


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Sarah Hepworth February 2006