Leech’s carton in Punch (1852) shows the association of cholera with poverty. A child stands on his head on top of a rubbish heap in the left-hand corner. An old woman scavenges from the heap, another child shows off his own find, and washing flutters in the breeze overhead.
Cholera was one of the most fatal diseases in the 19th century. Nausea and dizziness led to violent vomiting and diarrhoea, “with stools turning to a grey liquid until nothing emerged but water and fragments of intestinal membrane… extreme muscular cramps followed, with an insatiable desire for water”. It is estimated that 16,000 people died during the 1831-1832 epidemic.
Only working-class people appeared to suffer from cholera. Stories began to circulate that doctors were spreading the disease as an excuse for getting their hands on corpses to dissect.
Cartoon from the Wellcome Library, London.