1829–51 cholera pandemic

A French caricature from 1830

The second cholera pandemic (1829–1849), also known as the Asiatic Cholera Pandemic, was a cholera pandemic that reached from India across western Asia to Europe, Great Britain and the Americas, as well as east to China and Japan.[1] Cholera caused more deaths, more quickly, than any other epidemic disease in the 19th century. It is exclusively a human disease, and it can spread through many means of travel, such as by persons via caravan, ship, and aeroplanes. Cholera is known most popularly to spread through warm fecal-contaminated river waters and contaminated foods. The causative microorganisms (Cholera vibrio) flourish by reaching humans. It is treatable with oral re-hydration therapy and preventable with adequate sanitation and water treatment.


Historians believe that the first pandemic had lingered in Indonesia and the Philippines in 1830. Although not much is known about the journey of the cholera pandemic in east India, many believe that this pandemic began, like the first, with outbreaks along the Ganges River delta in India. From there the disease spread along trade routes to cover most of India. By 1828 the disease had traveled to China. Cholera was also reported in China in 1826 and 1835, and in Japan in 1831. In 1829, Iran was apparently infected with cholera from Afghanistan. It spread during the Moscow invasion in August 1830. By 1831 the epidemic had infiltrated Russia’s main cities and towns. Russian soldiers brought the disease to Poland in February 1831. There were a reported 250,000 cases of cholera in Russia and 100,000 deaths.

Cholera reached the southern tips of the Ural Mountains in 1829. On 26 August 1829 the first cholera case was recorded in Orenburg with reports of outbreaks in Bugulma (7 November), Buguruslan (5 December), Menselinsk (2 January 1830) and Belebeevsk (6 January). With 3500 cases including 865 fatal ones in Orenburg province, the epidemic stopped by February 1830.[2] It swept across Europe for the first time during the second pandemic and reached as far west as the Caspian Sea.

By the spring of 1831, frequent reports of the spread of the pandemic in Russia prompted the British government to issue quarantine orders for ships sailing from Russia to British ports.[3] By late summer, with the disease appearing more likely to spread to Britain, its Board of Health, in accordance with the prevailing miasma theory, issued orders recommending as a preventive the burning of "decayed articles, such as rags, cordage, papers, old clothes, hangings...filth of every description removed, clothing and furniture should be submitted to copious effusions of water, and boiled in a strong ley; drains and privies thoroughly cleansed by streams of water and chloride of lime...free and continued admission of fresh air to all parts of the house and furniture should be enjoined for at least a week."[4]

Based on the reports of two English doctors who had observed the epidemic in St. Petersburg, the Board of Health published a detailed description of the disease's symptoms and onset:

Giddiness, sick stomach, nervous agitation, intermittent, slow, or small pulse, cramps beginning at the tops of the fingers and toes, and rapidly approaching the trunk, give the first warning. Vomiting or purging, or both these evacuations of a liquid like rice-Water or whey, or barley-water, come on ; the features become sharp and contracted, the eye sinks, the look is expressive of terror and wildness; the lips, face, neck, hands, and feet, and soon after the thighs, arms, and whole surface assume a leaden, blue, purple, black, or deep brown tint according to the complexion of the individual, varying in shade with the intensity of the attack. The fingers and toes are reduced in size, the skin and soft parts covering them are wrinkled, shrivelled and folded. The nails put on a bluish pearly white; the larger superficial veins are marked by flat lines of a deeper black; the pulse becomes either small as a thread, and scarcely vibrating, or else totally extinct.

The skin is deadly cold and often damp, the tongue always moist, often white and loaded, but flabby and chilled like a piece of dead flesh. The voice is nearly gone; the respiration quick, irregular, and imperfectly performed. The patient speaks in a whisper. He struggles for breath, and often lays his hand on his heart to point out the seat of his distress. Sometimes there are rigid spasms of the legs, thighs, and loins. The secretion of urine is totally suspended; vomiting and purgings, which are far from being the most important or dangerous symptoms, and which in a very great number of cases of the disease, have not been profuse, or have been arrested by medicine early in the attack, succeed. It is evident that the most urgent and peculiar symptom of this disease is the sudden depression of the vital powers: proved by the diminished action of the heart, the coldness of the surface and extremities, and the stagnant state of the whole circulation. [5]

The epidemic reached Great Britain in December 1831: appearing in Sunderland, where it was carried by passengers on a ship from the Baltic. It also appeared in Gateshead and Newcastle. In London, the disease claimed 6,536 victims; in Paris, 20,000 died (out of a population of 650,000), with about 100,000 deaths in all of France.[6] In 1832 the epidemic reached Russia (see Cholera Riots); Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, Canada; and Detroit and New York City in the United States. It reached the Pacific coast of North America between 1832 and 1834.[1] The pandemic prompted the passage of the landmark Public Health Act and the Nuisances Removal Act in 1848 in England.

In the summer of 1832, 57 Irish immigrants died who had been laying a stretch of railroad called Duffy's Cut, 30 miles west of Philadelphia. They had all contracted cholera.[7]


Over 15,000 people died of cholera in Mecca in 1846.[10] A two-year outbreak began in England and Wales in 1848, and claimed 52,000 lives.[11]

In 1849, a second major outbreak occurred in Paris. In London, it was the worst outbreak in the city's history, claiming 14,137 lives, over twice as many as the 1832 outbreak. Cholera hit Ireland in 1849 and killed many of the Irish Famine survivors, already weakened by starvation and fever.[12] In 1849, cholera claimed 5,308 lives in the major port city of Liverpool, England, an embarkation point for immigrants to North America, and 1,834 in Hull, England.[6]

An outbreak in North America took the life of former U.S. President James K. Polk. Cholera, believed spread from Irish immigrant ship(s) from England, spread throughout the Mississippi river system, killing over 4,500 in St. Louis[6] and over 3,000 in New Orleans.[6] Thousands died in New York City, a major destination for Irish immigrants.[6]Cholera claimed 200,000 victims in Mexico.[13]

That year, cholera was transmitted along the California, Mormon and Oregon Trails as 6,000 to 12,000[14] are believed to have died on their way to the California Gold Rush, Utah and Oregon in the cholera years of 1849–1855.[6] It is believed more than 150,000 Americans died during the two pandemics between 1832 and 1849.[15][16]

In 1851, a ship coming from Cuba carried the disease to Gran Canaria. It is considered that more than 6,000 people died in the island during summer, out of a population of 80,000.

During this pandemic, the scientific community varied in its beliefs about the causes of cholera. In France doctors believed cholera was associated with the poverty of certain communities or poor environment. Russians believed the disease was contagious, although doctors did not understand how it spread. The United States believed that cholera was brought by recent immigrants, specifically the Irish, and epidemiologists understand they were carrying disease from British ports. Lastly, some British thought the disease might rise from divine intervention.[17]


Hand bill from the New York City Board of Health, 1832. The outdated public health advice demonstrates the lack of understanding of the disease and its causes.

Norwegian Poet Henrik Wergeland wrote a stage-play inspired by the pandemic, which had reached Norway. In The Indian Cholera, he criticized British colonialism for spreading the pandemic.

As a result of the epidemic, the medical community developed a major advance, the intravenous saline drip. It was developed from the work of Dr Thomas Latta of Leith, near Edinburgh. Latta established from blood studies that a saline drip greatly improved the condition of patients and saved many lives by preventing dehydration. But, he was one of the many medical personnel who died in the epidemic.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Cholera's seven pandemics". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. December 2, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
    Note: The second pandemic started in India and reached Russia by 1830, then spreading into Finland and Poland. A two-year outbreak began in England in October 1831 and claimed 22,000 lives. Irish immigrants fleeing poverty and the Great Potato Famine, carried the disease from Europe to North America. Soon after the immigrants' arrival in Canada in the summer of 1832, 1,220 people died in Montreal and another 1,000 across Quebec. The disease entered the U.S. via ship traffic through Detroit and New York City. Spread by ship passengers, it reached Latin America by 1833. Another outbreak across England and Wales began in 1848, killing 52,000 over two years.
  2. Charlotte E. Henze (15 December 2010). Disease, Health Care and Government in Late Imperial Russia: Life and Death on the Volga, 1823-1914. Taylor & Francis. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-203-83397-1.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 18807. p. 1027. 27 May 1831. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 18863. p. 2160. 21 October 1831. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 18863. p. 2159. 21 October 1831. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  6. Charles E. Rosenberg (1987). The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. University of Chicago Press.
  7. The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut. Praeger Publishers. 2006. ISBN 0-275-98727-2. In the summer of 1832, Irish immigrant Philip Duffy contracted 57 of his newly arrived countrymen to lay a stretch of railroad some 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Within two months, all were dead, struck down in the global cholera pandemic that hit Philadelphia the same time they did.

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