Christmas Eve 1831 was not a festive one for the Belfast Charitable Society. Members of the Society had watched with trepidation as cholera marched through Russia, into Poland before spreading across the rest of Europe. That evening a resolution was passed stating on the first appearance of cholera in Belfast…
…that communication between the house and the town be immediately suspended to stop it [cholera] spreading [to the Poor House residents]
By mid-February 1832 there was an awareness that cholera could soon strike in Belfast. The charitable institutions and hospitals were swift to act and put in place what measures they could in advance of the arrival of cholera to mitigate its impact.
At a meeting of the Belfast Charitable Society on 18th February 1832 a letter was read to those assembled from the Board of Health. They requested that the Poor House infirmary take in those
firm persons… [who] have been displaced from the Lock Ward of the Fever Hospital by the recent arrangements for appropriating their wards for Cholera patients.
The Poor House resolved to take the surgical patients ‘actually in the Lock Wards at the time of removal be received into this house.’ This created special cholera wards in advance of the first cholera cases to ensure, where possible, that victims who had the disease were isolated from other hospital patients. The Poor House Infirmary would take the pressure off the main hospitals by continuing to provide care for non-cholera patients.
There was an additional benefit for the Charitable Society for supporting the Board of Health in this instance as it meant that any potential cholera victims from the Poor House itself could be immediately sent to these specialised wards, thereby limiting the risk of the inmates of the Poor House.
This is the first in a series of posts over the coming days and weeks using our archives to examine the cholera epidemic of 1832.