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Broadsheet warning about Indian cholera


Key, Thomas, and Tindall, George; Broadsheet Warning about Indian Cholera 1831, Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

 Cholera is a disease spread by bacteria. The bacteria causes diarrhea and can kill those who become too dehydrated. People become infected with the disease by drinking water contaminated by the feces of sick people. The first outbreak of cholera in Britain was in the 1830s. It was known specifically as “Indian Cholera,” as the disease had spread across the world from Bengal, India. At this point, the population in British towns and cities had grown substantially, and cholera spread easily through the dirty water systems. This primary source is a poster published in the London parish of Clerkenwell. From this poster, we can see that while doctors knew the symptoms of cholera, they did not know the cause of it (dirty water) or the cure for it (clean drinking water). At the time, it was thought that the cause of the disease was indigenous people from India, whom the British considered to be “uncivilized.” However, it was the presence of British troops traveling to and from the Indian continent that helped spread the disease around the world. What were the suggested remedies, or cures, for cholera? Who was responsible for posting this information and sharing it with the people of Clerkenwell?



giddiness: fainting, confusion

had recourse to: used, applied

frictions: rubbing

camphorated spirits: a smelly medical treatment, like rubbing alcohol

poultice: a soft, moist mass of cloth, bread, and herbs applied hot to the sore part of the body. Doctors and healers used poultices to draw out infection.

wey: liquid with a little solid material in it


salvolatile, cajeput: substances used as medicines

This broadsheet gives evidence of the lack of knowledge about the cause of and cures for cholera, as well as the association of the disease with Indians. Fears of disease combined with racism to blame the outbreak on Indians traveling to Britain. The cures (warming, poultices, wine and spice drinks, and oil drops) are quite different from modern treatment. Students should consider these cures as a beginning point; this was the state of medical knowledge (according to the London Board of Health, a doctors’ association) in 1831. The actual broadsheet (a type of flyer) was produced by church leaders.

To the inhabitants of the parish of
His Majesty’s Privy Council having approved of precautions proposed by the Board of Health in London, on the alarming approach of the INDIAN CHOLERA.
It is deemed proper to call the attention of the Inhabitants to some of the Symptoms and Remedies mentioned by them as printed, and now in circulation.
Giddiness, sickness, nervous agitation, slow pulse, cramp beginning at the fingers and toes and rapidly approaching the trunk, change of colour to a leaden blue, purple, black, or brown; the skin dreadfully cold, and often damp, the tongue moist and loaded but flabby and chilly, the voice much affected, and respiration quick and irregular.
All means tending to restore circulation and to maintain the warmth of the body should be had recourse to without the least delay. The patient should be immediately put to bed, wrapped up in hot blankets, and warmth should be sustained by other external applications, such as repeated frictions with flannels and camphorated spirits, poultices of mustard and linseed (equal parts) to the stomach, particularly where pain and vomiting exist, and similar poultices to the feet and legs to restore their warmth. The returning heat of the body may be promoted by bags containing hot salt or bran applied to different parts, and for the same purpose of restoring and sustaining the circulation white wine wey with spice, hot brandy and water, salvolatile in a dose of a tea spoon full in hot water, frequently repeated; or from 5 to 20 drops of some of the essential oils, as peppermint, cloves or cajeput, in a wine glass of water may be administered with the same view. Where the stomach will bear it, warm broth with spice may be employed. In every severe case or where medical aid is difficult to be obtained, from 20 to 40 drops of laudanum may be given in any of the warm drinks previously recommended.
These simple means are proposed as resources in the incipient stages of the Disease, until Medical aid can be had. THOS. KEY, GEO. TINDALL,} Churchwardens.