Cholera was first recorded in England in 1831, but it didn’t reach the island’s shores until the summer of 1832. From then, the island suffered several epidemics of the disease, killing hundreds of people.
Cholera was feared because of both its horrible symptoms and its speed. Victims suffered agonizing stomach cramps and uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea, and their skin turned blue as dehydration prevented circulation. About half of all cholera victims died, sometimes within hours of contracting the disease.
The disease spread through drinking water that had been contaminated through sewage. However, this wasn’t understood until the 1860s and in the meantime, theories abounded about the spread of the disease. For example, one recurring theme in the Isle of Man was the spread of cholera through vegetables, as Source A shows.
The disease swept so quickly through the Douglas slums that the bodies had to be hastily buried at night, wrapped in tarred sheets to prevent the spread of the disease. The mass grave in St George’s Churchyard contains the bodies of 120 victims of the 1832-33 epidemics. Further epidemics occurred in 1848 and 1866.