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victim of the outbreak and that the pump was located right in front of the house. An interview

with the mother, Sarah Lewis, revealed that she cleaned the child’s diapers in a bucket which

she emptied into a cesspool in front of the house. Nobody was aware of the existence of this

cesspool since all the other ones had been given up and replaced by drainpipes which

regularly emptied into a recently established sewer system. On the 23

rd

of April 1855 the

cesspool drains were laid open, and it was found that the brickwork of the pump-well lining

had corroded from the outside. The cesspool, which was meant to trap an overflow into the

sewer drain, had in fact blocked the drain and caused the sewage to back up. The brickwood

lining was loose and the cesspool was very close to the pump well so that the waste from the

cesspool entered the well. The soil showed that this had happened quite often in the past.

After the child died and no longer was water from soiled diapers poured into the cesspool, the

epidemic soon came to an end. The dates of the beginning of the epidemic and the pollution

of the well by the water from the diaper corresponded quite closely.

For Snow and Whitehead, the chain of events finally fitted together, and they had

found the cause that had obviously triggered the outbreak. The committee of the St. James

parish fully supported their report, but the General Board of Health did not agree with the

conclusion reached by Snow and Whitehead. Snow died of a stroke on the 16

th

of June, 1858,

without having succeeded in causing even a feeling of unease among the followers of the

miasmas theory. More than 150 years after Snow’s death and 200 years after his birth, ‘The

Lancet’ corrected its John Snow’s original obituary in 1858

8 w

hen the editor of ‘The Lancet’

at that time, Thomas Wakley, strongly opposed John Snow’s convincing argumentation in

favour of the germ theory. In the obituary only Snow’s achievements about anaesthesia was

mentioned, and his profound impact on epidemiology was only truly acknowledged more than

a century after his death from a journal which is regarded as one of the world’s leading

medical publications. It was politics which made Wakley to ignore the main accomplishments

of Snow. Wakley wanted the tanning and soap industry moved out of London because of the

tremendous ‘air pollution’ as we would call it now. His best argument for promoting this aim

was to connect the air pollution to the miasma theory in order to convince politicians to ban

these industries within the limits of the city. A proof for the germ theory did not suit his

intentions.

The inappropriate behaviour of Wakley

has been compared by Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, a

former director of the Centre for Disease

Control and Prevention, with the blunder of a

literature magazine which acknowledged the

death of Shakespeare in a one-sentence obituary

saying ‘the guy had a few good lines’.

Outlook

The leaking of foul water from the

sewerage system into drinking water as happened in the Broad Street was not uncommon. The

unhygienic situation in London became almost unbearable during the summer of the year of

8

http://www.newsweek.com/lancet-corrects-john-snows-1858-obituary-63035