Thoughts on economics and liberty

Southwood Smith condemns the lockdown-type stupidity of “experts” like Henry Halford in 1831-32

In this footnote in his book, Smith makes clear that the medical profession of his time was suffering from the SAME KIND OF STUPIDITY that it suffers today:

The wide difference between the qualifications of the accomplished popular physician and the scientific investigator into the causes of epidemic sickness was strikingly exhibited in the first outbreak of Asiatic cholera in 1831, when the emergency required not merely a knowledge of the practice of medicine, but the power also of applying the philosophy of public health to the exigencies of the moment. How were these exigencies provided for?

A board, comprising all the most eminent and skilful physicians of the day, was assembled in the College of Physicians, under the presidency of Sir Henry Halford; and, after declaring, in opposition to the unanimous opinion of the physicians of Bengal, “that no measures of external precaution for preventing the introduction of the cholera morbus by a rigorous quarantine have hitherto been found effectual,” [NOTE: THIS NEEDS TO BE STUDIED FURTHER – WHO WERE THESE SENSIBLE PHYSICIANS!?] they issued the following official notification:—

“To carry into effect the separation of the sick from the healthy, it would be very expedient that one or more houses should be kept in view in each town or its neighbourhood, as places to which every case of the disease, as soon as detected, might be removed, provided the family of the afflicted person consent to such removal; and, in case of refusal, a conspicuous mark, ‘SICK,’ should be placed in front of the house, to warn persons that it is in quarantine; and even when persons with the disease shall have been removed, and the house shall have been purified, the word ‘CAUTION’ should be substituted, as denoting suspicion of the disease; and the inhabitants of such house should not be at liberty to move out or communicate with other persons until, by the authority of the local board, the mark shall have been removed.

“It is recommended that those who may fall victims to this most formidable disease should be buried in a detached ground, in the vicinity of the house that may have been selected for the reception of cholera patients. By this regulation, it is intended to confine, as much as possible, every source of infection to one spot: on the same principle, all persons who may be employed in the removal of the sick from their own houses, as well as all who may attend upon cholera patients in the capacity of nurses, should live apart from the rest of the community.

“Whenever objections arise to the removal of the sick from the healthy, or other causes exist to render such a step not advisable, the same PROSPECT OF SUCCESS IN EXTINGUISHING THE SEEDS OF THE PESTILENCE cannot be expected. Much, however, may be done, even in these difficult circumstances, by following the same principles of prudence, and by avoiding all unnecessary communication with the public out of doors: all articles of food or other necessaries required by the family should be placed in front of the house, and received by one of the inhabitants of the house after the person delivering them shall have retired. Until the time during which the contagion of cholera lies dormant in the human frame has been more minutely ascertained, it will be necessary, for the sake of perfect security, that convalescents from the disease, and those who have had any communication with them, should be kept under observation for a period of not less than twenty days.

“All intercourse with any infected town and the neighbouring country must be prevented, by the best means within the power of the magistrates, who will have to make regulations for the supply of provisions.

Other measures of a more coercive nature may be rendered expedient for the common safety, if unfortunately so fatal a disease should ever show itself in this country, in the terrific way in which it has appeared in various parts of Europe; and it may become necessary to draw troops or a strong body of police around infected places, so as utterly to exclude the inhabitants from all intercourse with the country: and we feel sure that what is demanded for the common safety of the state, will always be acquiesced in with a willing submission to the necessity which imposes it.”

This announcement by the English physicians of 1831 was published throughout the land in the form of an Order of the King in Council. But the strong good sense of the public averted many of the mischiefs which these scientific advisers would have produced, had their counsels been carried into execution. The preventive measures which were eventually adopted by them consisted in prohibiting intercourse between one town and another by sea, and permitting it by land; thus, communication between London and Edinburgh by stage coach was perfectly free and uninterrupted, while communication between those capitals by sea was prohibited with such rigour that no interest, however powerful, could procure an exemption. Francis Jeffrey—at this time holding the high office of Lord Advocate of Scotland, and whose influence, from his personal and official connections, was very great—was unable to obtain permission for his faithful servant, in the last stage of dropsy, to go from London to Leith by water, lest he should carry with him to his native country, by that mode of conveyance, not the dropsy, which he had—but the cholera, which he had not.

“You will be sorry,” writes Jeffrey to Miss Cockburn, “to hear that poor old Fergus is so ill that I fear he will die very soon. I have made great efforts to get him shipped off to Scotland, where he most wishes to go; but the quarantine regulations are so absurdly severe, that, in spite of all my influence with the Privy Council, I have not been able to get a passage for him, and he is quite unable to travel by land; he has decided water in the chest, and swelling in all his limbs. The doctors say he may die any day, and that it is scarcely possible he can recover.”—Cockburn’s Life of Jeffrey, p. 247.

These examples are not adduced for the purpose of casting obloquy on Sir Henry Halford, Dr Maton, and the other eminent physicians their colleagues, who vainly attempted to reduce to practice in the nineteenth century, the standard but obsolete doctrines taught, almost universally, in the medical schools in the country; but solely for the purpose of displaying the state of the science of Public Health in the year 1831–2, as far as the physicians of highest reputation and largest practice may be taken as its exponents.—Origin and Progress of Sanitary Reform, by T. Jones Howell.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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