Cholera mattresses at Crosby

Controlling disease

girl in bed, her skin covered in large raised welts or spots

A victim of small pox. Photo from the Liverpool School of Hygiene collection at the Museum of Liverpool.

In one alarming incident in May 1866 there was an outbreak of cholera in Crosby, north Liverpool. It was linked to infected mattresses and bedding which had washed ashore. Some residents had reclaimed the bedding for their own use. Cholera developed, and deaths followed.

Cholera spreads easily in overcrowded places, such as on board ship. It was one of the diseases historically controlled by Customs.

The emigrants ship 'Helvetia' had left Liverpool, tightly packed with passengers. She was forced to return following a severe outbreak of cholera. The passengers were delivered to the emigration depot in Birkenhead. Their bedding and clothes were burnt and destroyed, and the ship placed in quarantine.

Some of the infected passengers and crew were moved to the hulk 'Jessie Nunn' (quarantine station) at Birkenhead. At both the emigration depot and quarantine station there was much overcrowding. Some of the passengers were returned to the 'Helvetia', after she had been washed down with quick lime to disinfect her.

An inquiry later suggested that the bedding found on Crosby Beach had come from the 'Jessie Nunn' (quarantine station). This probably caused the deaths of the families in Crosby.