Front Page Titles (by Subject) 293.: REPORT ON THE SANITARY CONDITION OF THE LABOURING POPULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN EXAMINER, 20 AUG., 1842, PP. 530-1 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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293.: REPORT ON THE SANITARY CONDITION OF THE LABOURING POPULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN EXAMINER, 20 AUG., 1842, PP. 530-1 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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REPORT ON THE SANITARY CONDITION OF THE LABOURING POPULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN
On 8 June, 1842, Mill had written to his friend Edwin Chadwick about the “Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain,” to be printed in House of Lords Sessional Papers, 1842, XXVI (published separately by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in the same year): “I have read the whole report carefully through again. The defects of arrangements are now corrected & I have nothing to suggest except that it be carefully revised by yourself or some other person to correct the numerous typographical errors & occasional ungrammatical sentences. I think it all excellent & shall be glad to write about it for any newspaper as you suggest.” (EL, CW, Vol. XIII, pp. 523-4.) The review, headed as title, appeared in the “Political Examiner.” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “The greater part of an article on Chadwick’s ‘Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population in Great Britain’ in the Examiner of 20th August 1842” (MacMinn, p. 54). It is not known which part of the review is not by Mill, nor who added it, though Fonblanque normally wrote most of each issue.
this report, prepared by Mr. Chadwick from the results of inquiries made in all parts of England, Wales, and Scotland, by himself and others, under the Poor Law Commission,1 is destined, if we mistake not, to make an impression on the public mind more extensive and permanent even than that recently produced by the appalling disclosures of the Children’s Employment Commission.2 It is long since we have read any document so painful in respect to the past and present, or so encouraging in regard to the future. The occasion is a fitting one for a remark similar to that of Demosthenes to the Athenians, that what is worst in retrospect is sometimes best in prospect.3 If the mass of disgusting misery depicted in this Report had been found to exist after all which human wisdom could devise had been done to avert it, things would indeed be hopeless. But since the evils are so great only because it has been nobody’s appointed duty to stir a finger for their alleviation; because legislators and administrators have thought they did enough for the poor by leaving them to themselves; and even private philanthropy, except in the case of a very few noble-hearted landlords and manufacturers, has taken any other direction rather than this; the spectacle of so vast a field of human improvement altogether untrodden, or imprinted only by the feet of a few thinly scattered pioneers, suggests the most cheering prospects of an amount of physical, moral, and social amelioration, not only practicable, but easily and rapidly to be accomplished, such as the most sanguine would hardly have dared, without the superabundant evidence contained in this Report, to indulge even in imagination.
A conception of the extent of the field comprehended in the Report may most easily be given by an enumeration of the titles under which it is arranged [pp. xxiii-xxix]:
I. General condition of the residences of the labouring classes where disease is found to be the most prevalent.
II. Public arrangements, external to the residences, by which the sanitary condition of the labouring population is affected.
Subdivided under the following heads:
Town drainage of streets and houses.
Street and road cleansing: road pavements.
Supplies of water.
Sanitary effect of land drainage.
III. Circumstances chiefly in the internal economy and bad ventilation of places of work; workmen’s lodging-houses, dwellings, and the domestic habits affecting the health of the labouring classes.
IV. Comparative chances of life in different classes of the community.
V. Pecuniary burdens created by the neglect of sanitary measures.
VI. Evidence of the effects of preventive measures in raising the standard of health, and the chances of life.
With the following sub-heads:
Cost to tenants and owners, of the public measures for drainage, cleansing, and the supplies of water, as compared with the cost of sickness.
Employers’ influence on the health of work-people by means of improved habitations.
Employers’ influence on the sobriety and health of work-people by modes of payment, which do not lead to temptations to intemperance.
Employers’ influence on the health of work-people by the promotion of personal cleanliness.
Employers’ influence on the health of work-people by the ventilation of places of work, and the prevention of noxious fumes, dust, &c.
Employers’ means of influencing the condition of the working population, by regard to respectability in dress.
Employers’ or owners’ influence in the improvement of habitations and sanitary arrangements for the protection of the labouring classes in the rural districts.
Effects of public walks and gardens on the health and morals of the lower classes of the population.
VII. Recognised principles of legislation and state of the existing law for the protection of the public health.
Under this head the Report has little to do except to demonstrate the total inefficiency of all the administrative arrangements at present applicable to the various purposes referred to in the preceding part of the Report, and the impossibility of making any real provision for those purposes without reconstructing the arrangements upon more rational and comprehensive principles than have yet been seen by those who have hitherto undertaken to legislate on the subject.
VIII, and last. Common lodging houses.
After two most careful and deliberate perusals of this important document, we need not fear to express the opinion, that under each and every one of the leading divisions of the Report, the intelligent reader, who has no previous acquaintance with the subject, will find his utmost imagination exceeded, both by the extent and magnitude of the existing evils, and by the amount of good which not only may be, as a matter of inference and speculation, but has been, in occasional instances, actually accomplished, and that too by the employment of the simplest and most obvious means.
We are accustomed to value ourselves upon our superiority to the nations of the continent in the airiness, cleanliness, and neatness of our towns. We deserve this praise as to the quarters, or at least the thoroughfares, inhabited by persons in the higher and middle ranks of life, but those classes are entirely unaware that the quarters exclusively inhabited by the labouring people, and even the lanes and alleys abutting on the backs of their own mansions, are too often in a condition which the most noisome and pestilential parts of the worst continental towns can scarcely exceed, and this by no means exclusively in large manufacturing but in small country towns, and even villages, and not from poverty, but from bad drainage, a mode of building which excludes ventilation, and lastly, insufficient supplies of water; defects which, as the Report shows, might be completely remedied at a trifling cost, compared even with the mere expense of maintaining the sick and orphan poor who are made such by these deleterious agencies.
Mr. Chadwick states in his concluding summary of the points which he considers established, and it is difficult to read the evidence which he adduces and not agree with him,
That the annual loss of life from filth and bad ventilation is greater than the loss from death or wounds in any wars in which the country has been engaged in modern times:
That of the 43,000 cases of widowhood and 112,000 cases of destitute orphanage relieved from the poor rates in England and Wales alone, it appears that the greatest proportion of deaths of the heads of families occurred from the above-specified and other removable causes; that their ages were under 45 years; that is to say, 13 years below the natural probabilities of life, as shown by the experience of the whole population of Sweden:
That measuring the loss of working ability amongst large classes by the instances of gain, even from incomplete arrangements for the removal of noxious influences from places of work or from abodes, this loss cannot be less than eight or ten years.
The following is a most important and unexpected result: and most fully is it established:
That the ravages of epidemics and other diseases do not diminish, but tend to increase the pressure of population:
That in the districts where the mortality is greatest the births are not only sufficient to replace the numbers removed by death, but to add to the population.
Amongst the structural arrangements, of the practicability of which evidence is given, will be found the testimony of practical engineers on such points as the following:
That the chief obstacles to the immediate removal of decomposing refuse of towns and habitations have been the expense and annoyance of the hand labour and cartage requisite for the purpose.
That this expense may be reduced to one-twentieth or to one-thirtieth, or rendered inconsiderable, by the use of water and self-acting means of removal by improved and cheaper sewers and drains.
That refuse, when thus held in suspension in water, may be most cheaply and innoxiously conveyed to any distance out of towns, and also in the best form for productive use, and that the loss and injury by the pollution of natural streams may be avoided.
That by appropriate arrangements, 10 or 15 per cent. on the ordinary outlay for drainage might be saved, which, on an estimate of the expense of the necessary structural alterations of one-third only of the existing tenements, would be a saving of one million and a half sterling, besides the reduction of the future expenses of management.
That the expense of public drainage, of supplies of water laid on in houses, and of means of improved cleansing, would be a pecuniary gain, by diminishing the existing charges attendant on sickness and premature mortality.
The following general observations are made on this topic:
The condition of large rural districts in the immediate vicinity of the towns, and of the poorest districts of the towns themselves, presents a singular contrast in the nature of the agencies by which the health of the inhabitants is impaired. Within the towns we find the houses and streets filthy, the air foetid, disease, typhus, and other epidemics rife amongst the population, bringing, in the train, destitution and the need of pecuniary as well as medical relief; all mainly arising from the presence of the richest materials of production, the complete absence of which would, in a great measure, restore health, avert the recurrence of disease, and, if properly applied, would promote abundance, cheapen food, and increase the demand for beneficial labour. Outside the afflicted districts, and at a short distance from them, as in the adjacent rural districts, we find the aspect of the country poor and thinly clad with vegetation, except rushes and plants favoured by a superabundance of moisture, the crops meagre, the labouring agricultural population few, and afflicted with rheumatism and other maladies, arising from damp and an excess of water, which, if removed, would relieve them from a cause of disease, the land from an impediment to production, and if conveyed for the use of the town population, would give that population the element of which they stand in peculiar need, as a means to relieve them from that which is their own cause of depression, and return it for use on the land as a means of the highest fertility.
To afford a conception of the need of care in this respect to provide for the increase of population, it is stated that the rate of that increase, 230,000 per annum, is equivalent to the annual addition of a new county, requiring about 60,000 new houses every year to accommodate them—an increase in houses equivalent to two new towns nearly as large as Manchester proper, which has 32,310 houses, and Leeds, which has 27,268 houses.
It may be of interest to observe that, as the whole population grows in age, the annual increase in numbers may be deemed to be equivalent to an annual increase of numbers of the average ages of the community. If they were maintained on the existing average of territory to the population in England, the additional numbers would require an annual extension of one fifty-seventh of the present territory of Great Britain, possessing the average extent of roads, commons, hills, and unproductive land. The extent of new territory required annually would form a county larger than Surrey, or Leicester, or Nottingham, or Hereford, or Cambridge, and nearly as large as Warwick. To feed the annually increased population, supposing it to consume the same proportions of meat that is consumed by the population of Manchester and its vicinity (a consumption which appears to me to be below the average of the consumption in the metropolis), the influx of 230,000 of new population will require for their consumption an annual increase of 27,327 head of cattle, 70,319 sheep, 64,715 lambs, and 7,894 calves, to raise which an annual increase of upwards of 81,000 acres of good pasture land would be required. Taking the consumption of wheat or bread to be on the scale of a common dietary, i.e., 56 oz. daily for a family of a man, woman, and three children, then the annual addition of the supply of wheat required will be about 105,000 quarters, requiring 28,058 acres of land, yielding 30 bushels of wheat to an acre; the total amount of good land requisite for raising the chief articles of food will therefore be in all about 109,000 acres of good pasture land annually. If the increase of production obtained by the use of the refuse of Edinburgh (that is, of 3,900 oxen from one quarter of the refuse of Edinburgh) be taken as the scale of production obtainable by appropriate measures, the refuse of the metropolis alone that is now thrown away would serve to feed no less than 218,288 oxen annually, which would be equivalent to the produce of double that number of acres of good pasture land.
There is no one thing more completely made out in the Report, from incontestable statistical evidence, than that the mortality occasioned among adults by vice and misery does not check, but rather stimulates, the undue increase of numbers. Its principal effect consists in merely substituting a young, and, at the same time, weakly population, for one fairly proportioned among the seven ages of man.4 Precisely in those places where, by accurate records, it is known that deaths are fewest, and the average duration of life longest, there also occurs the smallest annual number of births; and as improvement occurs in the one respect, its consequences are more and more felt in the other.
Such evidence as the following is adduced of hope for the future:
In illustration of the moral and social effects to be anticipated from measures for the removal of the causes of pestilence amongst the labouring classes, and for the increase of their duration of life, concurrently with an increase of the population, I refer to the effect experienced in Geneva from the like improvements effected during the lapse of centuries. That city is, so far as I am aware, the only one in Europe in which there is an early and complete set of registers of marriages, births, and deaths. These registries were established in the year 1549, and are viewed as preappointed evidences5 to civil rights, and are kept with great care. This registration includes the name of the disease which has caused the death, entered by a district physician who is charged by the State with the inspection of every person who dies within his district. A second table is made up from certificates setting forth the nature of the disease, with a specification of the symptoms, and observations required to be made by the private physician who may have had the care of the deceased. These registries have been the subject of frequent careful examinations. It appears from them that the progress of the population intra muros of that city has been as follows:
It is proved in a report by M. Edward Mallet, one of the most able that have been made from these registries, that this increase of the population has been followed by an increase in the probable duration of life in that city:
The progression of the population and the increased duration of life had been attended by a progression in happiness: as prosperity advanced marriages became fewer and later;* the proportion of births were reduced, but greater numbers of the infants born were preserved;† and the proportion of the population in manhood became greater.8 In the early and barbarous periods, the excessive mortality was accompanied by a prodigious fecundity. In the ten last years of the 17th century, a marriage still produced five children and more; the probable duration of life attained was not twenty years, and Geneva had scarcely 17,000 inhabitants. Towards the end of the 18th century there were scarcely three children to a marriage, and the probabilities of life exceeded 32 years. At the present time a marriage only produces 2 3/4 children; the probability of life is 45 years, and Geneva, which exceeds 27,000 in population, has arrived at a high degree of civilization and of “prospérité matérielle.”9 In 1836 the population appeared to have attained its summit; the births barely replaced the deaths.
M. Mallet observes, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the different causes, and the different degrees of intensity of each of the causes, that have tended to produce this result.10 It is, however, attributed generally to the advance in the condition of all classes; to the medical science of the public health being better understood and applied; to larger and better and cleaner dwellings; more abundant and healthy food; the cessation of the great epidemics which, from time to time, decimated the population; the precautions taken against famine; and better regulated public and private life. As an instance of the effects of regimen in the preservation of life, he mentions that, in an establishment for the care of female orphans taken from the poorest classes, out of 86 reared in 24 years, one only had died.11 These orphans were taken from the poor. The average mortality on the whole population would have been six times as great.
We would willing touch at greater length upon many of the important topics in the Report, but we have only space remaining for one.
The attention of philanthropists has of late begun to turn itself to the improvement of the imputed evils of the Factory System, and many have sincerely adopted the opinion (which has, moreover, been sedulously propagated by those who thought themselves interested in maintaining the Corn Laws) that to work in factories at all is inconsistent with a healthy condition, either physical or moral, of the labouring classes of any community. The Children’s Employment Commission has already done much to dissipate the error of supposing that human beings who work in large bodies, and under the protection, more or less perfect, of publicity, are worse taken care of, or more unfavourably circumstanced in any respect, than those who perform work of an analogous description in places called by other names. The present document shows, by the most copious evidence, that factories, even as they are now, are much surpassed in unhealthiness, and in all the demoralizing consequences shown to result from unhealthiness, by other places of work not called factories, such as those of the tailors in London, and by the private dwellings of a large part of the labouring population. That, nevertheless, the existing factories are, speaking generally, extremely unhealthy; but that they are so only for want of proper ventilation and other important requisites, which, if the enlightened self-interest of the owners fail to supply, the law could and ought to enforce; and that in all instances in which, either from that enlightened self-interest or from benevolence, such improved arrangements have been carried into effect, and especially where the improvement of the private dwelling-places of the work-people has been included in the plan, its authors have been rewarded by seeing around them a healthy, thriving, and well-conducted factory population attached to them, and having none of the evil characteristics so often declared to be inseparable from the Factory System.
Our limits compel us to quit the subject of this Report before we have given an idea of a tithe of its important contents. But no such notice as we could give would do it justice. The Report itself, or a full abstract, should be in the hands of every legislator or administrator, every philanthropist, and every employer of labour in the community.
[1 ]The “Report” arose out of the Fourth and Fifth Annual Reports of the Poor Law Commissioners (App. A, No. 1, PP, 1838, XXVIII, 210-44, and App. C, No. 2, PP, 1839, XX, 100-6). The Commissioners then were George Nicholls, George Cornewall Lewis, and Edmund Walker Head.
[2 ]“First Report of the Children’s Employment Commission (Mines),” PP, 1842, XV, 1-281.
[3 ]Demosthenes, “First Philippic,” Sect. 2, in Olynthiacs, Philippics, Minor Public Speeches, Speech against Leptines (Greek and English), trans. J.H. Vince (London: Heinemann, 1962), p. 68.
[4 ]See Shakespeare, As You Like It, II, vii, 139-66; in The Riverside Shakespeare, pp. 381-2.
[5 ]A term introduced by Bentham to whom Chadwick had been an amanuensis; see, e.g., An Introductory View of the Rationale of Evidence, in Works, Vol. VI, p. 60.
[* ]It is the practice in Geneva for female servants to delay marriage until they have saved enough to furnish a house, &c. In illustration of this state of things it is stated that in 290 out of 956 marriages, the female was at the time of marriage older than the male. With further advances in prosperity, it is anticipated that age of marriage would again diminish. [Chadwick’s note, based on Mallet, pp. 83-4.]
[† ]“Out of 100 deaths in the 16th century, 25.92 were children in their first year; in the 17th century, 23.72; in the 18th century, 20.12; in 1801-13, they were 16.57; and in 1814-33, they were 13.85.” [Mallet, p. 114.] In Liverpool, the number of children which in the year 1840 died under one year of age was no less than 23 per cent., or what it was in Geneva in the 17th century. In the county of Wilts, where the proportionate mortality is 1 in 58, the deaths of children in the first year were 16 per cent. Dr. Griffin, in a report on the sanitary condition of the population of Limerick, where the births appear to bear such proportions to the marriages as they appear to have borne in Geneva in the earliest periods, namely, of five children to a marriage, and more in the worst-conditioned districts, makes an important observation on the subject: “I find that as the poor nurse their own children, there is in general an interval of about two years between the birth of one child and that of the next; but if the child dies early on the breast, this interval will be much shorter; and if this occurs often, there will be a certain number born as it were for the purpose of dying; and these being soon replaced, the same number may still be preserved as if there had been few or no deaths, or only the ordinary number.” Of these 55 per cent. died. [Chadwick’s note, the concluding reference being to p. 16 of An Enquiry into the Mortality Occurring among the Poor of the City of Limerick (n.p., 1840), by Daniel Griffin (ca. 1801-63), physician and author.]
[8 ]Mallet, p. 105.
[9 ]Ibid., p. 167.
[10 ]Ibid., p. 88.
[11 ]Ibid., p. 137n.