Sunday, 24 April 2016

Consumption and Families (post 3 of 6)

Consumption involved families. In fact, it was believed to be hereditary, so much so that there was a policy that people who had relatives with the disease were excluded from Civil Service jobs. An explanation for this debilitating disease was needed and heredity made sense. There were three deaths from tuberculosis in the Chambers family. Perhaps they also thought the disease was carried by their family. Or maybe they questioned the link, after all the next person in the family to die was Sarah Ann Conway Chambers, the wife of William Chambers. John Thomas Chambers was the first family member known to have died from tuberculosis and William Chambers was his brother. This meant that Sarah Ann was not directly linked to the Chambers family by blood. She died in 1890. This was after Robert Koch's 1882 discovery that tuberculosis was a disease caused by the tubercle bacilli. But in 1890 some of the old beliefs about the disease still lingered.

William and Sarah Ann Chambers were fortunate that the disease had not affected the bread winner of the family. Many families had been brought to destitution by the breadwinner's inability to work to feed and house his family. Where destitution took hold, death often followed, not just for the head of the household but other members of the family as well. In what appears to have been a move for health reasons, the Chambers and their two young sons left the industrial city of Birmingham to take up residence in Bournemouth. 


Thomas Dormandy, White Death: A History of Tuberculosis. (New York: New York University Press, 2000)

Alex Tankard, "The Victorian Consumptive in Disability Studies." Journal Of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 5,

no. 1 (March 2011)

Christian McMillen, Discovering Tuberculosis: A Global History 1900 to Present. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015)

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