The documents for the 1901 census recorded that William John Chambers, the eldest of Sarah Ann's two sons, was living in Newport, Wales. He was one of four assistant drapers living with the family of David William Price, a large household potentially full of infected and uninfected people. By 1909 William John was back in Bournemouth where he died of cardiac failure probably brought on by the phthisis which he had for 8 years. It appears that his disease, like that of his uncle John Thomas Chambers, was due to his occupation, unless he had picked it up from his mother, Sarah Ann and it only became active when he moved to Wales. But then again where had Sarah Ann become infected? Although her death certificate says that she had phthisis for 4 years, her entry in the 1871 census bears a striking similarity to that of William John as she was a draper's assistant living with a draper's family and seven other assistants in Yeovil, Somerset.
That uncertainty as to where and when the sufferer was infected was a typical characteristic of tuberculosis. Its initial symptoms came in a number of guises which were confused with other diseases. Public health campaigns did what they could to combat its spread. With no way to pinpoint where the infections were being picked up, the medically unsophisticated society of this time period could only cope with the disease once it manifested itself, which was usually too late for the patient. 21 But sometimes the progress of the disease was halted. Many were advised to move to more bracing climates and Canada was a favourite destination of British tuberculosis immigrants. So much so that this provoked protests from the Canadian physician-in-chief who felt that Canada was becoming a “dumping ground” for diseased Britons. Canada had enough home grown sufferers and felt that immigrants from England should be screened before being allowed into the country. 22 But this threat never materialized and the last remaining member of the Chambers family, Sarah Ann's youngest son and my grandfather, immigrated to Canada. Perhaps there was something in the bracing Canadian climate as he didn't succumb to TB or perhaps he was naturally resistant. That was the arbitrary nature of the disease, some it merely touched and some it latched onto and never let go.
Smith, F.B. The Retreat of Tuberculosis 1850-1950. London, New York, Sydney: Croom Helm, 1988
McCuaig, Katherine. The Weariness, the Fever, and the Fret. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.