Hydrophobia- The Great Fear of “Rabies”

If ever an outbreak of a particular disease created great fear among working people everywhere, it was the disease of Hydrophobia, or Rabies as it was more commonly known. Rabies was not uncommon in 19th century Britain and anyone who was unfortunate enough to contract this deadly disease was consigned to a fearful and distressing death.

With no known cure outbreaks of Rabies placed people and communities at great risk and Preston was by no means immune from the tragic consequences of this dreaded illness. Throughout the 1860’s and 70’s several documented episodes of Hydrophobia occurred in the town.

Shocking Death of a Preston Policeman through Hydrophobia

In the early weeks of 1869 a young boy living in St Pauls Square, Preston ,was bitten by a mad dog and died a few days afterwards. A local Policeman named John Parker, belonging to the Preston Borough force went after the dog and in endeavouring to properly secure it, had one of his hands severely bitten by the animal. He went to Dr Arminson and had the wound cauterised.

Knowing the dangers of being bitten by a mad dog John Parker became extremely anxious about his future. However during the following days and weeks he showed none of the classic signs of Hydrophobia. Then towards the end of October 1869, some nine months after initially being bitten by the mad dog, he developed slight pain similar to that of a rheumatic nature in different parts of his body.

Days later John Parker was assigned to the cricket ground to police the match being held and remained there until after 6.00 pm in the evening. He afterwards complained to another police officer of having no appetite or sense of taste when he did take food. As his condition deteriorated further, medical aid was called but it was of no avail. As suspicions mounted concerning his condition, nearly all of Preston’s Doctors visited him during a 24 hour period but all could do nothing. He developed very violent convulsions, foamed at the mouth dreadfully and developed the most distinct symptoms of Hydrophobia.

The following day Mr Parker was removed to the House of Recovery, where he died a number of hours later. The police constable had only recently lost his wife and left a family of six children, the oldest being only about 14 years old.

Among the members of the medical profession who visited John Parker before he died was Mr Sellers, Surgeon of Rochdale,Dr Moore, Dr W B Arminson, DrMarshall, Mr Henry Pilkington, Surgeon and son of Mr Pilkington, Surgeon of this town, Dr Smith, Mr Rigby, Surgeon, Dr Haldan, Dr Ridley, and Mr Gornall, Surgeon.

It was generally agreed that although the symptoms displayed by Parker, which suggested the presence of Hydrophobia, were almost imperceptible, they were indicative of its early stages. There was an initial doubt by one of the medical gentlemen who saw Mr Parker, which was influenced by the long interval which had elapsed between the bite and time of death. However any doubt as to the real nature of the disease was later removed.

Dr Arminson said later,

“I have seen cases of a similar nature in Preston but I am of the opinion this case is the worst. In one or two isolated cases death has been known to follow from the bite of a rabid dog, that is when the virus has been sufficiently contracted after an expiration of two years, or even more. however the general rule is that if after being bitten the disease does not show itself after nine months, no fears whatever be entertained as to what may be the result after that time. The nature and in fact the entire operation of the disease, is one of the most mysterious and recondite description of traces whatever being discernible in Post Mortem examination.”

Before John Parker developed the worst of his fatal symptoms he was able to give Dr Arminson a version of what happened when he was fist bit by the mad dog nine months previously. He told the Doctor,

“I was on duty in Friargate when I and another constable noticed a strange dog running about. Some other police followed it but had not succeeded in capturing it. It was then suggested we surround it and because I had more experience in catching dogs than they did, then I should seize it. I approached the dog with the intention of enticing it to grab my coat which was in my hand but as it did so, it tore a piece from the coat then turned suddenly and seized my thumb, biting it severely. The dog then ran away and it was not until later that it was apprehended and taken to the Police station.

The funeral took place on Wednesday September 1st 1869 . There was 48 police officers, 7 Sergeants and 3 Inspectors present, headed by the Preston Artillery Band, who followed the cortege to the cemetery. A large number of sympathisers also attended. (PC Sep’ 4th 1869)

Dreadful Death from Hydrophobia at Broughton

During the month of June 1872 a 47 year old man named Henry Bamber, son of William Bamber a farmer of Broughton near Preston, died a dreadful death from Hydrophobia. Forty seven year old Bamber was a well built man and the former gamekeeper to the late Ed Pedder Esq. On the day of the incident that led to his death, Henry Bamber was sat in the Shuttleworth Arms, Broughton, along with some friends. As they were talking about a supposed mad dog which had been spotted at large in the local area, a strange dog entered the pub. Bamber attempted to strike the dog when suddenly it jumped at him and bit one of his hands quite badly. The dog ran around looking to escape the building while Bamber reached for his gun. As he attempted to load the weapon he mistakenly put two charges of powder into the gun instead of one of shot. Consequently the gun was ineffective and the animal escaped.

A dog fitting the description of the one who bit Henry Bamber was subsequently found at Kirkham and destroyed there. The wound on his hand was attended to and in a short while it healed. Bamber followed his normal routine for several days without feeling any adverse effects, until one particular day when he complained of a “pricking” sensation in his hand and arm. He expressed fears to others that he may have contracted Rabies and took to his bed as the pricking sensation worsened.

Dr Bowen of Preston was summoned to Henry Bamber, who by this time was complaining he could not take any fluids. Some medicine was prepared for him but he could not swallow it. The pain increased, the muscles of his face and neck became convulsed and contracted at intervals and his sufferings increased intensely. The poor man began to snap and grind his teeth, though at no stage did he attempt to bite those who were attending to him.

Within two days of calling for Dr Bowen it became impossible to confine Henry Bamber to his bed. He began rushing about his room in a delirious state of mind, while his eyes became so dilated it was impossible to see the lines of the iris. The death of Henry Bamber came the following day. (PC June 29th 1872)

Hydrophobia of Two Years Standing kills Shopkeeper

A shocking death from Hydrophobia occurred in Preston in January 1875 to a man named Henry Hodge. Mr Hodge, a married man with six children was a shopkeeper living in Wellfield Rd in the town. Two years previous, Mr Hodge was employed on a farm in the neighbourhood of Darwen near Blackburn. Upon this farm was a dog of the terrier breed which was used to work with and control the sheep when required. As Hodge was carrying out his normal work one day, the dog bit him on the left hand between the thumb and first finger. The bite was not particularly severe, soon healed and the incident was forgotten about. Over a year later Henry Hodge left Darwen to settle in Preston.

Towards the end of October 1875 Hodge complained of a severe pain in his left arm, which he described as a shooting type of pain. He also developed convulsive fits. He slept little that night but managed to turn up for work at his father’s farm at Penwortham the following day. Unfortunately he began to feel rather ill again so returned home and retired to his bed. Dr Hodgson was called in, who after examining Mr Hodge expressed a fear that the symptoms indicted the presence of Hydrophobia. As the patient’s condition worsened a number of other medical men were summoned who themselves confirmed the original diagnosis..

Hodge began to decline any water and complained of a lump in his throat which he attempted to remove by thrusting his fingers down through his mouth. Twenty four hours after calling the Doctor he became delirious and occasionally was seized with fits of barking like a dog. He rolled from one side of the bed to the other as if he were in extreme pain. At one stage he became quite sensible once more and pleaded with those around him to end his life with a knife. His screams and yells could be heard outside his home some distance away.

Though he drank nothing he was eating freely. At one stage he suddenly called for a cup of tea, which when presented to him, he firmly grasped the cup, threw the tea down his throat and smashed the pot on the floor. He then vomited what tea he had consumed and returned to his fearful agony. Two days after initially calling the doctor, death came as a release to Henry Hodge, his suffering finally over. He was laid out in the customary manner as relatives came to pay their last respects. It was later said that the original dog bite marks that had been lost to view for two years, were once more visible between his finger and thumb. The death of Henry Hodge was of considerable grief to his widow and distraught children. (PC Feb’ 6th 1875)

Frightful Ravages of a Rabid Dog in Preston

On the evening of Wednesday 16th April 1879, Preston was gripped with alarm when a vicious dog ran amok through the town. The dog, a large fawn coloured mastiff bitch was spotted moving along the streets and thoroughfares attacking and biting anyone who came its way. The animal it transpired, belonged to the Reverend George Richard Goulde Pugh, Vicar of Mellor near Blackburn which had broken loose from the vicarage in a mad and frenzied state during the afternoon.

After escaping the animal began heading in the direction of Preston followed by two men armed with guns. The dog managed to evade its pursuers and a little before 5.00pm was seen in London Rd, Preston. It bit a donkey belonging to a man named Robinson before moving on to St Pauls Rd, savagely attacking and biting two local dogs along the way. Unfortunately the attacks were not confined to other animals, for on turning into Sussex St it bit into the cheek of a little girl, the daughter of John Watson of 49 Sussex St. Moving into Kent St it then attacked and bit another little girl, the daughter of Henry Roberts of 97 Kent St. Proceeding further the dog then severely bit another donkey in the nose which belonged to John Gregson , fish dealer, of Great George St.

Now in a rabid type frenzy the dog passed through Fish St, off North Rd, attacking a boy, the son of Mr Milner, Landlord of the Mechanics Arms. The boy suffered a seriously lacerated cheek and a damaged eye. It was in this same area the dog also attempted to ravage another small boy, the son of Richard Willacy of nearby Aughton St. Passing then onto Lancaster Rd and the covered market another savage attack occurred upon a pet fox terrier dog belonging to Mr William Bolton of Lancaster Rd. From here the crazed animal moved through Church St into Fishergate and back again as far as Water St, then through Leeming St and King St.

Here the animal attacked an elderly man named William Dickinson, seriously lacerating his face and arm, before turning on and biting a boy named William Henry East. Now pursuing its course towards Frenchwood it was spotted near Frenchwood Hall. Here the gardener, realising the condition of the dog, brought out a shotgun and discovered the exhausted animal crouched in the corner of the washhouse . He fired both barrels at the cornered dog putting to an end its savage intent. The animal was then buried forthwith.

Later in the evening the Reverend Pugh who originally owned the dog, arrived at Preston Police station in pursuit of the animal. On being informed of the horrific attacks it had carried out prior to being despatched, he expressed great remorse. He also offered some remuneration to those unfortunate enough to be injured in those attacks.

A post mortem was ordered on the dead dog, which was disinterred and brought to the Veterinary Surgery of Mr Nuttall in Chapel Walks off Fishergate. It was concluded that signs of incipient rabies was present in the dead animal. Thirteen dogs which had been bitten by the offending animal were also destroyed by the police. Those injured in the dog attacks were either treated at the Infirmary or at home. (PC Apr’ 19th 1879)

The Inquests of John Milner and Beatrice Watson

On May 16th 1879, Coroner Mr W Gilbertson held seperate Inquests at the Police station into the deaths of John Milner, 14 of Fish St and Beatrice Watson, 5 of Sussex St, who died after being bitten by the crazed dog..

John Watson, father of Beatrice Watson told the Inquest,

Deceased was bitten on the 16th April. I saw her immediately afterwards in the house. Her wounds were at the time being dressed by Dr Rigby. The wounds did not entirely heal up but did appear to get better. Deceased showed signs of illness three days after being attacked. That night my wife was giving her the usual bath, when deceased began to shiver as if she were cold and seemed to be in a bad temper. We put her to bed and the following day we called in Dr Rigby who attended her up to her death which occurred on 23rd April”

Dr Rigby was then called and said,

“ I saw the deceased on the 16th April. She had a very extensive lacerated deep wound on the right cheek. I was informed the wound had been caused through the bite of a dog. I dressed it and the wound did very well for the first week. The process of healing was rather rapid. The father of the child came to see me on the evening of the 20th April and said she was rather worse. I gave her some medicine and the following day attended her at the house.

She was then manifesting symptoms which led me to believe that Hydrophobia had set in. The symptoms were Laryngeal spasms, difficulty of swallowing and remarkable over sensitiveness of the skin of the face. A wavering of the hand over the face or a puff of the breath sent her at once into a violent series of spasms. I did what I could but it was impossible to apply anything by the mouth, as it was the greatest difficulty for the deceased to swallow.

Their was a little alleviation of the symptoms and the deceased managed to get some rest, but the symptoms returned again. She was then in a rather exited state and died late on the evening of 23rd April. In my opinion the child died from exhaustion. The Coroner asked “ Have you any doubt in your own mind that she died from Hydrophobia Dr Rigby replied, “No, my mind is quite made up on that point”

The evidence of John Milner, landlord of the Mechanics Arms, Fish St and father of John Milner aged 14 was then heard.

“ On the 16th April deceased came home about 5.00pm in the afternoon. He had his hand to his eye and told how he had been bitten by a dog in Lancaster Rd. He had been bitten around the left eye and on the forehead and he was bleeding very much. Shortly afterwards he was taken to the Infirmary where his wounds were dressed. I went for him the morning after. Deceased began to show symptoms on the 19th, three days after being bitten.

He laid down on the sofa and said his face had begun to ache, while on the following day he appeared to be nearly choked. He seemed to absolutely dread water. We took him to Garstang in a Trap on the 22nd April and on returning he appeared much better and partook of some sugar and preserves. He started to become worse again just after 11.00 pm that evening and had violent convulsions. Deceased vomited at intervals. He attempted to bite his brother during the night and would have bitten anybody who came near him. He was perfectly sensible and told people to keep away from him. He died about 06.45 on the morning of 23rd April.

Dr Holden deposed,

“I saw deceased on Monday 21st April at about 01.00 pm. I found him in a restless , excited state. He was wandering about, did not seem to know what he was doing and even tried to get out of the window. I did not see him again”

The other four persons who were bitten by the rabid dog on the 16th April were reported to be progressing well and not displaying any symptoms of Hydrophobia. The Jury, after a few minutes deliberation, returned a verdict in both cases of death from Hydrophobia through the bite of a dog. No blame was attached to anyone. (PC April 19th & May 17th 1879)

%d bloggers like this: