1794 — What to do about smallpox in Brighton?

On 6 January 1794, The Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported that the people of Brighton had met to discuss an urgent public health issue.

‘…the inhabitants of Brighton, at a vestry held at the New Ship, on Friday last, decided against a general Inoculation in that town.  The number of inhabitants at this present time resident at Brighton amounts to Parishioners – 4876, among whom there are that have not had small pox: Parishioners – 155.’

This slender report is a reminder of two things. It is a good indicator of the size of the permanent population of the town, at a time long before the census was introduced. But it also demonstrates how public health matters at that time were discussed democratically, and were not apparently led by medical professionals. By contrast, fears of another smallpox outbreak in in Brighton in 1950 met a rigorous response by public health officials.

Inoculation programmes continue to be controversial, as can be seen in this recent letter and poll in The Argus. As the report from The Sussex Weekly Advertiser shows, this is a problem that is over 200 years old.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer

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