Four die of "wind"...
By BILL OF MORTALITY (Weekly) , 1680

The Diseases and Casualties this Week. London 34.

Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: BILL OF MORTALITY (Weekly)
  • Publication place: [London
  • Publisher: Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks]
  • Publication date: From the 8. of June to the 15., 1680
  • Physical description: Handbill, printed on both sides, woodcut coat-of-arms to one.
  • Dimensions: 220 by 180mm (8.75 by 7 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 18197


One of the first examples of serious gathering of medical statistics in England: An alphabetic census of the different diseases and the number of deaths caused, on one side, and the number of deaths per parish on the other.

Since 1593, each of the parishes of London compiled a weekly census recording the births and baptisms of their population. From the early 1660s, ‘Bills of Mortality’ [as here] were introduced to provide statistics on deaths caused by the plague. Until the 1830s they were the main source of mortality statistics.

The Bill for the second week of June, 1680, reveals “Feaver” (62), “Convulsion” (46), “Consumption” (42) and “Griping in the Guts” (28) as the main killers, although “Thrush” and “Gout” are notable for accounting for 4 and 1 respectively. Also of interest are the three “Kill’d” – one “accidentally by the fall of a Cart Wheel at St Giles Cripplegate, one with a blow with a cane, and one with a fall on a Throwsters Mill at Stepney”. The silk mills of Stepney were the destination of a number of immigrants to the area at the end of the sixteenth century, and the area was associated with poverty and deprivation until relatively recently. It is noteworthy that years after the Great Plague, the design of the form still plays particular regard to the plague, even though there are no cases to report (the second column in the analysis of deaths by parish is for plague deaths, with the total at the extreme right bottom, with more plague information at the bottom of the other side). Here “fever” and “griping of the guts”are major killers, although it is known that both of these terms were also used for plague deaths in 1665. In fact, the last recorded death from bubonic plague in the UK (apart from a minor outbreak in Glasgow and Liverpool in 1900) was in 1679 in Rotherhithe.

Soon scholars, such as John Graunt (1620-1674), most famously in his ‘Natural and political observations mentioned in a following index and made upon the bills of mortality…with reference to the government, religion, trade, growth, ayre, diseases, and the several changes of the said city’ (1662), were making observations and drawing conclusions from these statistics. Gaunt “was the first to recognize the importance of vital statistics and the need for reducing them to order, which he found to be possible by mathematical calculation, leading to important conclusions on the social and economic conditions of the people…” (PMM).

Rare. A survey of OCLS reveals only a handful of surviving examples (Bloomington Lilly Library, Indiana; Dartmouth; Edinburgh; Folger Shakespeare Library; Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel; National Library of Medicine, Bethesda; Oxford; Yale), and we are unable to trace an example for sale at public auction.

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