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Robert Wagstaffe Killer (Part 3)

Portrait of Robert Wagstaffe Killer. Reproduced courtesy of Chetham’s Library.

This is third and final post by Julie Ramwell introducing a unique 18th-century trade directory with annotations by a Manchester surgeon. The first post focussed on the life of the surgeon, Robert Wagstaffe Killer (1763-1841).  The second post explored the range of annotations that he made.  This post focusses on ill-health and causes of death.

Medical complaints

As a member of the medical profession, Robert Wagstaffe Killer had a particular interest in the health and well-being of Manchester’s residents. His annotations in Scholes’s 1794 Manchester directory frequently reference a wide range of medical conditions:

Thorp John, surgeon, 39, Cock-gates
He has suffered by Rheumatism many years, and was at times unable to walk upright

Wardle James, merchant, house, 5, Shepherd’s-court
Had a paralytic stroke in June 1810 which rendered him incapable of any exertion

Brigham William, surgeon and man midwife, 17, King-st
Suffer’d many years by asthma

Sadly, many conditions proved fatal.  Natural causes of death listed include: tuberculosis  (referred to as ‘consumption’ or ‘phthisis’); ‘hydrothorax’, which also affects the lungs; ‘angina pectoris’ (chest pain); ‘childbed’, and ‘constipation of the bowels’.   Mary Dawson ‘died of cancer in her Breast’, while the widow of James Hardman, gentleman, ‘suffered amputation of a breast 2 years ago and remained healthy for a year, but since she has undergone great suffering’.

Poverty versus excess

Manchester’s densely populated areas, incorporating cellar dwellings, filthy lodging houses and unventilated cotton mills, were a breeding ground for diseases such as typhus. Epidemic fevers swept through neighbourhoods, decimating families:

Fildes Thomas, grocer, 37, Bank-top
Died of a fever 1795 and his widow died of a fever Feby. 1796 leaving 6 little children

For those who escaped poverty, fine living could bring its own problems.  A diet rich in meat and alcohol could lead to a build-up of uric crystals in the joints, causing more than one Manchester resident to become ‘a Martyr to the Gout’.

Punch Cures the Gout

Rasbotham Dorning, Fellow of the Collegiate Church, 3, Old Church-yard
Mr Rasbotham died July 18th 1804 – He was seized with the gout in his stomach, and died in a few hours. Few men have been afflicted more severely with this dreadful malady.

Excessive drinking seems to have been commonplace, particularly among the younger generation. The son of Thomas Hatfield had ‘drank many years abominably’, while John Dawson’s son is labelled ‘a wine bibber’. Robert also sees heavy drinking as a contributory factor in other conditions, including consumption and dropsy (oedema).

Rowbotham Ephraim, joiner and market-looker, 5 Apple-market
Died June 29th 1803 aet. 52 No man was more respected or regretted by his acquaintances … but drink he must have till he died dropsical.

A series of unfortunate events

Alcohol also played its part in accidental deaths. John Longworth, surgeon, who ‘drowned in the river Irwell’, ‘was in liquor, & missed his road at night’.  Robert Booth and Joseph Wrigley both lost their lives in the Rochdale Canal, while Philip Bousfield ‘drowned in a pit near his house’.

Travel could be hazardous, whether on foot or by horse. Robert records five deaths resulting from falls from horses, including that of the surgeon, Thomas Tomlinson who ‘got up, went home and visited a patient’ before dying ‘a few days’ later. Horse-drawn vehicles could be equally dangerous, to both occupants and pedestrians.

Parker Robert, manufacturer, house, 9, Brown-street
Heaton Norris. July 21st 1815. His horse ran away with the gig in Stockport and he was thrown from it with great velocity. His head falling on an iron bar was fractured, & he died in a quarter of an hour.

Fullerton, John, sadler, 20, Deansgate
ran over by Hackney coach at Brown St. end on the — of December 1833. Leg & arm broken. He died in three days aet: 69. He was deaf.

Other accidents involve: falling down steps; getting caught in machinery, and mishandling firearms. The moorland shoot of Richard Entwisle’s son ended prematurely when ‘whilst charging one barrel of his gun the other was discharged and blew his brains out1831’.  Equally unlucky was the son of Samuel Faulkner, linen-draper, who ‘was shot by his cousin, being behind a target at which they were shooting’. Perhaps most bizarre however, is the unfortunate death of Thomas Tipping:

Tipping, Thomas, and Co., manufacturers and calico-printers, 1, Tipping’s Court
Mr T. Tipping was stooping to tie up a carnation in his own garden after tea on the 14th of July 1815 – His foot slipped, he fell forward and his eye alighting on an old arrow, which was used for a prop to a flower, it pierced the eye and entered several inches into the brain. He died two hours after the incident. Aged 68.

Mental health and suicide

Robert records details of eight suicides, and one attempted suicide, all male. Business failures, debt and intemperance are mentioned, but suicide was normally attributed to insanity, to allow a Christian burial to take place.  

Bingham John, tallow-chandler, 7 Hanging-ditch
Mr Bingham had long experienced temporary alienations of mind, and under the influence of one of these dejections he cut his throat May 29 & died the 31st 1816

Personal connections

Does your family come from Manchester? Can you find your surname in Robert’s directory?  Connections with the past can be found where least expected.  On 28 July 1811, Robert Wagstaffe Killer assisted his former apprentice, William Goodlad, in an operation to remove a tumour from the right thigh of a 41 year-old baker.  The operation was a success.  The baker was my 4x great-grandfather.

Find out more:

Scholes, John, of Manchester, Scholes’s Manchester and Salford Directory (Manchester: Sowler and Russell, 1794) with annotations by Robert Wagstaffe Killer has been reproduced in full here.

1 comment on “Robert Wagstaffe Killer (Part 3)

  1. Peter Nockles

    Very interesting. An unfortunate surname for a surgeon!

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