The Greek word cemetery means a sleeping-place, and the idea of rest would be far better conveyed if only ashes were laid there, as no further atomical change would be possible.
In order to properly estimate the improved condition of things during the present day, and under the present regulations as to burial, it will be necessary to examine the state in which our graveyards were found before these new regulations were in force. Let us take, then, our metropolitan burying-places as they existed a little more than twenty years ago.
A very good idea of the lamentable want of proper space for burial in the metropolis in 1843 was furnished by Mr. Sopwith, who showed by a plan that the extent of intramural space then provided was just about half of what it ought to be, even at the standard of 110 burials per acre. At that time things were in a most desperate state, the burials at the parochial yards of St. Mary's-at-Hill, St. George's Burial Ground in Uxbridge Road, and St. Olave's, Tooley Street, averaging 1,204 per acre. The grounds belonging to other religionists were in some cases worse; for the interments in the Roman Catholic yards at Moorfields and Dockhead, in the Baptist ground at Woolwich and in the Congregationalist fields at Stepney, averaged 1,278 per acre. But the parochial burial-grounds of St. Giles's, St. Pancras, and St. John's Chapel of Ease, exceeded the last-named figure by 282, and, horrible to relate in these days — when we calculate that, to properly accommodate even 52,000 annual metropolitan dead with decennially renewed interments, we should want at least 500 acres — the burials in the new Bunhill General Burial Ground reached the astounding figure of 2,323 per acre.
St. George's Burial Ground in Uxbridge Road
St. Olave's, Tooley Street
Bunhill General Burial Ground
This was a fearful state of things, it must be admitted, but it was even exceeded in point of hideousness by many of the yards of our country towns, and even of our villages, where one might have supposed no necessity for overcrowding existed. The reader who is anxious to examine these revolting details for himself can see them in the reports of the evidence taken before the Parliamentary Commissions of 1842, of 1843, and of 1850. These reports were issued by Lords Carlisle and Ashley, and by Mr. Edwin Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, and revealed horrors beyond all that could have been imagined. Nor were some of the villages of Switzerland better situated with regard to accommodation than our own. Read for instance the condition of the churchyard of Schuls, as described by Professor Reclam.
(In the 'Gartenlaube" No. 19, 1874.)
Since 1843, however, many of the parochial and general burial-grounds of the metropolis have been closed altogether, and the same has been done in many parts of the country. During the ten years which elapsed between 1852 and 1862, about 500 Orders in Council were issued, by means of which, says the great legal authority upon the laws of burial, some four thousand old burial-grounds have been closed or regulated. Regulation generally means the forbidding of interments in a churchyard which has been reported against by the Medical Officer of Health, except in the case of family graves. A London churchyard has just been regulated in this way. During the ten years alluded to, some 400 local biurial boards were constituted. Within that period also nearly one and a half millions were raised for the use of the parochial cemeteries by the ratepayers.
Some cemeteries properly so called existed in 1843, but their area in the metropolitan districts amounted to only 260 acres, and the annual number of burials performed amounted to nearly 3,400. Of this number, the burials in the East-End of London, in the City of London and Tower Hamlets, and in the Kensal Green Cemeteries, made up over two-thirds. The number of burials per acre in the East London Cemetery, Mile End, was 154, in Kensal Green 17, and in Norwood 5.
|Kensal Green Anglican Chapel|
In 1850 the Board of Health condemned the cemetery at Brompton, but interments are still carried on there, with, it must be, anything but satisfactory results to the houses which siuround it. What will it be twenty years hence, if the interments go on as now? Several new cemeteries have been opened, it is true, for instance a magnificent cemetery at Woking. Others again are being projected for places where interments have been found difficult to obtain, notably, one for the south of London.
At the present moment a company is being formed to work a cemetery at East Ham, two miles nearer to the city than Ilford cemetery. As the site is upwards of two miles beyond the metropolitan area, no sanction is required from the Secretary of State, and yet it is adjacent to some very populous parishes, whence, as is set forth, numerous interments may be expected. The site occupies 115 acres, 45 of which it is purposed to reserve for burials, the other 70 to be sold in lots for building purposes. Then again come cemeteries of ease as they might be called, belonging to parochial boards whose churchyards are full. To this category belongs a burial-ground just commencing in a parish in the Northern suburbs of London, within 500 yards of a reservoir constructed since 1871 at a cost of £25,000. The formation is clay, and is easily-drained into the main drainage system, but the fear is that at some future time the exhalations will affect the water in the reservoir, especially if it be uncovered. These two last examples will show how nearly omission may be made a non-transgression of a law.
Our burial laws specify that each dead adult shall be entitled to four superficial yards of earth. Allowing for the predominant deaths amongst children, this would be an average of three yards. This thirty-six superficial feet is about the space allowed 'to each body by the authorities of Stuttgart and Munich; but in Würtemberg (sic) fifty-four feet are accorded, and in some parts of Austria as much as ninety feet is awarded to each adult. The common practice with us is to allow about a quarter of an acre of burial-ground to each 1,000 head of population, where the soil is favourable; but some authorities double this allowance, and leave room for embellishing the ground. Wise cemetery companies also allow a space between each alternate row of grave-spaces, in order to prevent trampling. They, moreover, encourage the purchase of family freehold grave-plots containing three or six grave-spaces. It is true that the proprietors of the' burial-ground profit by this payment in anticipation ; but the benefit accrues largely to the public as well, for it does not become necessary to open the same grave should two members of a family die with but a short interval of time between. For the rest, a commodious grave-space presupposes a sufficiency of soil to absorb the gases, allows the grave to be opened without the earth of the adjoining one falling into it, dispenses with the shoring up of the sides with planks, and provides sufficient space for suitable monuments. As a general rule, one-sixth of the entire acreage of a cemetery will also of a necessity be appropriated for roads and paths, for sites of lodges and chapels, and botanical groves.
The depth at which burial is practised varies much, but it is usually from eight to ten feet in soil propitious to decay. Six feet would suffice, it might be; but, as the intention is to be able to reopen the graves fourteen years after the burial of an adult, and eight years after the burial of a child, a fair maximum depth is resorted to. When a burial has taken place in an allotment, the above period of lying fallow can only be shortened should it be necessary to open the grave to inter another member of the family. In such a case, a foot of earth must be interposed. The law is also distinct on the point that no one shall be buried in any unwalled grave witliin four feet of the ordinary level of the ground, unless it be a child, and then not less than three feet of soil shall lie above it.
(During an official enquiry held by Mr. Holland, in November 1874, into the management of the Tooting cemetery, it transpired that four or five inches of intervening earth had been deemed necessary by the inspector of the cemetery, instead of the twelve inches stipulated by law.)
When the coffin is not laid in contact with the soil, but entombed in a vault or walled grave, the occupied space is covered by a stone cemented down, air-tight, upon a ledge in the wall, and the raising of which is for ever forbidden. The entombment may also be made by an air-tight surrounding of concrete. The best practice of vault burial is to place some charcoal or disinfectant along with the coffin, so that no foul gas shall escape should reopening be necessary. When old vaults underneath churches are reported upon and found inimical to public health, the churchwardens can be compelled to remove the contents elsewhere, and disinfect the vaults, charging the poor-rates with the expenses. No interment is now allowed under any new place of worship, except with the authority of the Secretary of State. During the ten years, too, which followed the passing of the Burial Acts in 1852, more than one hundred church vaults in the metropolis were disinfected and sealed up.
Cemeteries, and not churchyards, are now the chosen sites for interments. These cemeteries are permitted to be located upon any piece of ground, provided that the usual restrictions are not set at naught. A well-chosen cemetery is one whose soil is dry, close, and yet porous, permitting the rain and its accompanying air to reach a reasonable depth, and so expedite decay. The formation is also well covered with vegetable mould, which assists in neutralising any hurtful emanations and encourages the growth of shrubs. The subsoil is also of such a kind as to need no underdraining, and such as will prevent the water lodging in any grave or vault. It will also stand exposed to the north or north-east winds, which are dry, and which do not hold the putrefactive gases in solution, like the moist south or south-westerly winds.
(In the case of private graves the coffins had been laid wiihout any intervening earth at all.)
Cemeteries can be made upon clay soils, if properly drained by deep cross-drains, and by pipe-drains laid from grave-space to grave-space, duly conducted into the main drain, or by causing the first interments to be made near the drain, strewing gravel at the bottom of each grave opened out, and similarly connecting with this porous layer each new grave with a previous one. When the soil does not admit percolation downwards, it is necessary to get rid of the surface water by laying a line of pipes at the upper end of each row of graves, and so intercepting it. Or upright pipes are placed, reaching down to the bottom of the grave and to the artificially placed gravel then communicating with the drain. The clayey soils of some burial-grounds have also been improved by the admixture of sand and gravel when refilling the graves. But, even after all this expense, the gases evolved during decay are retained very often in the soil, and, after thirty or more years, little or no change will have been effected. The laws of natiure are thus contravened; for she has ordained that, in good soil, all but the larger bones shall disappear in twelve years. If interments be made in the worst of clays, sudden heat will open up fissures in the ground with lamentable results.
The Congress of Hygiene at Brussels recommended an intervening space of 400 metres between a cemetery and any habitation.
In the Tooting cemetery enquiry, November 1874, it was proved that although the subsoil required draining, the merest surface drainage had been resorted to. The Burial Board admitted that in one instance a coffin had been deposited in a grave with water in it sufficient to cover it.
An improperly chosen graveyard, then, may be said to be one where the soil is dense and clayey, and impervious to moisture. It will be insufficieutly drained, necessitating the use of planhs to walk upon in wet weather. It will be too close to the abodes of the living, too small to permit proper planting, the graves covered, it may be, with flat stones, which prevent the passage downwards of the air and rain, and surrounded, moreover, by high walls which exclude the fresh air. The ground will be stony and insufficiently covered with vegetable soil. No natural outfall will exist, and the drainage-water must be pumped up, the bare idea of which is horrible. It will be near also to water-bearing strata, or to a reservoir. Long before decomposition has taken place, owing to the smallness of the site and the impossibility of obtaining any more land except at high building prices, the organic matter hidden out of sight will be far too large in proportion to the area. From the foregoing we may conclude that a proper site for a cemetery is not everywhere obtainable, and that serious mistakes must often be made.
The older burial-grounds can be closed at the expiration of a month's notice given by duly qualified persons, on the order of the Privy Council, and any one assisting at a burial contrary to that order is liable to fine and imprisonment.
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners can grant, in certain cases, a faculty permitting the erection of schools in churchyards, especially when the grounds have been closed under the Burials Act; and never shall I forget a school of this description in one of our largest cities. Old burial-grounds can be converted to more common secular purposes under certain restrictions, as may be witnessed almost every day in London. In such cases the remains must be decorously removed to some consecrated ground, after due notice to the relatives. An example of this may be observed at the present moment at the demolished church of St. Antholin, London; only in this case the remains have not been carted away as usual to the City of London Cemetery at Ilford, but have been placed in a monster vault constructed at the base of the tower, which is the only part of the church that is to remain. In this vault have been placed over 200 chests, each containing the contents of a grave.
City of London Cemetery opened 24th July 1856,
it comprised the greater part of the former Aldersbrook Farm
If the closed burial-ground be taken under the Land Clauses Act for public improvements, and converted into sites for building, the freeholder obtains the sum at which it was valued previously to the passing of the Act, and the building may proceed. In the City of London the Commissioners may, with the Bishop's consent, arrange with the churchwardens for the appropriation of any disused burial-ground.
Sometimes, as in the case of the Bunhill Fields ground, the space may be laid out and preserved as an open space by a corporation, and a burial board may do the like with all ancient graveyards within their jurisdiction. The authorities, however, I believe, provide that, in burial-places so closed, vertical tombstones shall not be thrown down and made use of as a paving, and, as a general rule, the growth of grass is encouraged for sanitary purposes.
I have given an account of the past and present state of the burial laws, because it was necessary to do so in order to estimate the position which any better system of dealing with our dead will occupy. It cannot be said that no pains have been taken to lessen the horrors of the tomb, for I have taken the trouble to make a list of the proposed improvements in the paraphernalia of death which have appeared since 1781, and everything seems to have been considered. From 1781 to 1825 the main thing studied was security against the rifling of the grave; and then on to 1871 followed plans for all kinds of coffins in stone, marble, granite, slate, porcelain, earthenware, bitumen, asphalte, paper, peat, india-rubber, iron, and glass. Glass has been the favourite material, just as it was in old Italy, where it was mostly selected to enshrine the ashes collected from the pyre. It is melancholy to peruse these strivings after the impossible, and to see what fond but unavailing attempts have been made to rob inhumation of its terrors.
In order to form a comprehensive idea of the sanitary benefits which will accrue from a general observance of cremation, or even from a limited adoption of the scheme — which, by the way, is nowhere forbidden by the statutes of the land — it will be necessary to review cursorily the positive evils for which past inhumation is answerable. I will therefore attempt to point out from carefully collected and other authentic sources, chiefly from the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioners, how the dead have poisoned and still poison the living.
It seems to be generally admitted that the foetid air exhaled from the dead is fatal if breathed in a concentrated state, and that, even when dissipated by the wind, it lowers the vital powers of the community.
The decomposition of bodies gives rise to a very large amount of carbonic acid. Ammonia and an offensive putrid vapour are also given off. The air of most cemeteries is richer in carbonic acid (7 to 9 per thousand - Eamon de Luna), and the organic matter is perceptibly large when tested by potassium permanganate.' - Dr. Parkes, ('Practical Hygiene' 4th edit. 1873) Cases of instant death to grave-diggers, notably to three in Paris in September 1852, from accidentally inhaling the concentrated miasma which escapes from coffins, have been recorded. Slower deaths from exposure to the same evil, through what is designated low fever, are very common. Undertakers have given evidence to the effect that they have suffered from faintness and nausea, even when they have not been cognisant of any offensive odour.
Dr. Riecke reported that 'putrid emanations operate in two ways, one set of effects being produced through the lungs by impurity of air from the mixture of irrespirable gases, the other set through the olfactory nerves by powerful, penetrating, and offensive smells.' Dr. Southwood Smith says that, when present in the atmosphere, morbific animal matter is 'conveyed into the system through the thin and delicate walls of the air-vesicles of the lungs in the act of respiration,' and instances how the vapour of turpentine, if only inhaled when walking through a recently painted room, will exhibit 'its effects in some of the fluid excretions of the body even more rapidly than if it had been taken into the stomach.'
So with the vapour which arises from an over-crowded and even from any churchyard. People who are accustomed to reside near badly regulated graveyards are mostly unable to detect the serious nuisance by the sense of smell; but medical men, accustomed to the dissecting-room, can recognise it directly, and can even distinguish it from the foul odours arising from sewers.
In a case at Manchester, where a main sewer ran through the graveyard, the graves drained into it, and the smell of the dead came into the houses through the untrapped sinks. Mr. Roe stated on oath that he once traced exudation from a churchyard in St. Pancras parish into the road-sewer thirty feet distant, and that this would have resulted even if the sewer had been cemented or concreted over. These cases will prove that there are more sources of danger than from surface-emanations. The rule seems to be that, where the graveyards and roads are paved, and the stones laid horizontally, the escape of the deleterious matter is either into the wells or sewers. If, as in many instances, the surface of the burial-ground be above that of the street, the loathsome matter may even be seen trickling down the walls of enclosure. Some most sickening cases were published in 1851 in the report issued by the General Board of Health.
If the formation of a deep sewer will suffice to drain dry all the wells near its line of march, then the sinking of a well near a burial-ground must help to drain the latter. There is a complication when drains in the neighbourhood of graveyards are tide-locked at intervals; and an instance of this was given by Dr. Reid, who stated that careful examination of the air in the Houses of Parliament, thirty years ago, resulted in the discovery that it was very much vitiated, both by night and by day, from their proximity to St. Margaret's burial-ground.
St. Margaret's Westminster, City of London
The disorders commonly complained of in the neighbourhood of burial-grounds are headaches, diarrhoea, and ulcerated sore throats.
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise— Paris
Cimetière de Montmartre
Cimetière du Montparnasse
According to a report of the French Academy of Medicine, the putrid emanations of Père-la-Chaise, Montmartre, and Montparnasse, have caused frightful diseases of the throat and lungs, to which numbers of both sexes fall victims every year. 'Thus a dreadful throat disease which baffles the skill of our most experienced medical men, and which carries off its victims in a few hours, is traced to the absorption of vitiated air into the windpipe, and has been observed to rage with the greatest violence in those quarters situated nearest to cemeteries.' An officer once stated to Mr. Chadwick, that when a building looking over a certain Liverpool churchyard was used as a barracks, he and his men always suffered from dysentery. It was related by Messrs. Houlier and Fernel that, during the prevalence of the plague in Paris in the beginning of the eighteenth century, 'the disease lingered longest in the neighbourhood of the Cimetière de la Trinite,and that there the greatest number had fallen a sacrifice.' In such desperate plight also were the houses which abutted upon the churchyard of St. Innocent, that the vapour was seen to rise from the soil, and the stench was unbearable. It is on record, too, that, when a large common grave, fifty feet deep, was dug in the same cemetery in the following year, candles would not burn in the cellars of the adjacent houses, and those who only approached their apertures were immediately seized with alarming attacks. The walls of the cellars streamed down also with an ofiensive moisture. Numerous other instances might here be quoted.
In 1780, the Cimetiere des Innocents, a thousand year old Paris burial ground, literally burst its bounds, broke through a wall of an adjacent apartment building, and spewed corpses into the basement, nearly asphyxiating the residents with the terrible stench. After this oft-cited scandal broke, French authorities passed legislation to close the cemeteries and churchyards in the capital to further interments. Within a decade the removal of a millennium of bones began in some thirty ancient burial grounds. The Montrouge quarry, south of the city, was opened to receive them. The quarry had supplied much of the stone used to build Paris, and was a warren of winding caverns and tunnels. These secular catacombs soon filled with millions of bones dumped by the cartload from above. In 1785, the Cimetiere des Innocents became a “silent and sinister” park, “terrain where once huge common graves, thirty feet deep and about half as long and wide, held the remains of generations of Parisians.”
Source: — storiescarvedinstone.com
It was proposed by M. Fourcroy to analyse the foul gases evolved from bodies which had been interred in this oversaturated soil; but no grave-digger would venture to assist in its collection, because it resulted in almost sudden death if inhaled in the concentrated form near the body, and even at a distance, 'when diluted and diffused through the atmosphere, produced depression of the nervous system and an entire disorder of its functions.' As a rule, the grave-diggers there had a cadaverous appearance and all the other signs of slow poisoning. M. Patissier also noticed several cases where death resulted from digging the graves. Doubts have been expressed as to the baneful effect of putrid emanations upon grave-diggers; but, as Mr. Chadwick has observed, if a number of these men be compared with a number of men following healthier occupations, it will be found that the mephitic influences entail a loss of at least one-third of the natural duration of life and working ability. As a rule, none but the healthiest and most robust men choose this trade, and they drink very freely, in order to overcome the nervous depression caused by unhealthy emanations, live on stimulating foods, and work but for a few hours per day.
Professor Parkes has described and named the offensive gases and putrid vapours given off by churchyards. Professor Pettenkofer has also proved the presence of carbonic acid gas in the ground-air under houses, and the effects produced by this pulse-lowering gas. Dr. Reid examined at Manchester some graves which had been dug some hours previously, and found that it was necessary to have recourse to mechanical or chemical ventilation before the men could descend into them. The carbonic acid gas simply flowed into these deeply dug graves from the porous surrounding soil, like so much water. In the same way also this poisonous gas finds its way into the churches whose floors are below the level of the churchyards. Professor Selmi, of Mantua, has lately discovered in the strata of air which has remained during a time of calm for a certain period over a cemetery, organisms which considerably vitiate the air and which are dangerous to life. This was proved after several examinations. When the matter in question was injected under the skin of a pigeon, a typhus-like ailment was induced, and death ensued on the third day.
The dangers of inhaling the atmosphere of churches or chapels under which burial-vaults are made use of or interments made, have been repeatedly pointed out. In other lands besides our own have these dangers been suspected and detected. The Tuscan Government requested Signor Piattoli to thoroughly investigate the subject, and his report has been confirmed by eminent men of various nations. As having taken place in our own land. Dr. Copeland mentions the case of a gentleman who was poisoned by a rush of foul air from the grated openings on the sides of the church steps, and who died froom a malignant fever in a few days' time, communicating the same to his wife with a fatal result. The same fever has been known to seize pew-openers when cleansing and shaking the mattings of the floor. After a vault had been opened, the smell was at times overpowering. It was the opinion of Mr. Chadwick, after examining some hundreds of witnesses of all kinds, that entombment in vaults was a more dangerous practice than interment in the earth, because of the liability of the coffins to burst.
(In vaults the air contains much carbonic acid, carbonate or sulphide of ammonium, nitrogen, hydrosulphuric acid, and organic matter. Fungi and germs of infusoria abound.' — Dr. Parkes, 'Practical Hygiene,' 4th ed.)
We may, therefore, for our purpose, assume that, even under the most favourable circumstances, hurtful emanations must perforce rise out of burial-grounds, there being no more natural escape for the gases of decomposition than by levitation. These gases will rise to the surface through eight or ten feet of gravel, just as coal-gas will do, and there is practically no limit to their power of escape. The danger is always persistent in the cases of dry and porous soils, exactly those which are most fitted for cemetery purposes. In a churchyard at Stuttgart, in which only five hundred bodies were interred yearly, and not more than one in each grave, the north-west wind rendered the emanations from the dead perceptible in houses two hundred and fifty paces distant. It will thus be seen that the soil best fitted to ensure decay is exactly the worst one for neighbouring houses. Unless there can be some artificial means taken to bring about the slow combustion of these gases, as, for instance, by layers of charcoal, the gases must continue to escape in a foul condition. But who would recommend so extraordinary a procedure as this?
The dangers resulting from improper burial have of late been intentionally slighted, but there is abundance of evidence to prove that the air in the neighbourhood of choked-up graveyards is inimical to public health. Some sensitive people are even taken ill when walking past a cemetery. I know myself a gentleman who can detect an unwholesome smell half a mile distant from a certain cemetery in the N.W. district of London. It is unfortunate that so little weight is attached to the report of the last Commissions upon Interments. The question of the poisoning of the air in the vicinity of burial-grounds is just now, however, undergoing a searching investigation at the hands of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, and an analysis will be prepared of the answers elicited. Water believed to be contaminated with cemetery washings is sought for analysis. Questions are also asked as to the induction or aggravation of disease in houses contiguous to cemeteries, and whether the sickness was attributable to poisoned wells or foul air, or both. The report will, without doubt, confirm all that our leading physicians say as to the evils of injudicious burial. There must be something radically wrong where fresh meat becomes tainted in a single night.
What shall we say of the poisoning of our wells and water-supplies by too adjacent burial-grounds? Professor Brande has instanced a case of a well near a churchyard, the water of which had derived not only odour, but colour, from the soil, and gave it as his opinion that the water in all superficial springs near burial-grounds is simply filtered through accumulated decomposition. Some wells near a churchyard in Leicester were disused some time ago because of a perceptible taint in the water, and, in Versailles, several wells which were situated below the churchyard of St. Louis stank so much as to require shutting up. During the Peninsular War, our troops suffered greatly from low fevers and dysentery, caused by being obliged to drink the water from wells which were sunk too closely to the interred sick. Troops have often been compelled to change their encampments owing to this kind of water-poisoning. Cases are on record where men have been seriously injured by excavating amidst some water which had drained from graves. In Paris M. Ducamp, not long ago, discovered a spring which was entirely derived from the rain which fell in the cemeteries and from the liquids of decomposition; and the foolish people, discovering that it possessed the peculiar sulphur-like taste which is always concomitant with decaying organic matter, purchased it as a mineral water!
Dr. Mapother has visited the churchyards of many Irish towns, and has 'generally found them placed on the highest spot near the most central part, whence of course all percolations descend into the wells.' One churchyard he particularly describes 'as lying so low that the water from the river overflows it in wet weather, and, notwithstanding this circumstance, from 30,000 to 40,000 people are supplied from this river.'
Instances of water-poisoning have been several times noticed of late years. The monumental cemetery of Milan, for example, is situated upon a hill some 180 yards to the north of the city, and Professors Parvesi and Rotondi have discovered in the wells of the Place Garibaldi, the water of which is collected from the valleys below the cemetery, undoubted traces of organic matter. Professor Reinhard also relates that during the murrain some cattle which fell victims were buried near Dresden at a depth of twelve feet, but that during the following year the water of a well some 100 feet distant from the pit gave off a foetid odour, and showed the unmistakable presence of deleterious matter. At even twenty feet distance the analysis discovered considerable impregnation.
During the Prussian occupation of Chalons, the city was visited by an outbreak of typhus, and to arrest the progress of the epidemic the dead were massed together in a corner of the city cemetery and interred, being first covered over with a quantity of quick-lime. At the end of some weeks, and after an episode of wet weather, the drinking water in the neighbourhood was affected by the influx of matter from the interred bodies and the lime, as was proved by an analysis made by M. Robinet.
(The cemeteries at Finchley, according to Mr. Lowe, are drained into an open brook, and the drainage eventually runs into the River Brent. The cemetery at Tooting at the present moment discharges into an open ditch, and this flows into the River Wandle, from which many of the inhabitants in its vicinity are accustomed to draw supplies.)
East Finchley Cemetery
The latest authenticated case of water-poisoning from infiltration of this kind is given by Dr. De Pietra Santa. He confines himself to quoting the example of the hamlets of Rotondella and Bollita, the cemeteries of which, placed upon the summit of a wooded hill, and at a considerable distance from the houses, have still been the means of carrying contagion into their midst. At the foot of the hill upon which the cemetery was perched emerged the springs destined for the daily use of the inhabitants, and these being the products of pluvial waters which had once spread over the surface of the two cemeteries, the water had filtered through the earth and become impregnated with the elements of the dead bodies. This contaminated water eventually produced a fearful epidemic.
Dr. Pappenheim says that, if organic chemistry had made more progress, if, above all, the organic matters contained in drinkable waters were known, springs would be easily found containing putrefied substances, to the great injury of those who use the water, and it would be easily discovered that the evils came from a distant cemetery. People, however, are now more and more alive to the danger of subterranean infiltration from dead matter, and the use of wells in towns and cities is now nearly unknown. In Paris a law forbids the sinking of a well within one hundred yards of any cemetery, but in some cases two hundred yards has proved an insufficient distance. In parts of Germany, again, the minimum distance allowed by law is one hundred yards.
A great many cases could be raked up against the present mode of burial; but I will not act the part of a special pleader. One might, however, point out that instances have occurred in which burial-grounds have been washed away by the bursting of reservoirs. In 1854, at Herrenlauersitz, upwards of one hundred bodies, the majority still encoffined, were washed out of their resting-places by an inundation, and floated into gardens, harvest-fields, and houses, nor were they wholly recovered until a fortnight after the calamity.
It would be manifestly unfair to charge against proper interment the loose manner in which it is practised in many parts of the globe. But the evil is so persistent a one that I cannot refrain. It might be forgiven to the poor heathens of Eastern Australia to bury their dead in shallow graves, for there predatory animals are scarce, and want of civilisation could be pleaded for them. But how can we overlook the practices in the Mahomedan cemeteries of Calcutta? I am informed by a gentleman who was for thirty years Church missionary there, that these burial-grounds of Islam 'have long been a crying evil, and the nurses of cholera, fever, and dysentery.' The bodies are also frequently devoured by jackals. So, for the matter of that, are the bodies of the Ainos. But then the Ainos are heathens and the Mahomedans are — well, people who ought to know better. They are incorrigible, however, as I have myself seen. Even in Syria at the present hour many modern Moslem graves, although lined and roofed with slabs of basalt, are open and their inmates exposed. But a travelled Osmanli would perhaps retort and point out that Pere-la-Chaise was visited by a monomaniac who was able nightly to tear up a number of bodies.
Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso
I will conclude with one more example of the laxity with which interments are conducted. In the streets of Valparaiso, in Chili (sic), a large and flourishing city of 75,000 inhabitants, many of whom are British and French, may be seen the Cerro de la Concepcion, a hill long since constructed into a cemetery, which is so satiurated with decomposition that it has lately rent asunder and exposed the city to the foulest of all exhalations. And what is the consequence? Why, the coffins and the contents have now frequently to be submitted to the flames, in the full view of the population.Cremation of the dead: its history and bearings upon public health. William Eassie, 1875.