The work of a 19th century medical officer of health

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Dr C. J. B. Aldis (1808-1872) worked as a Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for St George’s, Hanover Square, London, an area that is now part of Westminster City Council. Appointed in 1855, he remained in post until his death 17 years later.

Charles James Berridge Aldis. Wellcome Image number M0010011

Charles James Berridge Aldis. Wellcome Image no. M0010011

Dr Aldis is an excellent example of an early MOH.  Fifteen of the reports he wrote during this period are available in London’s Pulse, the Wellcome Library’s free online resource of digitised MOH reports. They provide fascinating evidence of his efforts to reduce mortality and improve public health.

Working at a time when most people thought that infectious disease was spread by noxious vapours in the air, his reports contain plenty of references to ventilation. But like many MOH he recognised the ill effects of poverty, and he was a vocal critic of overcrowding, poor housing and bad working conditions. At the end of his report for 1860 is a separate review of mortality in which he writes:

when hydrocephalus, or scrofula, or rickets, is returned as the ostensible cause of a child’s death, these Greek words are but so many circumlocutions, for bad air, damp, thin clothes, and half-filled stomachs.

His enthusiasm for vaccinating against smallpox is evident in several of his reports. He describes the suffering caused by smallpox, outlines the history of vaccination and possible objections. In his report for 1870 he gives details of a smallpox outbreak in the district, which began with the death of a 50 year old governess recently arrived from Paris. During the first three months of that year there were 29 deaths from smallpox in the district, including, several children, a nurse, a milliner and a 76 year old baronet. You can read the full account below:

Dr Aldis also published many books on medical practice, for example, An introduction to hospital practice, in various complaints: with remarks on their pathology and treatment, which is available in the Library.

Author: Sue Davies is External Projects Officer at the Wellcome Library.

The medical officer of health reports for London, from 1848-1972, are freely available online (with full-text searching) via the London’s Pulse website and in the Wellcome Library catalogue.


Sue Davies

Sue Davies is External Projects Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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One Response to The work of a 19th century medical officer of health
  • Jackie


    Anyone know anything about his grandfather – Daniel Aldis surgeon in Norfolk?

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