Tag Archives: influenza

An epidemic in Brightlingsea, 1803

A group of physicians bow down to a yellow, thin figure representing "influenza"

Physicians expressing their thanks to influenza, 1803. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I’m finishing off the transcription of Brightlingsea‘s burials, in a register covering 1765-1812. It’s not a very interesting register, and is frustrating for genealogists because it rarely gives any information other than a name and the date of burial. There’s hardly any ages, and very rarely does it give the dead’s relationship, so no “son of” or “wife of” as we often see. Although there are some occupations given – as this is Brightlingsea, it’s no surprise that there’s some dredgers among the dead.

Each year, Brightlingsea produced between 20 to 40 dead:

1800: 21 burials
1801: 38 burials
1802: 38 burials

Then, in 1803, the number of burials leapt, more than doubling to 86 in just one year.

There was an influenza epidemic in 1803, and the spike in deaths that we see in the register is likely to have been caused by it. Looking at the burials by month, comparing those of the three years before, gives us an idea of when the epidemic was at its worst.

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