LOOK BACK IN TIME: 6th May 1854

The editor of the Isle of Wight Observer published on 6th May, 1854 pulled no punches in this description of Portsmouth, its mayor and councillors. There was also some serious one-upmanship in favour of Ryde over Cowes.


Portsmouth hath a world-wide renown for ships and smells: with equal celerity it can fit out a fleet or fill a graveyard. Its mayor is redolent of reeking cesspits, and is a fit personification of that dirty borough: he is the presiding genius over detestable moats, filthy alleys, and undrained courts, in which are packed—literally packed—human beings, men, women, and children. Under the plea of economy, this amiable mayor and the Israelite councillors lately rejected the application of the Public Health Act, which, they feared, would cleanse this Augean stable. The abominations remain, and what is the result? SMALLPOX — that terrible scourge — is luxuriating in this preserve: whole families are prostrate and putrescent, and the mortality is, we understand, excessive. Is this not a fit time to ask the question, in all gravity, Who are the real economists? Those who, by a judicious outlay, would prevent this sickness and mortality and its attendant enormous expenses and loss; or those who oppose improvement and inflict such evils upon mankind? We are aware we shall be met by supposedly-pious-exclamations of disapprobation for thus linking together cause and effect: be that as it may, we will boldly affirm that wherever filth and overcrowding are found there will disease and death be triumphant. Sanitary laws, therefore, ought (to use the phraseology of the unclean of Portsmouth) “to be crammed down their throats:” propagators of epidemics, like burglars and murderers, should be dealt with according to stringent laws enacted for the benefit of society, as they endanger the health and lives of the surrounding locality.

We are pleased to find the agitation for sanitary reform in Ryde has been productive of beneficial results. Much has been done in drainage and other improvements, and the state of public health is remarkably good. Ought sanitary measures however to be left to the chance of agitation?

Although the Public Health Act has been in force in Cowes for upwards of three years, nothing has been accomplished to improve its condition. Smallpox has raged there during the winter severely; but it is now happily nearly free of the malady. We hope when the “Ward Estate Bill” is passed, and the differences between the Water Company and the Local Board arranged, that Cowes will arouse from its sloth, and take that position to which it is entitled.