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Through plague, wars, famine and flood. 

Sir Robert Rawlinson and the Nineteenth Century Public Health Revolution


When in 1848 Rawlinson was appointed a superintending inspector by the General Board of Health ‘He communed with himself and he found that he was profoundly ignorant of everything connected with sanitary science, but he thought that, the duty being once imposed upon him, he should be false to all his principles if he did  not, with every power that nature had endowed him with, strive to master the subject that he might not disappoint those who had recommended him to the post.’


Doubtless such thoughts were influenced by his upbringing when, in his early years, Robert was taught by his father to be unassuming and modest; ‘to be silent, and allow them to find out my merits, if I had any’. Certainly his concern about causing disappointment was quite unnecessary and Lord Shaftesbury, one of the three Public Health Act Commissioners, described Rawlinson’s work for the Board in the following terms: ‘for diligence and activity, knowledge and zeal, - not merely professional  zeal, but influenced by deeply moral and humane feelings – he was unsurpassed’.


In days when there was much opposition to the extension of the powers of the  state, Rawlinson saw that a civilised way of life with a nation composed of  ‘healthy, religious, honest and truthful citizens’ required appropriate legislation including sanitary laws and regulations. ‘There can be no such thing as entire independence in a civilised country. Where there are several houses near each other, or villages, or towns, there must be mutual action for the good of the  whole. … This brings us to the right of a State to enact sanitary laws.’ 


On his retirement in 1887, the British Medical Journal expressed the hope that Rawlinson would write down his recollections so that the ‘present generation’ would understand  ‘how potent were the forces of self-interest, carelessness, and inertia with which our early sanitary pioneers had to contend.’  Although he alluded to these matters in many letters and articles, Rawlinson never wrote the sort of account of his experiences that the BMJ had in mind and, somewhat belatedly, this book attempts to remedy this omission.

A Sewer Is The Best Medicine

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SKU: BP3015
  • Author: J Andrew Charles 

    ISBN: 978-1-909813-77-9

    Dimensions:  229 x 152mm 

    Number of pages: 312

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