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From 1817 cholera was spreading from India across Asia towards Europe. People in Britain felt safe until it reached Russia in 1831 and then more worryingly, the port of Hamburg in Germany by the beginning of October 1831. From there it was just a short crossing aboard one of the many trading ships to reach Britain. The government was correct in feeling very scared. It set up a Central Board of Health, which made suggestions about ways to stop the spread of cholera. The Local Boards of Health, created in the main cities and towns of Britain, were then to carry out these suggestions. All of which was to no effect when cholera took its first victim in Sunderland on 23 October 1831.

Due to the poor sanitation and lack of sewage pipes cholera spread to Gateshead by Christmas 1831. It attacked Gateshead with particular vehemence and in the space of a year left 222 dead. Mary Hindmarsh was the first victim of cholera in Gateshead. Despite being visited by 4 doctors she could not be saved. Showing the common prejudices of the day, the doctor blamed her death on the “broth and small beer” that she had drunk.