Image Analysis: A Court for King Cholera

A Court for King Cholera is a well known depiction of conditions in Industrialising towns and cities. The John Leech artwork first appeared in Punch magazine in 1852. It is a satirical look at the circumstances in which Cholera had reached epidemic proportions. Cholera was one of the most feared diseases of the Industrial Revolution.

Leech includes numerous examples of things that led to the spread of the disease or that were consequences of it. An overcrowded, dirty street scene packs everyday life and death into one snapshot. From inadequate sanitation and housing it runs through work for children and overcrowded budget housing and accommodation.

See what clues you can find in the interactive image below.

[h5p id=”9″]

A Court for King Cholera

Cholera Facts: Did you know?

London was actually considered to be one of the cleaner cities of the period. At the end of the Georgian era London received positive commentary from visitors in relation to it’s cleanliness, the amount of space and the number of open spaces. This clearly refers to more affluent areas but it is true that London had been at the forefront of town planning in that period: though not in the rapidly growing tenement areas where overcrowding became the norm.

Cholera, it can be argued, gets a bad press. A Court for King Cholera is one of a number of incredibly well known images about the disease. They all give the same impression of a disease that is having a catastrophic impact on cities. It is true that Cholera caused panic among the medical profession: they hadn’t a clue how to treat it. Yet for all of the imagery, it actually caused much fewer deaths than other epidemics.

John Snow undertook a study of the spread of Cholera in London. His work centred around Broad Street. He made a link between deaths in the area and one water pump. This link made it clear that contaminated water was the reason Cholera spread. Snow’s work did little to stop the epidemic at the time. However it contributed to changes in Public Health legislation that limited the spread of the disease in the future.

Compare A Court for King Cholera with images relating to the Black Death or the Great Plague. See if you can identify similarities or differences in the way that people viewed or treated epidemics. Identifying continuity and change in beliefs and treatments is an important part of a study of Medicine Through Time.

Love Learning?

Subscribe to our Free Newsletter, Complete with Exclusive History Content