Pulmonary Tuberculosis, commonly called "consumption", is known to have caused the deaths of several members of this Owen family in the late 19th and up to the mid-20th centuries and others will surely have suffered a similar fate. It affected people of any class but was endemic amongst the urban poor. In 1815, it was responsible for one in four deaths in England and a century later the situation had little improved. In the 20th century, tuberculosis killed an estimated 100 million people. In Britain it became a notifiable disease once it was shown to be contagious in the 1880s. Health campaigns - stopping spitting in public places, isolating the infected poor in prison-like sanatoria (In 1911, Eva Margaret Owen worked at Llanbedr Hall, which had become a tuberculosis sanatorium.), pasteurising milk, developing antibiotics - proved effective in reducing its spread. Sanitoria for the middle and upper classes offered excellent care but in 1916 half of those who entered such sanitoria were dead within five years. With advances in treatment and prevention, including inoculation, it was hoped that pulmonary TB could be eradicated but the evolution of drug-resistant strains and the frequency of cases among HIV patients has contributed to an alarming rise in reported cases in recent times.
Two literary extracts illustrate the fear of and the hopelessness of the disease:-
Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography, 1883 Though as yet we hardly told each other that it was so, we began to feel that that desolating fiend, consumption was among us... My brother was an invalid, and the horrid word, which of all words was for some years after the most dreadful to us, had been pronounced. It was no longer a delicate chest, and some temporary necessity for peculiar care, - but consumption! ...From that time forth my mother's most visible occupation was that of nursing... she performed all the work of day-nurse and night-nurse to a sick household; - for there were soon three of them dying...
Charles Dickens Nicholas Nickleby, 1839 There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change - a dread disease in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load, and feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life - a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended that death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death - a disease which medicine never cured, wealth warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from - which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy, sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.
The disease was a widespread killer in UK until the mid-twentieth century and, from the few instances where I know the cause of death within this Owen extended family, the following are those who died from TB (links will open in a new window if you click on the ⊗ so remember to close those windows when finished):
⊗ Elizabeth Owen (1847 - 1880) (née Humphreys) & her daughter, Eleanor (1879 - 1880), ages 33 & 10 months
⊗ John Labron (1858 - 1882), aged 23
⊗ Robert L Jones (1841 - 1907), aged 65
⊗ Florence Roberts (1894 - 1922) & probably her two children, Mabel (1916 - 1922) & Florence (1918 - 1922), ages 27, 5 & 3.
⊗ Miriam (aka Charlotte) Morgan (1882 - 1923) & her husband Edward (c1822 - 1922), aged 38 & 40
⊗ JRC Fitzgerald Day (1877 - 1936), aged 59
⊗ Owen siblings: Mary (1906 – 1938), James (1908 - 1931), Sarah (1911 – 1931) & Florence (1915 – 1938), aged 31, 23, 19 & 22.
⊗ Agnes Pillings (1922 - 1947) & her sister, Dorothy Lancaster (1928 - 1951), aged 24 & 22
Some cases of TB that were not fatal:
⊗ George Forbes (1915 - 1985) (non-fatal attack c1942)
⊗ Halbert Glendinning (1889 - 1964) (non-fatal attack in 1931)
⊗ Charles Danby (1944 - 1993) (osseous tuberculosis - not direct c.o.d.)