Statistics on Mortality in York, collected by York Medical Society

Scope and Content

It is not immediately clear from these papers what their purpose was or why they are in the Retreat archive - however, linkage to the information contained in the York Medical Society archive, at the Borthwick Institute, explains their origins and purpose
These papers of statistics of mortality in the Superintendent Registrar's District of York in the 1840s were collected by a Committee of York Medical Society, of which John Thurnam, the Medical Superintendent of the Retreat, was a member. The statistics were only collected for a brief period and must have remained in Thurnam's possession, at The Retreat, afterwards
The minutes of York Medical Society record that on 1 February 1840, the Quaker surgeon Caleb Williams (who was himself a visiting medical officer to The Retreat) suggested that there would be advantages in publishing a weekly return of deaths and their causes within the city. John Thurnam then went on to detail to the meeting the advantages which might ensue. A Committee was therefore formed to take the idea forward, consisting of the surgeons William Husband (secretary to the Society), and James Allen, and the physicians George Goldie, Thomas Laycock (a recently elected member of the Society, who later went on to become Professor of the Practice of Physic at the University of Edinburgh) and John Thurnam
The collection of such statistics was held to advance knowledge and aid medical science; the recent General Register Act had made the collation of such statistics possible. The committee approached the York Superintendent Registrar who agreed to co-operate by supplying the weekly information, The Registrar General, William Farr, authorised the York Superintendent to proceed and sent the Medical Society, as an example, the forms which had been used for carrying out such a scheme in the Metropolitan District
Two different forms were used by the Medical Society, based on Farr's examples, and the Society had the forms specially printed. One form was for the Superintendent Registrar to enter the weekly details of deaths. The other form was for a weekly table or report, compiled from the Registrar's information. The latter was then placed for consultation in the Reading Room of York County Hospital Library and in the Council Room of the Yorkshire Museum
Medical men were exhorted to be as accurate as possible about their certifications of deaths, in order to make the returns meaningful
In January 1841 the Committee reported to the Society that the tables had been received and arranged regularly; although they thought it would be useful to continue, they wondered if they were sufficiently important to warrant the expense and labour. They seem, on the evidence of these surviving papers, to have been continued until at least January 1842, but may thereafter have been discontinued. These papers in the Retreat archive may represent the only surviving copies of the forms and returns compiled in this brief period
As a result of William Farr's co-operation, he was made an Honorary Consulting Member of York Medical Society in March 1840

Alternative Form Available

Much of the Retreat Archive has been digitised with funding from the Wellcome Collection. Copies of digitised records can be viewed online where available by following links provided within the catalogue.

Additional Information


Corporate Names