Thursday, 7 October 2021

A sobering thought

I'm one of the rather rare breed that is fascinated by the history of local government, but even I will concede that you don't start reading the annual reports of the St George-in-the-East Metropolitan Vestry (established, as you will all know,  by the 1855 Metropolis Management Act) expecting much in the way of historical interest or drama. Yet then on page 31 of the Vestry report for the year ending March 1861 - the Medical Officer's list of 45 coroner's inquests for that year - you come across six simple words:

'No. 23. From exposure and want - a Chinaman'

And it seems to me that there is a whole world of life and tragedy here. Who was he, this Chinese man who succumbed to a lonely death on the streets of Wapping over 150 years ago.? Did anyone, anywhere, mourn his end? I would like to think that there was someone, but this terse and unforgiving statement in the 1861 annual report of the St George-in-the-East Vestry is probably the only evidence - and faint at that - that he ever lived upon this earth. Without it, he would have gone down in utter silence. A sobering thought indeed.

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