The Thames River is inseparable from the city of London. Its origin is the city of Kemble and it flows through Oxford and London before reaching its mouth at the North Sea. The river was originally called Tamesis, a name that has both Roman and Celtic influences (Wikipedia) . Without fail, because the Thames River has always been such an important part of Londoner’s lives, it has also been unavoidably associated with these same people’s deaths.
In Victorian London, the aroma of the Thames River was impossible to avoid. Huge amounts of raw sewage were dumped into the River due to the increasing popularity of the flush toilet. The flush toilet, while improving the personal hygiene of residents of a typical London home, flushed sewage directly into sewers located underneath London streets (Wilkinson). This increased drinking water pollution until the river’ s content was so befouled that it was devoid of oxygen, plant life and animals. The river was said to give off the smell of rotten eggs due to the production of hydrogen sulphide (Sinha-Jordan).
In the summer of 1858, the Thames River smelled so bad that it became known as “The Great Stink” (Sinha-Jordan). The smell of the river made it “necessary to hang sacking soaked in deodorizing chemicals at the windows of the House of Commons” ( Wilkinson). When this failed to alleviate the smell, the seats in the House of Commons were flat out abandoned. Even Queen Victoria was not immune. In Buckingham Palace her apartments were ventilated through the common sewers and by today’s standards, probably smelled atrocious (Britain Express).
The smell of the river, while being immensely unpleasant, was indicative of a larger danger affecting Londoners. In fact, the smell of the river was a huge draw back for medical researchers in the 19 th century. Scientists believed that diseases that were water born were spread through miasma, or bad air (Time Traveler’s…). Actually, it was not the air that was the problem. The raw sewage turned the river into a breeding ground for typhus, typhoid fever and cholera (Sinha-Jordan). “Four epidemics of cholera – in 1831/32, 1848/49, 1853/54 and 1866 – kill[ed] about 140,000...