This thesis seeks to provide a study of the local public health
situation in Edinburgh in Victorian times. While such a study has to
cover many topics, contemporary public health legislation provides the
key. It represented, up to a point at any rate, contemporary public
health thinking; from it action over public health matter was based.
The activities of the local M.O.H. are important: the post was a specific
creation of the 19th century.
In Edinburgh, as elsewhere, there was little consciousness of the
need for any permanent public health legislative programme before the
1840's. Though Chadwick's revelations did not hit Edinburgh with the
same impact as in English cities, the partial impact of the sanitary
literature in circulation and the cumulative effect of severe epidemics
meant that the local municipal authorities had by 1860 gone some way to
meet an increasingly acknowledged need for public health legislation.
The great lack was a systematic administering of such legislation and,
initially, the appointment of Dr. Littlejohn did not remedy this defect.
Not even the authorising of a massive Improvement Scheme, progressive step
as it was, did so. When the appointment of the Public Health Committee in
1872 at last did so, machinery existed from which administrative expansion
could later be made. The need for this and for legislative extensions
was constantly apparent in the 1870's and 1880's, though nearly all topics
associated with the 19th century had already received some legislative
attention. By the 1890's most contemplated extensions had been made, and
the Town Council were following the national pattern in moving into new
areas of legislative activity, associated more with the 20th century.
Dr. Littlejohn was rarely publicly prominent. His celebrated I865
Report oh the Sanitary Condition of Edinburgh did not have its suggestions
all carried out immediately. The credit for neither.the immediate
launching nor the execution of the Improvement Scheme lies with him.
From 1862 to 1900 he publicly advocated public health legislation very
rarely. However, for local public health legislation to evolve, he
did not have to be publicly prominent: his mouthpieces on the Town
Council and other sanitary officials couldpress his opinions. Furthermore, his frequent production of health statistics was the justification
and guide for public health legislation.
When legislation offended some interests, important legislation
could be delayed or prevented. However, much important legislation
was passed with little or no opposition. Legislation tended to make
the recognition of further problems and the need for further legislation
more apparent. While early legislation produced only limited results,
there were dramatic improvements in public health in the 1870's, but,
subsequently, legislation failed to achieve much further improvement.
With topics, recognised as suitable for public health legislative action,
being gradually covered, massive and seemingly insoluble barriers to
further improvement loomed up ever more clearly. Vastly extended public
health legislation was required: the real problem was that improvement
of public health was an endless task.