18th January 1849. Victorian Mortality.
The Prudential Insurance Company was founded in Hatton Gardens, London to sell penny policies to the working classes: by the next century the ‘Man from the Pru’, with his trilby hat and brief-case was a frequent sight visiting many householders for all manner of insurance.
With the lower classes insurance came via burial clubs, to avoid a pauper’s grave, or to rely on the Poor Unions. Many mutual clubs at the time, were formed through the agency of churches and benefit societies such as The Oddfellows and Forresters’ Clubs which covered sick pay and burials for a small weekly sum.
However as The Times recorded Today in 1849 this was widely abused as noted in an article from Rev. John Clay Chaplain to the Preston House of Correction. ‘Let me recall to your recollection some of the murders for burial money perpetuated since the publication of Mr. Chadwick’s Administrative Report on interment in our towns’.(1)
The article referred to widespread abuse among the destitute lower end of society using burial clubs as a means to lay their hands on some well needed money. It appears that poverty forced many to take out an inordinate number of policies, knowing that for a small outlay they would benefit when the children were quietly poisoned with arsenic or disposed of in other ways.(2)
The Victorian Age was noted for a morbid sentimentality often expressed in mourning memorials, that early death would at least avoid the perils and sins of this world, an Evangelical fatalism, of ‘God’s Will’.
A typical example was that of Ernest Augustus Udny, son of an Indian official, whose memorial plaintively says: ‘E’re Sin could blight or sorrow fade/Death came with friendly care’, is to be found in Chichester Cathedral.(3)
The same sentiment is found in Austen’s Mansfield Park, where on the death of Mary Price, her mother says: ‘Poor little sweet creature! Well, she was taken away from evil to come’, again sums up the Victorian attitude to death.(4)
(1) The mid-19th century thus saw the growth of burial clubs, many to cater for high mortality of infants, which was to peak in the 1890s at 150 per 1000.
(2) One case was reported of a vicar’s wife overhearing local gossip: ‘It’s a fine thing for the mother, the child’s in two clubs’. (p 390 Glory and shame).
(3) Tuesday February 17th 2009. carolineld/blogspot.
(3) P.277 Novel by Jane Austen.
Ref: wikipedia.org/ burial_ clubs_ in_ England.
Ref: The Glory and the Shame of England, Charles Edwards Lester, Great Britain 1866.
Ref: community.durham.ac.uk/schools/mourning. Pic Images.