Burial Grounds Search.

 Extract from The London Lancet 1858 P209



There is a sweetness and a comeliness in the sense of proprietorship which can rob the foulest odour of its unsavoury attributes, and add beauty to the most ill-favoured deformity upon which the eye can rest. The farmer noses with pleasure the field that sickens passing travellers, while he delights in the thought of next season's crops. The neighbours may find the pits of the tanner or the vats of the soap-boiler an intolerable nuisance, but to the owners their bouquet is little inferior to the choicest perfume of the Jockey Club.

In the good town of Dundee is a large cemetery for intramural interment, named the Howff, where may be seen tombstones bearing date from almost the time of the Reformation. Since that date it has been in constant and general use. From 1836 to 1857, 14,520 bodies have been interred in this ground. The necessary consequence of this is, that the ground has become saturated with decayed animal matter, and the coffins in one grave often project into another when opened for a fresh interment, and have to be broken up to allow the new grave to be dug. In turning over the soil, bones and pieces of coffins, with creamy-looking morsels of human remains, are. thrown up. All this appeared in evidence at an inquiry consequent upon a public petition that the burying-ground should be closed, as injurious to public health and offensive to public decency. No one can be surprised to hear, from witnesses examined at this inquiry, that while living in the vicinity of this graveyard they '' felt a bad, heavy smell"ónot an inappropriate expression to describe the thick, nauseating emanations from decaying animal remainsóthat they suffered sickness and headache when the wind blew across the Howff; and that, in the summer, they found that meat would not keep in their houses, but changed colour, and presented a sort of slimy appearance on the outside. If these witnesses had not directly afforded this testimony, we could well have surmised that it must be so. The effects of long-continued intramural interment are no longer dubious, or such as can be contested. Nevertheless, the proprietors of the Howff, and the ratepayers who would suffer from the closure of the ground, came forward to give the hackneyed evidence in favour of the salubrity of this ancient nuisance, and distinguished themselves by the unusual fervour with which they enunciated the worn-out nonsense that such inquiries usually elicit. They did not simply deny the unhealthiness of the Howff; they were so astonished at the chargeóso "at tired in wonder" at this strange calumny, that they hardly knew how to commence its refutation. In the words of the sheriff presiding over the inquiry, they gave evidence that "not only was the air not noxious, but that, on the contrary, they found it bracing and wholesome, and were accustomed, with the very view of inhaling it, to walk in their leisure times in the cemetery." Strange to say, they found a medical partisan, Dr. David Greig, who declared that he "never saw any bad effects following the effluvia arising from dead bodies, and that they may be disagreeable, but that they are in noxious." He observed, that '' he disagreed on this point with Sir Benjamin Brodie, having himself had a large experience." Under the influence of such evidence, the sheriff has adjourned the inquiry to take the opinion of Dr. Lyon Playfair, The gross absurdity of the evidence given by the witnesses at this inquiry has rarely been equalled. No paradox was too violent for their willing tongues; no averment so incredible but that they claimed for it belief. The exhalations of the putrefying flesh are wholesome; the poisoned air is bracing; the scattered bones and creamy exuviae of flesh are decent and inspiriting spectacles for women and children. Intra mural interment s the highest boon of civilization. So in Dundee, "Dark needs no candle now, for dark is light."