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A woman dropping her porcelain tea-cup in horror upon discovering the monstrous contents of a magnified drop of Thames water; revealing the impurity of London drinking water. Coloured etching by W. Heath, 1828.
- Heath, William, 1795-1840.
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Credit: A woman dropping her porcelain tea-cup in horror upon discovering the monstrous contents of a magnified drop of Thames water; revealing the impurity of London drinking water. Coloured etching by W. Heath, 1828. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
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About this work
The caricature shows a woman in fashionable dress looking into a microscope to observe little monsters swimming about in a drop of London Thames water. In the 1820s much of the drinking water of Londoners came from the river Thames, and the sewers emptied into the Thames. A Commission on the London Water Supply was appointed to investigate this dangerous situation, and it reported in 1828. After that report, the five water companies which served the north bank of the river improved their supplies by building reservoirs etc., but the people of Southwark (on the south bank of the river) continued to receive infected water. The problems were not solved until the 1860s when London's present sewerage system was installed by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) and its engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Between the date of this caricature (1828) and the completion of the MBW sewers, London suffered two cholera epidemics, one in 1832 (part of the world pandemic of cholera) and one in 1854. Looking at a drop of water though a microscope was a popular entertainment provided by travelling showmen who carried the microscopes around in cases on their backs
London (26 Haymarket where political & other caricatures are daily publishing) : T. McLean, [1828?]
1 print : etching, with watercolour ; image 22 x 34 cm
Monster soup commonly called Thames water, being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us!!!
British Museum, Catalogue of political and personal satires, vol.XI, London 1954, no. 15568
Ursula Seibold-Bultmann, 'Monster soup: the microscope and Victorian fantasy', Interdisciplinary science reviews, 2000, 25: 211-219
Yubraj Sharma, Spiritual energetics of homoeopathic materia medica, Wembley: Academy of light, 2006, vol. 2, p. 579
Wellcome Library no. 12079i
Lettering continues: "Microcosm. Dedicated to the London Water Companies 1 - Brought forth all monstrous, all prodigious things, 2 - Hydras and gorgons, and chimeras dire. Vide Milton."(Paradise Lost, ii)
The artist's emblematic figure Paul Pry raises his hat to a water pump, saying: "Glad to see you, hope to meet you in every parish through London"