Happenings by Accident

  • Roger Cooter
Part of the Science, Technology and Medicine in Modern History book series (STMMH)


Like crippled children, accidents had to be brought into focus before professionalizing strategies could be articulated in their name. Unlike crippled children, however, the medical ‘discovery’ of accidents, which was roughly contemporaneous, was unrelated to any widespread humanitarian movement. While fatal and non-fatal accidents were prevalent in the Victorian period, and were perhaps on the increase,1 they were not much considered before the last decades of the century. Concern over factory reform in the 1830s and 1840s had generated the potent image of the child factory cripple, which helped pave the way for the regulation of child labour in factories and mines. But that agitation not only failed to direct attention to the adults who comprised the majority of accident victims, it served to deflect attention from them.2 During the mid-Victorian ‘age of equipoise’, injured workers were as out of mind as out of the sight of the ‘respectable’ middle classes. To the Manchester medical practitioner, John Roberton, writing in 1860, it appeared that ‘if “plague, pestilence, and famine” used to be the evils most feared in bygone times, contusions, fractures, dislocations, burns, and other kinds of injury may well be regarded as the dread of the present’, but with this crucial difference, that ‘whereas the plague and the pestilence were the terror of all ranks, the rich as well as the poor, the bodily injuries now so frequent are the lot mainly of the labouring classes’.3


Ambulance Service London Hospital Accident Victim Charity Hospital Friendly Society 
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Copyright information

© Roger Cooter 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger Cooter
    • 1
  1. 1.Wellcome Unit for the History of MedicineUniversity of ManchesterUK

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