Death in Peterborough in 1885


1910 postcard of Little Lake Cemetery. (Source: Toronto Public Library)


One of the interesting things in the Peterborough newspapers (Examiner and Review both) in the first week of 1886 was a complete recounting of the interment statistics for Little Lake Cemetery in 1885.  That year had seen 147 people buried in the cemetery, and the final report included their ages, genders, nationalities, and causes of death.  I thought it deserved a post on its own, so click on for some interesting numbers, along with some fairly random notes on them!

A couple of notes before we leap into this.  First of all, the number of interments at Little Lake in 1885 was, as mentioned, 147, which is actually not a huge sample size.  Secondly, we are dealing here with only one of Peterborough County’s cemeteries.  Not included are burials at St. Peter’s Cemetery on what was then the Southern Road (now Lansdowne Street), at Lakefield, or in various small family graveyards on properties in the hinterland, to give but a few examples.  However, those caveats aside, there are some fascinating things in the data from Little lake!

Without further ado (scans are from the Peterborough Examiner, January 6th, 1886):

Causes of Death:



  • Consumption (i.e. Tuberculosis) had the biggest individual number, and lung complaints in general seem to have been the biggest cause of death among the Little Lake burials.  I count 41 (27.9%) cases where that was definitely the cause (assuming here that Phthisis refers to Miliary Tuberculosis), and this does not include several categories which could easily have involved pulmonary issues.
  • “Bright’s Disease,” incidentally, is Nephritis — i.e. Kidney Disease.
  • Notable by its complete absence from the list is Smallpox.  This is particularly interesting in 1885, when a major epidemic of that disease killed about 3000 people in Montreal.
  • There are also no Diptheria cases, and only one each of Cholera and Typhoid.  It is tempting, although possibly incorrect, to see some connection between those low numbers and the work done by the Peterborough Water Works Company.  Since its incorporation in 1882, the Company had laid 14,000 feet of pipe in the town, according to the December 29th, 1885, Examiner.  Urban sanitation was one of the big issues of 1880s Ontario.
  • The one case of Poisoning stands out as the only “suspicious” death on the list, and that’s if we assume that it was deliberate.

Other Statistics:



  • The one that jumps out here, of course, is the 33 burials (22.4%) of people under the age of one.  Even if we take the 10 stillbirths out of the equation, that’s still the biggest age category on the chart.  Infant mortality was a major thing in Ontario at this time, clearly.
  • At this time, 60 years after the arrival of the Peter Robinson settlers, a small but significant majority of the interments (59.2%) was Canadian-born.  This is one of the areas where I would really like to see the data from the other cemeteries, for the purposes of comparison.
  • Percentage-wise, the male-female breakdown of the interments is 55.1%-44.9%.  I’m honestly not sure how significant that is, and again would welcome data from the other cemeteries.

There is more work to be done here, quite clearly!  The next step, I suspect, is to see if the presence of the cemetery report in the newspapers was a regular, annual, event.  And of course, to see if the numbers for the other cemeteries are available anywhere.

Stay tuned!

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