Chronicles Insight - How a Cholera Pandemic inspired Dracula

Friday, 30 October, 2020
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Did you know that Bram Stoker's Dracula was greatly influenced by his mother's chilling tales of the Cholera epidemic in 1830s Ireland?

Chronicles Insight - How a Cholera Pandemic inspired Dracula

Some say that Count Dracula is the personification of the Cholera Epidemic in Ireland. 

In 1831 Asiatic Cholera ravaged through Europe leaving millions dead across the trade route to England. It was an unknown disease that had fatal consequences in a matter of a few hours and the people lived in dread of the possibility of it arriving in Ireland, which it did in February 1832. 

Indeed, Bram Stoker had grown up listening to the horrors of it recounted by his mother who had witnessed the worst of it first hand. It's easy to see how Stoker's morbid fascination with her descriptions of cholera victims being buried alive, could have inspired Dracula's theme of the undead. At his request, Charlotte Thornley Stoker documented her recollections of this event in "Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland" in 1873.

LISTEN TO Charlotte's Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland (read by Dacre Stoker)

 By 1897, the infamous "Dracula" was first published and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Stoker's descriptions of how terror and panic itself can ravage a community is also worth exploring in the context of art imitating life.  Fear of the disease had people driven mad and there were reports of mass hysteria in Ireland such as the Day of the Straws reported here...

Cholera Hysteria from Croghan to Boyle

Cholera Pandemic

In her research, Dr Marion McGarry found that the date that Stoker wrote Dracula took his first victim on British soil (August 11th) matched date that Cholera claimed its first official victim in Sligo.

According to the Sligo Stoker Society, Cholera arrived by ship into the port of Sligo (the second busiest port on the west coast after Limerick at that time) in August 1832.  As it turned out, Sligo ended up being the epicentre of the worst cholera outbreak in all of Ireland or Britain that year.  Stoker's mother Charlotte Thornley was age 14 and living in Sligo's Market Street when her town went into lockdown.

Cholera in Sligo

Cholera in Sligo

Believed to have been airborne (in fact it spread via contaminated water) the disease quickly spread to neighbouring counties. 

Terrified, the townsfolk came out armed with stones and pitchforks to defend their streets. Their blockades made it incredibly difficult for medical men to move the sick, as shown in this news item from Claremorris Co Mayo...

Cholera in Claremorris

Claremorris Workhouse

Cholera ravaged the poor who lived in confined, unsanitary spaces in towns in cities, but nobody was immune, not the affluent gentry, nor those living in rural Ireland...  

John Fry Esq. dies of Cholera

Navarino Lodge

In the aftermath, the horror and trauma was amplified by reports of bodysnatchers and gravediggers desperate for blankets that had shrouded the victims. 

Cholera Aftermath in Croghan

Cholera Aftermath in Croghan

Ireland's Cholera epidemic can be explored further in our Timeline Chronicles for 1832 where local news reports for various counties have been documented. 

SEE Your County during the Cholera Pandemic

For more in-depth insights into how Dracula personified Sligo's Cholera epidemic: VISIT The Sligo Stoker Society


Got local history to share? Add /Share to your ancestral community's Timeline HERE