BILLS OF MORTALITY are re turns of the deaths which occur within a particular district, specifying the num bers that died of each different disease, and showing, in decennial or shorter periods, the ages at which death took place. The London Bills of Mortality were commenced in 1592, after a great plague. The weekly bills were begun in 1603, after another visitation of still !pester severity. In London, a parish is said to be within the Bills of Mortality when the deaths occurring within it are supposed to be carried to account by the company of parish clerks. In 1605 the London Bills of Mortality comprised the ninety-seven parishes within the walls, sixteen parishes without the walls, and six contiguous out-parishes in Middlesex and Surrey. In 1626 Westminster was included ; and in .1636 Islington, Lam beth, Stepney, Newington, and Rother hithe. Other additions were made from time to time. The parishes of Maryle bone, St. Pancras, Chelsea, and several others, which have become important parts of the metropolis within a recent period, were never included. At present the parishes supposed to be included in the Bills of Mortality comprise the City of London, the City and Liberties of Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, and thirty-four out-parishes in Middlesex and Surrey, the whole containing a popu lation of about 1,350,000.
The manner of procuring returns of the number of deaths and causes of death, as described by Grant, in his Observations on the Bills of Mortality,' published in 1662, was as follows : When any one dies, then, either by tolling or ringing of a bell, or by bespeaking of a grave of the sexton, the same is known to the searchers corresponding with the said sexton. The searchers hereupon, who are ancient ma trona sworn to their office, repair to the place where the dead corpse lies, and by view of the same, and by other inquiries, they examine by what casualty or disease the corpse died. Hereupon they make their report to the parish clerk, and he, every Tuesday night, carries in an ac count of all the burials and christenings happening that week to the clerk at the Parish Clerks' Hall. On Wednesday the general account is made up and printed, and on Thursday published, and disposed to the several families who will pay four shillings per annum for them." Maitland, in his History of London,' says that the charter of the company of parish clerks strictly enjoins them to make a return of all the weekly christenings and burials in their respective parishes by six o'clock on Tuesdays in the afternoon ; and that a bye-law was passed, changing the hour to two, in order "that the king and the Iord mayor may have an account thereof the day before publication." The lord mayor, every week, transmitted a copy of the bill to the court. Pepys says, the Duke of Albermarle " shewed us the number of the plague this week, brought in last night from the lord mayor." In 1625 the company of parish clerks ob tained a licence from the Star-Chamber for keeping a printing-press at their Hall for printing the bills. So recently as 1837 no improvement had taken place in the mode of collection, or in the value of the statistics of disease and mortality in the metropolis. On the death of an indi vidual within the prescribed limits, inti mation was sent to the searchers, to whom the undertaker or some relative of the deceased furnished the name and age of the deceased, and the malady of which he had died. No part of this information
was properly authenticated, and it might be either true or false. The appointment if searcher usually fell upon old women, Aid sometimes on those who were noto rious for their habits of drinking. The fee which these official characters de manded was one shilling, but in some cases two public authorities of this de scription proceeded to the inspection, when the family of the defunct was defrauded of an additional shilling. They not unfrequently required more than the ordinary fee ; and owing to the circumstances under which they paid their visit, their demands were frequently complied with. In some cases they even proceeded so far as to claim as a perquisite the articles of dress in which the deceased died. For some time before the Act for the Registration of Births, Deaths, &c. came into operation, the Bills of Mortality were of no value whatever. In fact they ceased to be of use after the last visitation of the plague. The inhabitants of London were no longer apprehensive of a sudden in crease of deaths, and the Weekly Bills, once so anxiously regarded, and which, on the appearance of the plague, warned those who could afford it to leave town, sank into neglect. In 1832 the bills reported 28,606 deaths, and in 1842 only 13,142. In 1833, out of 26,577 deaths, the causes of decease were re turned as unknown in 887 cases, being 1 in 30; and in 1842, out of 13,142 deaths reported, the cause of death was stated to be unknown in 4638 cases, or less than 1 in 3. are no longer appointed ; and the unscientific diagnosis given in the Bills is usually obtained from the undertaker or sexton at the funeral. Besides this, many of the parishes professedly included in the Bills of Mortality nn k- no returns at all. St George's, Ha 1.1 ,r Swim*, ceased to send in an account , in 1823. If all the deaths we- re'....:med which occur within the lir.. ell. the bills profess to comprise, ft.< umber would be about 33,000, irictiad c" 13,142. In the week ending the ihth of November, 1843. the Bill of Mortality issued by the parish clerks " to the ,iiit;eu's Most Excellent Majesty, and the 'tight Hon. the Lord Mayor," stated that " the decrease in the burials reported this week is 149." This very week, however, there was in reality rather an extraordinary increase of mor tality, and, for the metropolis, the number of deaths exceeded the average by up wards of 300. In January, 1840, the registrar-general, under 6 & 7 Wm. IV. c. 86, commenced the publication of weekly Bills of Mortality, which are remarkable for their accuracy and their trustworthi ness as statistics of diseoce. The cause' of death must be entered in the certificate of interment, without which it is illegal to inter the body, and the minister offici ating is liable to a penalty. The Registrar General's Bill is now the only true bill ; and why the old one should still be pub lished, is only to be accounted for on the supposition that it is obligatory on the parish clerks by the terms of their charter. [REGISTRATION OF BIRTHS, &c.]