Cholera Camp


A curious one all round this and keeping us in diseased territory with Bellamy’s setting of Kipling’s words. It’s also on Matachin of course and Jon says, “The original chorus is ‘O Lord for it’s the killing of us so’. It’s tricky with Kipling’s archaisms because one doesn’t want to second guess a genius. On the other hand I can never really enjoy singing something like that so I’ve changed it to ‘killing of us all’. This can lead to rival chorusing factions at a singing session mind.” Mainly Norfolk covers Bellamy here and I’ll note it’s from where his title Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks is derived. There’s a certain gallows humour at work, perhaps it’s just resignation, as this pernicious infection generally only had one outcome in Kipling’s day. The reality of this must have been every bit as horrific, if not more so, than any battle. At least in the latter case you could generally see your enemy. I’ve read a fascinating book called The Ghost Map about the major London outbreak of the disease in 1854 and how two men made unconnected, but similar discoveries about the cause that would eventually lead to treatment and cure. Reverend Henry Whitehead and Dr. John Snow battled the pervading scientific opinion and theories of miasma to point to the water borne source of the infection that killed many thousands. Unfortunately it took years for their work to be recognised and action taken. Even more regrettably the disease is currently back in the news in Haiti. I’d add that I think the understated fiddle here adds a suitably mournful tone to Bellamy’s paradoxically jaunty melody. What I’ve read, however, make this somewhat uncomfortable listening.


21 Responses to “Cholera Camp”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’ve had to Wiki ‘miasma’ afore I start on the song!

    Whitehead isn’t mentioned here as I gather he was originally a believer in the miasma theory, eventually becoming convinced about water-borne contamination by Snow’s mapping of infection near contaminated water. Is that why the book above is called The Ghost Map?

  2. muzza says:

    Love the poem……love the performance………”runs faster than troop trains”..what a way to express the inevitablity of being struck down and the futility of escape.

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    the Kipling/Bellamy songs are usually highlights and this is no exception. I’m not sure whether the Bellowhead isn’t too jaunty and this is preferable, (tho’ it seemed to work onstage very well last night, helped by Jon’s Al Jolson hands)
    …. and congratulations to Jon for the Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year nomination.

  4. Simon says:

    Jane, yes miasma is a peculiar concept that I think of as the general fug of the uneducated masses. The plotting of the deaths is indeed the ghost map, which eventually pinpointed the epicentre, if you like an historical pot-boiler follow the link on the books title in my intro through for more, although I think the review that suggests it’s the equal of Dava Sobel’s wonderful Longitude is over egging it somewhat.

    Simon, Bellowhead also have four nominations and Fay has one. I’ll be reporting in more detail at over the next day or so.

    Thanks to one and all for keeping things bubbling over the last couple of weeks or so and sorry if I’ve been a little quiet but I was intensely busy preparing the latest Properganda magazine and then very unwell for the best part of a week. I trust that a couple of little technical glitches aside I haven’t let you down. Anyway I’m back in the saddle, looking forward to Bellowhead live and ready to answer questions or whatever is required.

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    I feel funny saying I like this one, given its content. Isn’t it amazing what people can write a song abaht? But the liking reflects Jon’s award nomination. Well done to him, Bellowhead and Fay.

    ‘The Ghost Map’ sounds like the type of book I could read far more than ‘Longitude’! As anyone will tell you that knows me, I am biological and not geographical, though I like any good mystery or puzzler. However, I’ll have to add it to the list of ‘must reads’ behind Ronald Hutton’s ‘Stations of the Sun,’ recommended to me on here by Brian – Mr Hutton who was actually on tv last night in the Edwardian farm-cum-kitchen programme!

    Simon, you could not let us down. You do a sterling job. I will call you Skyman in future!

  6. Simon says:

    Thanks Jane and Longitude is actually the story of Harrison and his clocks/watches – its a very human story and extremely well written. I picked it up by chance on a visit to my parents and couldn’t put it down. I’ll have to try Staions Of The Sun as well.

  7. Jan says:

    Another fine rendition by Jon from the splendid Kipling/Bellamy collection. Maybe ‘like’ isn’t quite the right word, but I do find it very moving. I also recommend Cockersdale’s version of this song – but apologise for lack of direction in finding it as I have it on a Fellside compilation.

  8. Jan says:

    Also meant to say, Simon, you do a splendid job – keep up the good work!

  9. Liz B says:

    I had to google ‘bushed and stoned’ bushed as in ‘burning bush’ so the cholera dead were cremated. I do like it with Jon’s voice and not quite so mny instruments . The irony and reality of Kipling’s words still pack an emtional punch across the years. (I’ll be able to judge the Al Jolson hands on the 28th. Can’t wait.)

  10. wilmott says:

    Cockersdale’s excellent version is on “Been around for years”, also the Kipling/Bellamy “Follow me home”.

  11. Diana says:

    A really sad and depressing story only alleviated by the cheerful music which accompanies it. It’s dreadful to think that cholera had not yet been eradicated.

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    I like this song, ‘gallows’ humour’ an’all. What I like, apart from Jon’s delivery, is the externalisation of fear and horrific circumstances in song. There’s realisation of the possible/probably outcome with its layer of resignation, but I’m sure people always hoped it wouldn’t be them next and of course, some always survive, no matter how small the number. Otherwise we would not have immunity and survive as a race!

    The thought that always saddens me is that scrupulous hygiene and care would help limit the spread of disease and the loss of life but, when a pivotal number of people become ill, it’s nigh on impossible to maintain that. Now that’s a mean old scene…

    Folk gets us thinking and empathising once again. 5 star, Mr Boden!

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    OMG! I’ve got a resurgence of the JohnDi spelling bug! That should read ‘probable’ not ‘probably outcome.’ It’s the delerium, ye know… gallows’ humour… agin…

  14. Diana says:

    Join the club, it’s very exclusive and costs nowt. Which is nice. This site sure does bring people together doesn’t it?

  15. Phil says:

    Not to detract from Jon’s rendition, but Bellamy’s performance of this on his live album Songs an’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks (where did he get that title?) is a must, must, must-hear.

    Speaking of infections, do we know what was up with the site over the last week – and is it all safe now? I’m not enormously worried, being a Mac user, but you can’t be too careful.

  16. Reinhard says:

    where did he get that title?

    from verse seven of this song

  17. Diana says:

    Still find this song with its dreadful message accompanied by such cheerful music rather weird. My previous comments still stand.

  18. Diana says:

    Phil I see you have been experiencing some difficulties recently. It has been acting rather strange here – could not raise it the other day at all. All seems okay now though.

  19. Diana says:

    @Linda please refer to yesterday please.

  20. Phil says:

    Reinhard – that was the point I was making.

  21. Dave R says:

    I don’t think ‘bushed and stoned’ means cremated. I think it means they piled prickly bushes and stones over the grave to keep the bodies ‘safe below’ from the jackals. It’s also how they protected their camps from wild animals in arid countries like Afghanistan.

    And many of the dead would probably have been muslim sepoys.

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