Tuesday, 8 October 2013

V is for Visitation of God

A term that is seen on a number of early death certificates is "Visitation of God", "Act of God" or Ex visitation e dei” which  is the Latin for "Visitation of God".

Generally this term is used when there appears to be a sudden, unexplained natural death. Actual cause might have been a stroke, heart attack or aneurysm so generally when there had been no previous illness.

Some examples: in Tasmania, Australia civil registration started in 1838. When you look through the early registers of death it is striking the number of occasions when the doctor, probably  a loss to explain the cause of death of adults and children alike, and he called it "Visitation of God." 

Within the first 10 years of the records, children from three months of age up to men and women aged in their 70's and 80's died from this cause. 

Visitation of God was also not an unusual verdict in an inquest up to the 1870s and found occasionally to 1900 or so.

The below examples from the Down Ireland Inquest Verdicts 1841 found here

BAXTER, James, on the 4th September 1841 at Aghadergh, Ireland visitation of God

BYRNE, Theophilus, on the 22nd Dec, at Tullyweir, visitation of God.

CARR, Mathew, on the 18th April, at Lurganbane, visitation of God.

CARSON, Andrew, on the 5th Oct. at Scarva, visitation of God.

CHAMBERS, William, on the 18th May, at Lurganbane, visitation of God.

CONNOR, John, on the 19th Oct, at Drumnabrace, visitation of God.

DOUGLASS, Elizabeth, on the 17th May, at Ballysallagh, visitation of God.

ENGLISH, David, on the 6th May, at Magherassul, visitation of God.

FARRELL, Mary, on the 1st Aug., at Ballykinlar, visitation of God.

FITZSIMONS, Hugh, on the 8th Jan, at Ardglass, visitation of God.

GRANT, John, on the 27th Dec. at Ballymagarrity, died by visitation of God.

HAMILTON, James, on the 13th March, at Ballyhasset, visitation of God.

IRWIN, Francis, on the 22nd Oct., at Dromaghadore, visitation of God.

JOHNSTON, Sarah, on the 12th Nov., at Lystallcarron, visitation of God.

KICLEY, John, on the 22nd April, at Bryansford, visitation of God.

KININGS, John, on the 14th Dec., at Conianstown, visitation of God.

LAVERY, John, on the 7th Nov. at Coolsallagh, visitation of God.

M'CONNELL, Daniel, on the 2nd Nov. Waringstown, visitation of God.

M'POLIN, William, 4th Jan, at Loughran, visitation of God.

NICHOLSEN, John, on the 24th April, at Ballymacknally, visitation of God.

O'HARE, John, on the 1st Jan., at Backaderry, by visitation of God.

ROONEY, Cecily, on the 16th Aug., at Saul, visitation of God.

WALKER, Isaac, on the 8th March, at Lisnashanker, visitation of God.

It is also interesting that there are a number of occasions where "Visitation of God" is given as well as what appears to be an accurate  medical cause is given such as in this example on a death certificate in 1842 in England after an inquest.  

In cause of death it says "Effusion of blood to the left ventricle of the brain" which is likely to be a burst aneurysm?  However  the Verdict was  "Died by the Visitation of God" and this was written on the certificate as was the medical cause. Was there some reason why the evidence from presumably a post-mortem not accepted?

The newspapers also reported the "Visitation of God" as is seen in
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Saturday 4 October 1817, page 2
 "On Tuesday last, Thomas Lee, [sic] smith, of King-street, an industrious inhabitant of the Colony for several years past, expired suddenly in Pitt-street. An Inquest was convened on the occasion, whose verdict was Death by the Visitation of God"

I quite liked this one found on the death of Richard Cundy in 1847 who died at Richmond, Melbourne Victoria.,‘From a visitation of God following the consumption of spirituous liquors’  Perhaps a note of reprimand there?

"Visitation of God" has been seen on certificates from many countries including the colonies of Australia, Canada, the USA, England and other countries of the Commonwealth.

In the Second Annual Report of the Registrar General of Great Britain in 1840, William Farr presented the statistics of causes of death, defined as “diseases, which terminate in the extinction of existence” but he criticized the use of vague categories like "sudden death," "natural death," "visitation of God," and "old age” as not being helpful to determining actual cause of death.

The actual cause of death was important particularly in the new field of public health where with analysis as to deaths in urban and rural area, occupational deaths gave rise to many sanitation  and public health improvements.

William Farr developed a system of classification of the causes of death which, with development,  has become the International Classification of Death which is used throughout much of the world today and is in its tenth edition (ICD10).

William wrote many columns in the British Medical Journal explaining the classifications and the importance of having accurate causes of death reported. This and the increasing medical knowledge around the world meant that a death certificate with “Visitation of God” became a rarity as the century progressed.

I have heard of it on a certificate in 1910 and would be interested if you have a later certificate with this as a cause.

1856 New South Wales Certificate

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