Infant and Child Mortality in Culpin families

Death of a child at any age is always a difficult but the issues facing our ancestors was much more severe than today. Although reports of high numbers children deaths during the Victorian era are well known, having a fairly complete record of birth and deaths within the Culpin ‘name’ group allows us to investigate this in more detail for this group of people.

The analysis is based upon GRO records of births and deaths so they may be distorted by those people who failed to register an event at the Register Office. The records do provide a reasonably good picture and of course, as time progresses through the century, and the numbers not registering were very low indeed, so our statistics move nearer to the actual figures.

The following graph shows the number of percentage of CULPIN children born in each of the years from 1840 until 1889 that do NOT survive beyond the age of five.

Graph 1: Death rates in Culpin children to the age of five with Finliason’s percentages for comparison.

During the early part of this survey most Culpin families were still living in rural or semi rural environments, and in trades and occupations that could be broadly classes as, ‘farmers, labourers, artisans, and servants’ but by the end of the period many had moved to more industrial areas where life expectancy could be expected to be shorter for any age group due to poorer sanitary conditions and air quality.

Alexander Finlaison, a statistician working in the 1840s in the Bath area of the UK reported that

“one half of all children of farmers, labourers, artisans, and servants dies before reaching their fifth birthday, compared to one in eleven children of the land owning gentry.”

Although death rates improved over the century, in Preston by the 1860s,

death rate by age five amongst the upper classes was 180 in 1000, amongst the middle classes 360 in 1000 and amongst the industrial classes 630 in 1000″ (Victorian Britain by Sally Mitchell)

As the graph shows fewer children that this ‘level’ were dying in Culpin families throughout the period and had more in common with Finlaison’s ‘gentry’  category (the lower line of the three), but this could be due to the rural nature of many Culpins at this stage.

Graph 2: Percentage of deaths in CULPIN families to the age 15 that occurred before the age of six.

Despite this many families would lose children at a rate we would find alarming in today’s world. 36% of the children born to Culpin families in the 1840s died before the age of 16, with about a quarter (23%) not surviving to the age of six. Gloomy that this statistic is the figures are better than Finlaison reported as being the average.

The survival rate for a child, once he or she had reached the age of five was relatively quite good. In today’s system of looking at children as an age group of birth and up to sixteen, this analysis shows that although they were still perhaps more vulnerable than older people the majority of children’s deaths to age 15 occurred in the first five years of life.

Image 1: Ellin Culpin’s baptism in 1710

Loss of life at an early stage was certainly a feature of everyday existence in Victorian times and earlier. Very often families would use the name of a deceased child for a later child after one had died. One TV programme quoted it as ‘odd’ that families had used the same name for several of their children but had failed to point out that often the real reason was the death of an earlier child! An example of this is Richard Culpin of Woodnewton in Northamptonshire. His daughter Ellin baptised in March 1710 (see Image 1) but was not to survive beyond 1711.(see Image 2).

Image 3: Elenor Culpin’s baptism in 1712

His was to have a second daughter with the same first name in 1712 and after her death a third with the same name.

If you are researching to do check for the death of children especially if there are repeated names.