About John Snow

Dr John Snow (1813-1858) was a famous physician, widely recognised as a leading pioneer in the development of anaesthesia in Britain, as well as one of the founding fathers of epidemiology.


Further information on epidemiology.

Members are invited to send in biographical or other points about Snow's life and works.

  • John Snow was born in York on 15 March 1813, the eldest son of a farmer. He died in London on 16 June 1858, aged 45

  • His first piece of scientific work was on the use of Arsenic in the preservation of bodies (this work was abandoned due to the toxic effects on the medical students)

  • From his studies in toxicology, John Snow developed an interest in anaesthesia and cholera (hence his theory on the transmission of the cholera 'poison' in water supplies)

  • John Snow was a vegetarian and a teetotaller who campaigned for temperance societies (though he drank a little wine in later life). He first encountered a cholera epidemic in Newcastle in 1831-32 when he was sent there by the surgeon to whom he was apprenticed at the time

  • It was reported that John Snow was a poor speaker with a husky voice; "always spoke to the point but found it difficult to obtain a favourable notice" (Richardson)

  • John Snow occupied three properties during his time in London; 11 Batemans Buildings, Soho Square (1836-1838); 54 Frith Street, Soho Square (1838-1853); 18 Sackville Street (1853-1858)

  • On 16 October 1841 John Snow presented his first paper entitled Asphyxia and the resuscitation of new-born children

  • In 1846, John Snow heard about the use of anaesthesia in the USA. It was not well-received in the UK initially, due to the mode of administration but John Snow spotted how to improve this.

  • In 1849, John Snow published the first edition of his best-known work On the mode of communication of cholera. It cost him £200 to produce but his income was only £3.12s

  • Journals dismissed Snow's book. "There is, in our view, an entire failure of proof that the occurrence of any one case could be clearly and unambiguously assigned to water". The reviewer later concludes, "Notwithstanding our opinion that Dr Snow has failed in proving that cholera is communicated in the mode in which he supposes it to be, he deserves the thanks of the profession for endeavouring to solve the mystery. It is only by close analysis of facts and the publication of new views, that we can hope to arrive at the truth". (London Medical Gazette, 1849)

  • On 7 April 1853, John Snow administered obstetric anaesthesia to Queen Victoria on the birth of Prince Leopold, and again on the birth of Princess Beatrice (14 April 1857)

  • John Snow beat William Budd to the water theory of transmission of cholera by only 10 days. However, although Budd's thesis was based on more thorough surveys of rural outbreaks, he made the mistake of proposing a fungal cause

  • John Snow's views were still not accepted in Germany at the time of the Gelsenkirche Typhoid Epidemic, in 1901.

John Snow


University of California John Snow website

The University of California Department of Epidemiolgy have a website dedicated to John Snow which is definitely worth a visit with a wide range of articles, animations, maps and photos.



Biography of John Snow

Peter Vinten-Johansen, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

(This is the most serious biography of Snow with excellent discussion of Snow’s life and his work on anaesthetics, cholera and maps)


Accounts of the 1854 cholera epidemic

Sandra Hempel. The Medical Detective: John Snow; Cholera and the Mystery of the Broad St. Pump. London Granta Books, 2006.

Deborah Hopkinson. The Great Trouble. Subtitled ‘A mystery of London, the blue death and a boy called Eel’. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Steven Johnson. The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks. Penguin Books, 2008.

Katherine Tansley. The Doctor of Broad Street: A Victorian Tale of Murder and Malady​. Matador, 2016. 

Richard Streeter. Eliza Reid (1841–54)"—a genealogical and historical narrative of one of the earliest victims of the St. James, Westminster cholera outbreak. https://johnsnow.matrix.msu.edu/studies.php, 2019.