Mortality and causes of death in Helsinki in 1750-1865 with a comparison with Tallin

Abstract

Between 1750 and 1865 the population of Helsinki grew from around 1,500 inhabitants to 23,500 inhabitants. Part of this growth is explained by general population growth, typical of both Finland and the rest of Europe. The fact that Helsinki grew more rapidly compared to the other towns of Finland was due to two additional factors with underlying political causes: one was the building of the fortress of Viapori alongside the town at the end of the 1700s and the other Helsinki’s becoming the capital of autonomous Finland in 1812. This latter decision moved the administrative and in part the economic focal point of Finland from Turku to Helsinki. The population growth of Helsinki was not the result of an excess of births over deaths, instead it was caused by migration gain. High mortality, again, was linked to the impact of contagious diseases. Intestinal diseases which spread among children by means of food substances raised infant mortality, in particular, but there were also many other diseases (smallpox, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and scarlet fever) which carried many small children to their grave. Cholera, which spread to Helsinki repeatedly in the 1800s, killed many of Helsinki’s inhabitants, but nevertheless cholera’s significance has been greatly exaggerated. The most important single killer of the adult population was tuberculosis, but in addition many other diseases, such as typhoid, spotted fever and dysentery, and in part venereal diseases, markedly raised the mortality statistics of Helsinki. When comparing the remarkably great rises and declines in the annual mortality figures of Helsinki and Tallinn, one notes how very much they coincide. This demonstrates the active contacts existing between the two towns. As a result of the diversity of economic and cultural relations, contagious diseases spread and evolved into epidemics, which rose to great heights in the capitals of both countries, from where they spread to the adjacent regions and other towns. The roads of contagion of Tallinn and Helsinki were partly connected to St. Petersburg, which especially in the 1800s grew into a metropolis even on a European scale. St. Petersburg had extensive international contacts, which facilitated the spread of diseases to rather remote Northern Europe

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