The author Bram Stoker’s mother hailed from Sligo. Her name was Charlotte Thornley and she lived with her parents Captain Thomas Thornley, Matilda Blake Thornley along with her two younger brothers Thomas and Richard.
Charlotte lived with her family on Correction Street now Old Market Street in the town. It was here where she resided in 1832 aged 14 years old when the Cholera epidemic struck Sligo town. Within six weeks, half of the town had fled to the countryside and an estimated 1,500 people had died from the disease. Charlotte and her family fled to Ballyshannon, County Donegal.
Charlotte survived and went onto marry Abraham Stoker, a Civil Servant in Dublin Castle. In 1847, Charlotte gave birth to a son named Abraham later known as Bram. As a child, Bram was sickly and was to spend the first seven years of his life bedridden. Charlotte would entertain her son by telling him old Irish folklore tales and stories of the horrors that occurred during the Cholera epidemic in Sligo in 1832.
These stories left a mark on the young Bram, as he was to remember them years later when he began writing short stories. He asked his mother to write down her account of the Cholera epidemic. Charlotte wrote an account called ‘Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland in 1832’, which she sent to her son. The account tells of bodies piled up on the streets and buried in mass burial pits. Of victims been buried alive and the stench. During Charlotte’s time, Cholera was believed to spread from air pollution. They believed the disease was spread by a miasma, where ever there were bad smells from organic waste was the cause of cholera spreading. We know today it was due to the bacterium called Vibrio Cholerae entering the water supply.
Bram Stoker would go on to use some of the stories mentioned in his mother’s account in his novel Dracula, for example how the disease spread from the East from the air and of people been buried alive. In fact, the novel Dracula was originally due to be called The Undead.
On Friday 9th November 2018, Melcoo Tours will run a special after dark walking tour, revealing some of the key sites around Sligo connected with the Cholera epidemic and highlighting the Dracula connections. For tickets see our booking page Mytickets or Eventbrite.
On Saturday 10th November 2018, a unique conference that aims to show how Sligo town influenced the novel ‘Dracula’ will take place in the gothic victorian style chapel known as the Canis Major, on the grounds of the former Sligo/Leitrim Lunatic Asylum.
Six speakers will include experts in Bram Stoker’s life and Gothic fiction as well as esteemed local historians. All welcome along, see Sligo Dracula Society website for more details or to book your tickets, see Eventbrite.
Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland in 1832 by Charlotte Thornley, (France, 1873)
History of Sligo, Vol. 3 by Woodmartin, (Sligo, 1891)
Canis Major image: < NLI.ie > Deane collection
Miasma image: Under the setting sun by Bram Stoker
Thornley historical plaque: Melcoo.com
Dracula Benbulben image: Sligo Dracula Society Facebook