The Ghost Map

Henry Whitehead Character Analysis

Henry Whitehead is, along with John Snow, the closest thing to a protagonist in The Ghost Map. A talkative, beloved priest living in Soho, Whitehead was one of the first people in the neighborhood to recognize the danger of the 1854 cholera epidemic. In addition to his religious duties, Whitehead was a highly intelligent, hard-working man, and as a result, he took it upon himself to research the causes of the epidemic, compiling information that turned out to be crucial to proving the contagion theory of disease. Whitehead was initially opposed to Snow’s contagion theory of disease; however, after speaking with hundreds of Soho families about their experiences with cholera, he came around to Snow’s ideas. Whitehead then became a great admirer of Snow; later in life, he crusaded on behalf of public health in London, always crediting Snow for the idea that cholera was waterborne. Whitehead was, in short, an impressive, even heroic figure: using his natural gregariousness, as well as his deep commitment to the public good, Whitehead threw himself into the task of researching and preventing epidemics—furthermore, he kept an open mind about the sources of cholera, and accepted the truth even when it went against his original beliefs.

Henry Whitehead Quotes in The Ghost Map

The The Ghost Map quotes below are all either spoken by Henry Whitehead or refer to Henry Whitehead. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Illness, Death, and the Unknown Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of The Ghost Map published in 2007.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Whitehead thought the connection unlikely. He had personally seen so many residents recover from cholera after drinking Broad Street water. He himself had enjoyed a glass a few nights before, and had thus far resisted the plague. Perhaps Richardson had drunk too little.

Related Characters: Henry Whitehead, James Richardson
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

Standing in front of his haggard parishioners in the half-empty church, he noted the disproportionate number of poor, elderly women in the pews. He congratulated them on their "remarkable immunity from the pestilence." But even as he spoke the words, he wondered: How can this be? What kind of pestilence spares the old and the destitute?

Related Characters: Henry Whitehead
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

Cities are invariably shaped by their master planners and their public officials; Chadwick and Farr had a tremendous impact on Victorian London—most of it positive, despite the miasma diversions. But in the last instance, the energy and vitality and innovation of cities comes from the Henry Whiteheads—the connectors and entrepreneurs and public characters who make the urban engine work at the street level.

Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
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Henry Whitehead Character Timeline in The Ghost Map

The timeline below shows where the character Henry Whitehead appears in The Ghost Map. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Eyes Sunk, Lips Dark Blue
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...vomiting, life carried on normally. Not too far away, there was a clergyman named Henry Whitehead. Whitehead had attended Oxford University, and he was known for his gregariousness. He was a... (full context)
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On the morning of Saturday, September 2, 1854, Whitehead walked to a nearby coffeehouse and may have paid a visit to a military factory... (full context)
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...and “the fear was inescapable.” Whole families lay ill together, slowly dying in agony. When Whitehead traveled to Peter Street, he found that half the people living there were seriously ill.... (full context)
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Around the same time that Whitehead was exploring the street, a medical officer named John Rogers was visiting patients who’d fallen... (full context)
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In the afternoon, Whitehead visited a family of six (for the purposes of the book, Johnson calls them the... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Investigator
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Whitehead spent September 3, 1854 walking through the streets of Soho, alarmed by how empty the... (full context)
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...looking over the mortality numbers for the 1854 outbreak compiled by William Farr. Snow and Whitehead had one thing in common that evening: they were both sitting in their rooms with... (full context)
Chapter 4: That Is To Say, Jo Has Not Yet Died
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On Monday, Whitehead visited the Waterstone family again, only to find that their daughter had died in the... (full context)
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...that fostered the spread of disease—was still popular, in spite of Snow’s research. Clergymen like Whitehead, meanwhile, clung to their religious faith in times of cholera epidemics. Over the course of... (full context)
Chapter 5: All Smell is Disease
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...the fact that they’d been drinking lots of water from the Broad Street pump. Henry Whitehead believed that the cholera outbreak was almost over. (full context)
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...that bad smells caused illness. Miasma theory also worked well with religious tradition—for example, Henry Whitehead insisted that Earth’s atmosphere could, with the will of God, foster a plague. Another reason... (full context)
Chapter 6: Building the Case
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As Henry Whitehead spent more time with cholera victims, he found himself growing increasingly furious with wealthy Victorians... (full context)
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As Whitehead visited other sick and recovering cholera victims, he found that many people said they’d begun... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Pump Handle
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At first, Henry Whitehead thought the pump handle’s removal was a foolish choice. He was so displeased, in fact,... (full context)
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As Whitehead continued with his research, he became aware of the lack of correlation between sanitary conditions... (full context)
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...out to be a good thing, though, as it encouraged the committee to hire Henry Whitehead, the only local with an encyclopedic knowledge of the outbreak. On the committee, Whitehead offered... (full context)
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As Whitehead conducted further research, he began to come around to John Snow’s theory. Some of the... (full context)
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Whitehead was coming around to John Snow’s theory, but he still had some objections. First, he... (full context)
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As the data about the cholera outbreak continued to pile up, Whitehead began to believe Snow’s theory. He began searching for an “index case”—i.e., the earliest cholera... (full context)
Chapter 8: Conclusion
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...establishment, it convinced one very important person of the veracity of the waterborne theory: Henry Whitehead. Had Whitehead not seen Snow’s maps, he might not have been converted to the waterborne... (full context)
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...the data. Furthermore, the aftermath of the epidemic represented a triumph of amateur research: Henry Whitehead was a local figure with no particular training, but he used his rapport with Soho... (full context)
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...Company’s policies, and it was discovered that eels swam in the company’s water supply. Henry Whitehead was an important figure in the 1866 investigation; he helped uncover a pattern of company... (full context)
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...the 19th century. Using the cartographical and epidemiological methods pioneered by John Snow and Henry Whitehead, contemporary thinkers have found ways of reorganizing cities more efficiently. The Internet has also expanded... (full context)
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...system reflects a paradigm for urban planning that emerged thanks to John Snow and Henry Whitehead’s cholera research. The first aspect of this paradigm is the importance of “local experts”—i.e., people... (full context)
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In his later years, Henry Whitehead served as a minister in various northern English cities; he died in 1896. A portrait... (full context)
Epilogue: Broad Street Revisited
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...decades, that figure will shoot up to eighty percent. At the time when Snow and Whitehead were alive, a mere ten percent of the population was urban. Human thought is still... (full context)
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To no small extent, Snow and Whitehead made the contemporary urban world possible. Thinkers no longer doubt that it’s possible to crowd... (full context)
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...United States spends millions on nuclear weapons. But humanity would do well to remember Henry Whitehead and John Snow. Instead of despairing in the face of what seemed an unsolvable problem,... (full context)