Richard Burke’s health declines

!2 March 1888 was the last meeting attended by Richard McArthur Burke at Lodge 44, the Clonmel branch of the Freemasons. He was at the level of an officer, only having joined the organisation over a year before in January 1887. He was only twenty one years old at the time.

Emily elder brother Richard, diligently attended meetings at the Lodge on a regular basis, but over the previous months. His health had began to decline. He was in the early stages of Kidney failure. At the time it was called Bright’s Disease. Historically it was a difficult disease to cure, the table below displays the many ways that the illness was treated, one remedy more harsh than the next. Many succumbed to the disease, one famous victim was the poet Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886, just two years before Richard Burke.

Bright’s Disease (Bright s disease/ Bright’s) – Any of several forms of disease of the kidney attended with albumin in the urine, including especially acute and chronic non-suppurative nephritis. See chronic nephritis.

The treatment for Bright’s at the time was primitive, sometimes harsh and mostly unpleasant consisting of the methods below:

  • Warm baths
  • Dietary changes (e.g. avoidance of alcohol, cheese and red meat)
  • Herbs with diuretic properties
  • Blood-letting
  • Squill
  • Digitalis
  • Mercury
  • Opium
  • Laxatives


Diagram of a kidney with Bright’s Disease. Wellcome Museum

“Bright’s disease is a historical term that is not currently in use. It referred to a group of kidney diseases – in modern medicine, the condition is described as acute or chronic nephritis.” ()

Emily’s brother Richard, may have inherited the disease from their mother, who died of similar illness five years earlier. She was only 56, relatively young even for the times. His grandfather, whom he was called after Richard McArthur also died  young, perhaps of the same disease. It was in the 1820’s long before civil registration, and  still in the days that people just died of death. There was one indication in his death announcement in the papers;

“At Rathmines, where he had removed for the benefit of his health, Mr. Richard M’Arthur, of Ardglass, formerly of Dublin.”

The sad business with their half-brother William Henry Burke, who was still in hospital in Barnsley, until his health improved sufficiently, till he could stand trial for the murder of his daughter. The trauma of the sad situation could not have been easy for his brothers and sisters in Ireland.


Freemasons Archives, Dublin’s_disease;_the_kidney_Wellcome_L0019826.jpg
Thanks to Dublin Freemason