Octavia’s grandfather, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, eulogised by Leige Hunt as “Physician to Mankind”, helped establish the Health of Towns Association, which led to the model dwelling movement. His legacy is evident in social housing everywhere. He was a leading social reformer, who worked with Edwin Chadwick.
While a medical student in Edinburgh, he took charge of a Unitarian congregation. In 1816, he became a doctor and began to practise in Yeovil, Somerset. He moved to London to devote himself principally to medicine.
In 1824, he was appointed physician to the London Fever Hospital and in 1830 published the “Treatise on Fever”, which was once accepted as a standard authority on the subject. In this book he established the direct connection between living conditions and epidemic fevers. He said, “These poor people are victims that are sacrificed. The effect is the same as if twenty or thirty thousand of them were annually taken from their homes and put to death”.
He was frequently consulted on fever epidemics and sanitary matters by public authorities and his reports on quarantine, cholera, yellow fever and the results of sanitary improvement were of international importance.
His daughter, Caroline, married James Hill of Wisbech in 1835. Octavia Hill was born in 1838.