His pamphlet The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester, which he produced following his efforts to control the outbreak, was a classic of its kind and had a tremendous effect on attitudes. It is still read widely today.
Born in Rochdale in 1804, Kay qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh in 1827. Within months, he put his talents to good use when the ship Emma turned turtle during her launching on the River Irwell in Manchester.
Dozens of people were thrown into the water and, as they were pulled out, novel methods were used to try to resuscitate them. Kay himself may have been responsible for giving victims transfusions of dogs' blood, or re-inflating their lungs using bellows inserted in their windpipes. Unfortunately, there are no records of how successful these attempts proved.
In 1829, Kay was appointed physician to the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary. That meant he was in the right place at the right time to witness the developing battle between factory master and worker which was threatening the security of the country.
Kay quickly realised that conflict was no good to anyone; what was needed was an easing of conditions under which the working man lived. He advocated shorter working hours and better education to counteract civil unrest.
When cholera hit Manchester on May 17th, 1832, the boards of health which had been set up six months earlier found themselves with a massive battle to clean up the workers' slums.
A board of health set up, with Kay as secretary, to co-ordinate the work of the city's 14 district boards, and Kay personally visited each area to investigate conditions. What he found formed the basis of his pamphlet.
Kay did not discover the cause of cholera - it was to be nearly 20 years before polluted drinking water was shown to be the culprit.
And the warnings contained in his report went largely unheeded once the disease had run its course.
But the descriptions it contained of life in Manchester's terrible slums had a profound effect, not least on Friedrich Engels, who followed in Kay's footsteps and wrote about the same problems 12 years later.
Kay went on to become secretary to the committee of the Privy Council on Education, and helped to establish the system of school inspection. He invented the pupil-teacher system, in which brighter, older pupils passed on their knowledge to younger classmates, and founded his own training college - which became St John's College, Battersea.
GAWTHORPE HALL, Kay-Shuttleworth's home near Burnley in Lancashire - open to visitors
In later life Kay lectured widely to meetings of working men, on subjects ranging from co-operation to treatment of the insane.
Several of these lectures were preserved in a book, Thoughts and Suggestions on Certain Social Problems, published in 1873. In 1842, on marrying the heiress to the Shuttleworth family of Gawthorpe Hall, at Padiham near Burnley, Kay had agreed to change his name to Kay-Shuttleworth, to perpetuate his father-in-law's family name, and it was under this name that he lectured and wrote. He died in 1877.