Page images

The soil of the city is composed of clay, sand, charge; no bursting out of a thunder-storm; and vegetable mould ; the smaller hills being no copious rain; no interruption of the intermade up almost entirely of clay with here and tropical heat; even the south-southeast breeze, there a nucleus of granite. These hills were usually so regular and strong, was, in this year, once islands in an ancient sea, but nature first rarer and slighter.” formed an alluvial marsh which art then filled For several years physicians had observed a up with a sufficient quantity of earth from the change in the type of the diseases of the city. hills to make a foundation for houses. This They had become far more malignant. Still filling has been accomplished without any regard no Yellow Fever made its appearance till Deto the sanitary necessities of the population. cember 28th, 1849, and it is generally believed There is scarcely any water-shed or declivity that this was its first invasion of the Brazilian for drainage, so that at the distance of a thou- capital. The first cases occurred in the persons sand yards from the shore, Campo de Santa of northern sailors, who had been living in the Anna is only five feet and a half above the level neighborhood of the water in the lower part of of the sea. The streets are narrow, the paving city. The disease soon spread through the videfective, the scavenger department almost cinity, at first slowly, but afterward more raptotally neglected. The porous soil retains all idly. It seemed to make as regular approaches manner of filth ; the inhabitants do not hesitate as a besieging army. At first it drew a cordon to throw out the refuse of their houses and the round the city along the beaches, and then, as police rarely take the trouble to remove it. if sure of its prey, suddenly advanced by many

Pent up between the mountains and the sea, avenues to the centre of the capital. It made subjected to the perpetual blaze of a tropical sun, no distinction of age, sex, nor condition, but atthis marshy plain can hardly fail to be both hot tacked all indiscriminately. In many houses not and moist. Its former average annual tem- a single occupant remained alive. It was not, perature was 73° and the air was loaded with however, equally fatal to all classes. The blacks vapor. In this respeet its climate has been and mixed races nearly all recovered, but the undergoing an unfavorable change of late years. people of pure European blood suffered terribly. The average annual temperature has increased Acclimation diminished the liability to death. 2:11° of Fahrenheit's thermometer; the aver- The new-comers were the principal victims; and age humidity is double that of Paris. The rains the more healthy tho climate from which they also have become less frequent, and this, as came, the more recent their arrival, the fuller well as the increase of temperature, has been they were of health and strength and blood, the attributed to the clearing of the forests in the more certainly and the more fatally did the pesinterior and in the neighborhood of the city. tilence strike them. Formerly, by two or three o'clock in the after- A considerable number of French and Ital. noon the mountain-tops would be darkened with ians died. Certain classes of those nations were thunder-clouds, which soon swept over the city chiefly attacked. There was some time during and poured down torrents of rain to cool the which not a single vender of plaster statuary burning streets. So common were these even- was seen, no seller of pans and kettles, no ing showers, tradition informs us, that fifty rainy-weather-liat peddlers. The Italian opeyears ago friends used to part from one another to ra was closed, and some members of the commect again after the afternoon's thundergust. pany will never be heard again. A company This regularity has entirely disappeared, and of posturers and equestrians was cruelly ravthe number of these storms greatly diminished. aged, so that the horses were almost the only The clouds gather round the mountains and creatures that escaped death. It appears to hover over the city, but instead of sending down me that artists and priests of the temple of the refreshing showers, they check the radiation Muses were the very worst sufferers, doubtless from the earth, and retain the heated vapor. in consequence of the misery that accompanies This hot, close, damp air is exceedingly oppress- artistic and poetic life in Rio de Janeiro. Comive. It rapidly exhausts the nervous energy merce also contributed her quota of patients and prostrates the strength of all who are shut and deaths. There were commercial houses up in it. Dr. Lallemant tells us that this sort of which, for a longer or shorter period, were enheat was very common in 1849 and 1850, and tirely closed. I am the only one in the esthat these thunder-storms almost entirely ceased. tablishment at this moment not sick.” Thus

" It is true that the mountain-tops were fre- wrote, one day, a book-keeper of a German quently hidden by thunder-clouds; it is true house, and in a short time afterward he himthat lightning-flashes sometimes reached us, self died. and that we heard the very distant rollings of Several members of foreign legations died; thunder; but an impenetrable barrier seemed to death entered the Chamber of Deputies and the have been raised in the plains on the other side Council of the Emperor. During the months of the bay, and however heavy thunder there of March, April, and May the disease was at its was on the mountain-tops, however many whole height. The usual terror-the suspension of weeks of copious rain there were up there, the business, the hush of the streets, the hurry of city and the vicinity were in the greatest ap- the few agitated passers-by, revealed the presparent tranquillity of nature, the tranquillity of ence of pestilence. The dead had become so a cemetery. No wind preceding an electric dis- numerous that the bells were no longer tolled ; On the way

even the bell which accompanied the host through spectators of the scene fled from the place in the streets was mute. The rites of worship in great alarm. “One day," says the physician the churches were suspended; “every thing was we have already so often quoted, “I saw a boat suspended but death.” “The corpses,” says Dr. with four sailors, who brought a fifth as a paLallemant, “could no longer be contained in tient to the island of Bom-Jesus. the churches; and I shall never forget the sad the four rowers were very much diverted, when impression I felt when I sometimes encountered suddenly one of them let go one of the oars, a perfect line of funeral cortéges proceeding and cried out, 'I have the fever!' He shivalong the road to Catumby ; when I saw car- ered with cold, and in place of returning with riages returning in shameless disorder, and in a his companions, he too remained as a patient great hurry to go and seek more customers; for at the island of Bom-Jesus, and died a few in those days men speculated even in death, and days afterward.” undertakers profited by the general calamity.” It is a fact worthy of notice that vessels load

The alarm was aggravated by an ill-judged ed with coal suffered more than others. order prohibiting the publication of the daily The disease continued to rage in spite of the number of deaths. This was intended to quiet solemn religious processions, whose torches redthe public mind, but it had the directly con- dened the night air, and lighted up the jewels trary effect. The imagination exaggerated the on the images of the invocuted saints borne mortality, and the gloom of ignorance magni- reverently at the head of the column. In eight fied the gigantic limbs of the pestilence. months, from the first of January to the last

While the disease was thus ravaging the city, of August, it had swept into eternity, accordit was in like manner spreading through the ing to the official reports, 3827 souls. These shipping in the port. Dr. Lallemant, who had figures are considered by eye-witnesses entirely charge of the marine hospital at the island of too low. Dr. Lallemant estimates the number Bom-Jesus, gives a dreary list of vessels which of cases at 100,000, and the deaths at 10,000. were represented in his wards; and adds, “it It is remarkable that those persons who fled to was the saddest congress of nations that could the healthier air of the mountains while their be seen; a conflict of nearly all the languages systems were saturated with the poison almost of Europe.” One-half of his patients died; and invariably sickened and died. During the subhe attributes the mortality to the condition in sequent years yellow fever continued to prevail which the patients were when brought to him. in Rio, though with varying severity. Thus Some died in the boat on their way to the hos- 475 died of it in 1851, 1943 in 1852, 853 in pital, others immediately after their arrival. 1853, and only four in 1854.

One of the most unhappy circumstances at- From Rio the fever commenced its desolating tending the epidemic in the ships was the im- march northward. Late in 1851 it reached the possibility of escaping to a healthier climate. colonies on the northern coast of South AmerThe pestilence barred their exit, as if to con- ica, and in 1852 fell with great fury on the West sune their inmates at its leisure.

One English India Islands, The year 1853 will long be reship had three captains in succession, two hav- membered by the dwellers on the shores and ing died. It was impossible, in most cases, to islands of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of get hands. Among the few crews who could Mexico. Early in that year yellow fever atbe got together, the disease broke out as soon tacked the southern and western shores and the as the men began to work. Several ships, islands of that heated expanse of water, and which weighed anchor and sailed a short dis- was so general and so violent that medical men tance, were compelled to return on this ac- of experience in epidemics predicted that it count. One brig was found drifting out at sea. would make the circuit of the Gulf. So inThe captain and pilot were dead, the crew sick, deed it did, and a sad and terrible circuit it and no one knew how to navigate the vessel. was. Our limits do not permit us to particuMany sad incidents, of course, occurred. A larize minutely the details of that fearful year. physician, on his way to attend the sick at a dis- We therefore pass over the epidemics in the tant point of the harbor, was hailed by a Danish southern parts of the sea, and commence with schooner. The captain and his wife—both young a description of the scourge as it devastated and only a few months married—were sick, and New Orleans. there were not enough sailors well to send ashore That city is famous for its insalubrity. A for medicines. It was necessary to hail another comparison of its mortality with that of the othvessel in order to get men for the purpose. In er large seaboard cities of the United States three days the captain was dead; sympathizing reveals this at once. Their average mortality friends carried the dying wife ashore, and in a is a little less than 21 per cent. annually ; few hours she too perished.

whereas that of the metropolis of Louisiana, for The attack of the disease was sometimes re- the six years preceding the great epidemic of markably sudden. On the Custom-house quay 1853, was 6 per cent. Its situation is well a Hamburg bark anchored and commenced dis- known. Lying upon a low alluvial plain, becharging. Every one on board took sick on the low the level of the Mississippi River at high same day. About the same time a French ship water, it is surrounded by extensive undrained anchored at the same quay. After a few min- swamps, and has itself been reclaimed from a utes' work the sailors all took sick, and some marsh, Its rich, alluvial soil contains great

[ocr errors]

quantities of vegetable mould, and is so damp by subsequent examination. Be that as it may, that water can be obtained any where at the it is certain that the disease originated, as usual, depth of a few feet. There are a number of about the water, and among the ships. The cemeteries within the city limits, which greatly first cases occurred late in May. The disease taint the air. The drainage is imperfect, and went on languidly during the month of June, scavenger duty very badly performed. The open and was not fully established till the second lots are also sources of disease, being, as they week in July. From that time it raged most are, the receptacles for the offal of the surround- frightfully until November. It was at its height ing houses. During the year 1853 the city was in August, during which month the unfavorable in a worse sanitary condition than usual; it climatic influences had also reached their maxwas not only filthier, but there had been much imum. This month it swept away 5269 souls. disturbance of the original soil, a dangerous The population of the city remaining behind operation in all Southern cities. The popula- during the course of the epidemic is estimated tion was also more susceptible, there being a at 125,000. Of these, 29,020 were attacked, larger number than usual of people from the and 8101 died of this terrible fever. North, and of Europeans not yet acclimated. Evidences of its unusual malignity were its

To these unfavorable circumstances was soon attacking negroes, children, and natives, and added a most oppressive state of the atmosphere. its wide-s devastation of the surrounding The winter was mild, the spring warm, and the country. Its influence was manifest upon both summer intensely hot. In May the average vegetable and animal life.

Seed failed to germtemperature was nearly 74°, the average dew- inate, and young plants, a few inches above point 67°, the winds southerly and easterly, and ground, were seized with a sudden blight. the rains slight. Still the air was very damp; Fungi and mould were uncommonly abundant, an unusual prevalence of mould was observed, fruit rotted on the trees, the fish died in great and the heat was uncommonly depressing. Dur- quantities along the shores of the Gulf, the pouling this month there were 600 cases of the fever. try perished in the barn-yards, the tame birds In June the average temperature had risen to 81°, in their cages. The wild animals fled from and the dew-point to 73°, and with this change their accustomed haunts deep into the forests, came an increased mortality. The weather re- warned by instinct of the poison that filled the sembled that so eloquently described by Chateau- air. The carrion that putrefied along the shores vieux: “No visible signs mark the existence or of the streams and in the open fields could not approach of this pestiferous air. The sky is as lure the vultures and carrion-crows from their pure, the verdure as fresh, the air as tranquil, hiding-places in the woods. Every thing which as in the most healthy region. The aspect of could escape abandoned the infected spots. the elements is such as should inspire the most In many of the smaller towns the mortaliperfect confidence; and it is impossible to ex- ty was terrific. At Providence the population press the horror which one experiences, on dis- was reduced by flight to about four hundred. covering that all this is deception; that he is in Of these 330 sickened and 165 died. At Vicksthe midst of dangers, of which no indication burg it also raged terribly.

In a reduced popuexists, and that, with the soft air he is breath-lation of about 3000 there occurred 2100 cases ing, he may be inhaling a poison destructive to and 500 deaths. In Jackson, Mississippi, out life.” In reality, this very tranquillity is a warn- of 690 who remained 350 sickened and 112 ing to him who can read the signs of the time. died. It indicates excessive radiation and a stagnant On the 13th of July, the first case occurred condition of the atmosphere. During July and at Mobile. The disease gradually extended August the rains became truly tropical. Every throughout the town without regard to locality. afternoon they poured down in torrents, soaking It even invaded the surrounding country, and the earth and saturating anew the filth which extended along the lines of communication to had dried during the day. There was, how-towns which had never been attacked before. ever, nothing refreshing in these copious tor- In some of these it was very severe. In Mobile,

The air was hotter and closer than be- the Board of Health ceased to report on the 26th fore, and the pools which collected in the gutters of October, though scattering cases continued to were mantled with a slimy pellicle through which occur throughout the months of November and bubbles of fetid gas arose.

Calms were un- December. The entire number of deaths from usually common, and the atmosphere was close, yellow fever was 1191, out of a population of suffocating, and inelastic.

about 18,000. Old physicians remarked that The disease was supposed to have been im- the disease manifested a malignity unknown ported from Rio, but a careful investigation of since 1819. the facts led the sanitary commission to believe During this same year Philadelphia lost 128 that the hypothesis was utterly without founda- | inhabitants by yellow fever. tion. It began, indeed, among persons who In 1854 the disease had advanced still farther had been subjected to the foul air of ships; northward. Savannah, Augusta, and Charlesand though some of the scavengers employed in ton suffered severely. In Baltimore, also, a cleaning these vessels detected what they con- few deaths occurred, but the disease was confined sidered marks of black vomit about the hold almost exclusively to two small streets near the and hospital, their suspicions were not verified water at the lower end of Fell's Point, so that it


excited no alarm and attracted little attention. I by the salt spray, that they were stripped as bare Our space suffices only for a description of the as in mid-winter. They soon budded out again epidemic in Charleston.

in both leaf and flower. After this, there was a The commercial metropolis of South Carolina marked increase in the epidemic. It had preis situate upon a narrow and level tongue of viously been confined to strangers, but now it land between two rivers. Extensive mud flats attacked natives. It was noticed with astonishare exposed for several hours to the influencement and alarm that even negroes, who had of the sun at low tide. The area of the build- been born in Charleston, died of this disease. ing lots in the city is continually increased by One case is recorded of an old negress, eightyland which has been reclaimed from the sea in four years of age, who had never left the city, these swampy levels. The process hitherto and who had passed unharmed through three adopted to effect this object is diametrically at epidemics, and yet perished of black vomit. war with the principles of hygiene. The lots On the 9th of September the Roper Hospital are filled up with animal and vegetable matters, was opened for the reception of patients, and by chiefly with rice chaff. Such porous materials the evening of that day fourteen were under can afford only a very permeable soil, through treatment. The beds were speedily filled. On which the tides can readily soak. Many of the the twentieth, the influx was so rapid that for a city lots are below the level of the streets, so time it was impossible to find accommodations that water stagnates in them, saturating the for those who sought admittance. putrescible materials which make up the bulk The epidemic lasted till the 25th of Novemof their soil. As might be expected, yellow ber. The entire mortality was 612. Of these, fever is peculiarly malignant and fatal in these 458 were foreigners, 119 natives of the United low, unwholesome, half-drained swamps. States, but not of the city of Charleston, and

In 1854 all the local elements of disease were 44 natives of the city. Of the latter but three unusually numerous and active. A great quan- were adults. tity of mud flat had been reclaimed in the ordi- The next year, 1855, is a sad one in the annary manner, by filling up with rice chaff and nals of the old commonwealth of Virginia, for other rubbish. This made soil was alternately two of her cities were sorely afflicted during the flooded by the tide and exposed to the hot rays burning heats of its summer and fall. We need of the sun till its effluvia became so disgusting only mention Norfolk and Portsmouth to call that the houses in the neighborhood were closed up to the memory of the whole country images by their occupants. In the western portion of of woe and sounds of lamentation. The deep the city, the contempt for sanitary regulations fraternal interest felt by the nation in the cahad been carried so far that the lots had been lamity which ravaged those unhappy towns, is filled with offal and garbage. The meteorolog- our only apology for dwelling somewhat minuteical conditions still further favored the develop-ly upon the history of their sorrows. ment of disease. The heat was the most intense These two cities are situate opposite each and oppressive which had been experienced for other, on the banks of the Elizabeth River, a years. Sun-strokes were frequent. The cus- short, wide, and deep estuary, opening into tomary evening sea-breeze failed, so that the James River not far above its junction with the nights were hot and sultry. On one occasion, on Chesapeake Bay. The shores of the Bay, at Sullivan's Island, a summer resort directly ex- this its southern extremity, like the entire Atposed to the ocean, the thermometer at midnight lantic coast, from Cape May down, are low and stood at 93o. The average for the four months flat. In this particular spot they are also of June, July, August, and September was above marshy. The upper border of the Great Dis80°, and the average dew-point above 72o. The mal Swamp is not more than eight miles diswinds were light, and the rains infrequent. tant. Norfolk is a little higher than Ports

During the month of July several vessels ar- mouth, but not suficiently elevated to be free rived from infected ports. They were reported from the general dampness of the entire neighto have lost patients at sea with yellow fever, borhood. Every where water is very near the and two of them sent to the hospital men labor- surface, and may be obtained at a depth of four ing under this disease. About the same time or six feet; and, in some places, at even less. vessels arriving from the North hauled in to the Gosport, which is a southern suburb of Portssame wharf at which these infected ships were mouth, is separated from that town by a marsh or had been lying. Yellow fever broke out on about a quarter of a mile in width. This is board of them, and soon spread into the city. bridged at its eastern end by a wooden causeOn the 19th of August the existence of this way, now well advanced in decay. On the discase was officially announced in the weekly north side of Portsmouth is a marshy run, report of the Board of Health. At first it con- extending southwardly through the city, and fined itself to the low and filthy parts of the city, crossed by wooden bridges. The city is thus especially to the Irish and German population. nearly enveloped by marshes, which are covered

On the 7th and 8th of September there was a with logs and various forms of vegetable matter. furious gale, which caused great injury to the These, together with the decaying weeds and shipping. The water rose very high, and did animals of the marshes themselves, reeking unmore damage than the wind. The trees were der a southern sun, can not fail to send up deadlashed so furiously by the wind, and so beaten ly emanations into the atmosphere. The dead

level of the city is a serious obstacle to drainage. I believed. The engineer is quoted as saying that The pools of water which remain after every yellow fever prevailed to such an extent, shortly rain in the unpaved streets, together with the after she left St. Thomas, that difficulty was exgarbage which is allowed to accumulate upon perienced in working the ship. Surreptitious the lots and in the streets, are further sources burials are rumored to have taken place from of disease. The docks, too, are described as on board of her by night while she was lying at being very offensive during that fatal summer. quarantine, and fever was believed to be makThat nothing may be wanting to increase the ing sad havoc with her crew. Be that as it may, disasters of a pestilence, this unhealthy water- it is certain that a fraud was perpetrated on the front is bordered by “thickly-set, ill-ventila- health officer when the health of the vessel was ted, overcrowded, dilapidated frame tenements,” represented to be good. On the day after her which, even in spite of the dampness of the arrival at Gosport one of her crew was sent to soil, are provided with cellars and underground the naval hospital, where he died in a few hours basements. These are occupied by the poorest of black vomit. This man, who was perfectly and filthiest of the population, and are necessa- rational at the time of his admission, told the rily surrounded by all manner of impurities. surgeon of the hospital that he had been taken “Not a human being of either sex, or of any sick on the 17th, two days before leaving quarage, who remained within this precinct, so far antine. It is also certain that the earliest wellas I could learn,” says an eye-witness, “es- authenticated cases of the disease broke out in caped the fever; and most of them died.” her immediate neighborhood, and that many of

The sanitary condition of Norfolk is better them occurred in persons who were engaged on than that of Portsmouth. It is, as we said be- board of this ill-fated steamer.* On the 5th of fore, a little more elevated, and it has a slight July, a boiler-maker, who had been working at slope toward the river, which gives it greater her machinery, was taken sick, and on the 8th facilities for drainage. It also has the advantage he was a corpse. The attending physician enof possessing many paved streets. Still much tertaining some doubt as to the true character complaint was made, before the breaking out of the disease, requested an eminent naval surof the fever, concerning the unwholesome con- geon to examine the body. Closing the nostrils, dition of the city. Some of the docks were said and pressing upon the chest of the dead man, to be abominably fetid, and back alleys and va- the surgeon forced from the mouth a gush of cant lots were pointed out as reeking with im- the unmistakable black vomit, to the horror purities.

and dismay of the by-standers. Several other To these local causes were superadded the cases followed in quick succession, six of them usual atmospheric conditions. The weather being hands belonging to the steamer. It was was hot and moist, the thermometer at mid-day useless to attempt concealment, and the presranging at 94° in the shade. There was also ence of pestilence was publicly acknowledged noticed the sultriness which so often ushers in by the Board of Health. By the 24th of July pestilence, the absence of high winds, the un- twenty-seven cases and eight deaths had occurusual rapidity of decomposition in animal and red in Gosport, all of them in the immediate vivegetable 'substances. The weather for the cinity of Page and Allen's ship-yard. months of June, July, and August is described The workmen fled from the infected spot, by an eye-witness as “ damp, close, hot, and leaving a large ship unfinished upon the stocks. disagreeable.”

The clatter of hammers gave place to a painful The steamer Benjamin Franklin arrived on silence, and the idle saw and adze rusted in the the 7th of June from St. Thomas, an island of unoccupied sheds. The authorities hastened to the West Indies, in which yellow fever was pre-board up the infected spot, and to interdict all vailing at the time of the vessel's departure. intercourse between it and the still healthy She was boarded by the health officer, who was portions of the town. These precautions, howinformed by the captain that there was no dis- ever, were taken too late. Like an unconquerease on board of her. Two deaths were ac- able flame, the disease overleaped the barriers, knowledged as having occurred at sea, but were raged along the wooden tenements on the bank attributed by the captain one to diseased heart, of the river, sparing none of their squalid denithe other to exhaustion. The steamer was kept zens, and destroying three out of every five. It at quarantine for twelve days, and no case of in- soon began to spread inward to the town, and fectious disease on board of her having come to late in July it crossed the river to Norfolk. It the knowledge of the Board of Health, she was broke out first in Barry's Row, a collection of allowed to pass up into the harbor, on condition frame tenements, sweltering in filth, and inhabthat her hold should not be broken out. As ited, as such places usually are, by uncleanly she needed repairs, she hauled in to Page and and indigent people. To this miserable shelter Allen's ship-yard, where she remained for nine- a number of the terrified occupants of the plagueteen days. There her captain violated his smitten hovels of Portsmouth had betaken thempledge by breaking out her hold, and pumping out an extremely offensive bilge-water.

* A case of yellow fever was said to have been seen in Since the fatal epidemic which followed the ar- Gosport on the 24th of June, but there is some doubt of

At any rate, 'it occurred seven days rival of this pestilential ship, strange stories con

after the sailor was attacked, and three days after he cerning her have been circulated and generally died.

its true character.

« PreviousContinue »