A cholera outbreak

The following story is based upon real life accounts which appeared in the Scarborough Daily Post in 1920 as part of the 'Sea Dogs' stories by Forrest Frank. This story was told by Captain John Helm Gibson.

The Wydale arrived from New Orleans at Hamburg when the great cholera epidemic of 1891 was at its height. The deaths from this terribly sudden disease averaged moderate proportion of the victims died in their homes.

The majority were stricken down in the streets and picked up by bands of soldiers and police, and trundled away to the hospitals, permanent and temporary, which were taxed for accommodation to their utmost limits. We moored in the sailing ship harbour, and received orders from the British Consul that none of the crew were to be allowed onshore under heavy penalties.

The crews of the ships on either side of us were attacked by the disease, but we providentially had no cases, though we were there during the greater part of August and the early part of September.

I had with me a steward, a very old man, who had been steward years before in some of the old country wallahs - English ships bought in their old age by Hindoos and used for running cargoes of coolies from the East to Mauritius, for use on the sugar plantations.

It was no uncommon thing for cholera to break out in one of these old old packets under such circumstances, and for two or three hundred out of a company of five of six hundred men to die on the passage. They were awful sinks, and I remember when I was at Mauritius in the "Choice" one of these country wallahs putting in with a loss of two hundred out of five hundred coolies.

Well, this old steward of mine had sailed in some of these decrepit horrors, and held to it like the gospel that the only sure preventative was to carry a phial of Laudanum and put a couple of drops into everything one drank, and moreover always, except when eating or sleeping , to keep a cigar in one's mouth.

I followed his advice, and had no occasion to regret it. Though the crew were compulsorily confined to the ship, there were occasions when the master was compelled to go ashore to interview the authorities and the merchants, and on one of these occasions half a dozen other British masters and myself dined together with our agent.

The consumption of beer had beer had been prohibited by the authorities, but spirits were allowed , and a very fine old brandy was put on the table. I was never one for taking much in the way of spirit, and took very little of the brandy, but another Captain, who likewise was almost a stranger to van de vie, was overcome immediately we got outside, and fell in the street.

As we were picking him up, a party of soldiers rushed up, and, despite our protests that the man was all right, hoisted him into a cart and drove him off to the cholera hospital. There was a lot of trouble before he could be got out again, but the most marvellous thing was that, having been where he had been, he escaped the cholera.

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