In October 1864, a war of words erupted over commentary posted in the local Nassau newspaper. The very inference that the Executive had the power to enforce compulsory smallpox vaccinations, was met with enough public displeasure as to cause, the newspaper to print a clarification of their comments.
A smallpox outbreak reported on Inagua, caused fears of rabid disease outbreak, in the minds of those on the capital island, New Providence. It was commented that the vaccination rate for New Providence, in the year 1861, was 9,878 out of a population of 11,503 or 86%. But that was three years prior. A lot had changed since then. Since then, the writer notes, more people had arrived from the Out Islands who were not vaccinated.
By 1864, threats of deadly diseases from yellow fever, small pox, syphilis, consumption, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, cholera, dysentery, and the ever present spectre of malaria, especially during the rainy summer months, hung over the Bahama Islands, like a readymade burial shroud. Death sat on doorsteps and waited patiently around every corner for the tiny population of less than 40,000 souls. Death’s bony fingers tapped the shoulders of the young and old, the rich and poor, black and white, the beautiful and the homely, all in indiscriminate, equal measure.
Consumption, weakness, spasm, child birth, drowning, dropsy and dysentery were common causes of death in 1864. Image: Courtesy of ancestry.com
Harbour Island was being ravaged by Scarlet Fever, Typhoid Fever and consumption deaths in 1864 – Image: Courtesy of ancestry.com
10 Yellow Fever deaths for District of the City of New Providence for the month of June 1864 – Image: Courtesy of ancestry.com
The smallpox vaccine was the first vaccine to be developed against a contagious disease. When it arrived in the Bahama Islands, it was considered a miracle drug. For sure there were some who had contracted smallpox and survived, like United States President Abraham Lincoln in November 1863. Survivors were, more often than not, left with unsightly skin scars. All other ailments were largely tackled with surgery, palliative treatment, pain management in the form of morphine and opium and ancestrally tried and tested home remedies. The smallpox vaccine in those early years was not without its problems.
In 1863, in England, Sir Culling Eardley it was said, died as “the result of re-vaccination” of the small pox vaccine. — The Nassau Guardian and Bahama Islands’ Advocate and Intelligencer, Wednesday 22nd July, 1863
The Quarantine Station on Atholl Island was quite active in 1864. Ships arriving into New Providence were subject to quarantine if disease of any sort was suspected. Of the 111 admitted, 35 died or 32% of those admitted died.
November 1864, the health warden gives a report on the Quarantine Hospital. Admission to the Quarantine Hospital was usually preceded by a prolonged fever. During the disease season, the Quarantine Hospital in Nassau admitted 153. Of this 153, some 45 died. The death rate was just shy of 30%.
Noted FEVER Deaths 1864
Death of Lucien Jacquet, 31 years old, and native of France, who escaped a 25 year sentence in a Russian prison in Siberia, only to die of YELLOW FEVER, in Nassau, in August 1864. Jacquet had only been in Nassau for two months when the fever took him.
Government response to smallpox outbreak in Inagua – September 1864
Island vaccinators were quickly appointed. There were few doctors available to be sent to every island, so civilians were deputised as Public Vaccinators.