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A Darkened Horse

A Darkened Horse: Cholera in Nineteenth-Century Canada

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    A Darkened Horse
    Book Description:

    In a fascinating and disturbing book, Geoffrey Bilson traces the story of the cholera epidemics as they ravaged the Canadas and the Atlantic colonies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5694-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-4)

    Cholera originated in Bengal where it was endemic for many years. In 1817, it began to spread through Asia and Europe in a series of pandemics which lasted into the twentieth century.¹ Moving through Russia to western Europe, the disease reached the British Isles in 1831. The next year saw it in Canada for the first time, and between 1832 and 1871 epidemics occurred in various parts of British North America. On each occasion, cholera was imported from outside and it usually reached Canada with immigrants from Europe.

    The disease is caused by a micro-organism which enters the body through...

  5. 1 ‘Scrape, wash and cleanse’
    (pp. 5-21)

    As cholera spread through Russia and eastern Europe in the late 1820s, the British government watched its progress. It sent doctors to eastern Europe to investigate and it called on the experienced men who had seen the disease in India. No measures of quarantine appeared to check the spread of the disease and some doctors argued that the disease was caused by changes in the atmosphere. When the disease reached western Europe, however, the British government decided that some action had to be taken. It acted on the assumption that cholera was contagious and ordered that a quarantine be set...

  6. 2 ‘Calculated to unman the ... strongest’: Lower Canada 1832
    (pp. 22-51)

    Spring brought the transatlantic ships back to Quebec. By the end of the first week of June about 25,000 immigrants had arrived in 400 ships from the United Kingdom. As most of the precautions taken against cholera had been directed toward the immigrants it was natural that the residents of Lower Canada watched their arrival with anxiety. They knew that ships were passing Grosse Isle unexamined and many must have heard of cases of sick passengers being hidden. Even if one accepted, as many did not, that quarantine could prevent cholera entering the country, it was obvious that the quarantine...

  7. 3 ‘Nothing is to be heard but the “Cholera”’: Upper Canada 1832
    (pp. 52-64)

    On Saturday 16 June 1832 the readers of theKingston Chroniclefound a story dated at 8:30 that morning

    By the arrival of William the IV this morning the apprehensions we entertained of the progress of this awful pestilence have been too faithfully realised in the accounts communicated by several respectable gentlemen passengers on board this vessel. The Quebec papers of Wednesday (which have not yet reached Kingston) report the deaths, amounting to forty four in forty-eight hours ... We cannot too urgently entreat our fellow townsmen to unite as one man, and use every human power within their reach...

  8. 4 ‘The ravages... has been kept hid’: Canada 1834
    (pp. 65-90)

    The year 1833 saw the political tension rise in Lower Canada. Against a background of rumours that cholera had returned, the opposition launched a series of assaults on the executive. The bishop of Quebec might declare 16 February a day of thanksgiving and say that the epidemic had been an inspiration to virtue, a source of grace, and a warning of what God could do to a community which forgot His commands, but for many politicians, the epidemic was the direct result of governmental policies which threatened the province. They challenged the executive over money bills and defeated a new...

  9. 5 ‘Distance is no security’: The Maritimes 1832–4
    (pp. 91-113)

    The Maritimes region lived off the sea. Its prosperity depended on international shipping and an extensive coastal trade. Although few immigrants, compared with the number entering Lower Canada, came to the region, each year in the early 1830s brought between 1,000 and 3,000 to Nova Scotia. The ports of Nova Scotia offered refuges to immigrant-laden ships caught in storms on their way to North America. Every year, a number of immigrant ships were wrecked on the rocky shores of the province and the survivors cast onto her beaches. Nova Scotia knew the dangers of the immigrant traffic. In 1827, 800...

  10. 6 ‘Ample room ... for further improvements’: Later Epidemics
    (pp. 114-142)

    Cholera continued to provoke fear whenever it appeared. In 1849, the TorontoGlobesaid that it must be ‘regarded by every reflecting mind, as a scourge sent from the Almighty, and having in it a voice calling loudly for humiliation and deep thought.’ Over twenty years later, at the time of Canada’s last outbreak, the HalifaxMorning Chroniclewrote under the headline ‘The Alarm of Cholera’: ‘It is not necessary by any description to add to the horror of this fatal word. It should rather be the business of the press to assuage its horrors ... this grisly plague has...

  11. 7 ‘Charlatanism of every description’
    (pp. 143-165)

    Thousands of people needed help in every cholera epidemic. Those who could afford the fees turned to the regular doctors.¹ The less fortunate asked the apothecary for advice when they bought their medicines. Many preferred to ignore the conventionally trained doctor and to seek the help of the irregular practitioners. The irregular might be a man trained in eclectic or homeopathic medicine, or a herbalist, or a self-educated person with a knowledge of folk medicine, or a practitioner of a system of medicine such as the Thomsonian one, based on formulae of plants devised by the American, Samuel Thomson. The...

  12. 8 ‘Shortcomings ... exposed relentlessly’
    (pp. 166-178)

    Cholera inspired fear whenever it struck. People were terrified by the mystery and brutality of the disease, by its suddenness, and by its apparently random choice of victims. Cholera could strike at any time during an epidemic. Thomas Need was staying at a hotel in York in 1832, and ‘as the waiter was bringing me some tea at Breakfast, he was suddenly seized with so. violent an attack of Cholera that he was a corpse before teatime, his cries of agony were truly pitiable.’¹ Many people heard those cries in their own homes or saw their closest relatives carried off...

  13. Table of deaths
    (pp. 179-182)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 183-204)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 205-210)
  16. A Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 211-216)
  17. Index
    (pp. 217-224)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-226)