Cholera Epidemic of 1834


In consequence of the prevalence of a rumour that several cases of Cholera had occurred at a place called Black Bush, on the North Shore, near to where the John Wallace, from Quebec, was lately wrecked, and also that a person of the name of Wallace had died of it in the neighbourhood of St. Andrew's, Drs. De St. Croix and Mackieson were dispatched by His Honor the President on Thursday last, to make the necessary inquiries into the truth of the rumour. Their Report, which is subjoined, was communicated by his Honor to the Central Board of Health, who directed it to be published, for the purpose of suppressing any alarm that may have arisen on the subject of Cholera, of which disease there seems not to exist the smallest trace in the Island.

Charlottetown, Aug. 16th, 1834.

SIR - In obedience to your Honor's commands, on Thursday the 14th inst., as soon as the necessary conveyance could be procured, we left town and proceeded to St. Margaret's, Lot 45, for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of a disease reported to be prevalent in that district, supposed to be malignant Asiatic Cholera, and to have been communicated from the John Wallace, a vessel from Quebec lately wrecked in that neighbourhood, on board of which we have reason to fear that four cases of the disease had actually occurred.

On our way up to the country, we called at the house of John Cunningham, a blacksmith, residing about a mile from St. Andrew's, where a man by the name of Wallace was said to have died of Cholera. From the viva voce details of Cunningham and his wife, in reference to the circumstances connected with this occurrence, we are decidedly of the opinion that this man's death may be solely attributed to fatigue and exhaustion, together with previous bad health, and general debility.

He arrived at Cunningham's on Friday the 8th inst. and, from his own statement, had come from Three Rivers, and was going in a direction towards the Capes. He was an itinerant beggar, and from the circumstance of his having some hard sea biscuit in his wallet, and a glazed hat somewhat resembling such as are frequently worn by sailors, it was at once conjectured that these articles must have been procured from the wreck; but we are quite assured, on minute inquiry, that he had never been able to proceed further eastward than the precise spot where he died. The glazed hat and biscuit, together with the emaciated appearance of this poor creature, were sufficient, at the moment of alarm, to impress on the highly excited minds of the bystanders a strong conviction that he was labouring under Cholera. He was, of course, not allowed to enter the house - was sent to the stable, and there supplied with such comforts as the family could afford. He languished from Friday to the following Monday (the 11th inst.) when he expired. Immediately after his death he was buried in his clothes, and without a coffin, among some bushes a short distance from the stable, and which, to prevent the spread of contagion, it was deemed expedient forthwith to consume to ashes.

The family of a publican, by the name of Gill, at St. Margaret's, was also reported to have been attacked by Cholera - we called at the house, and were informed that Mr. Gill was absent in Newfoundland on his private affairs, and that all the members of his family were in the actual enjoyment of excellent health.

From Gill's we proceeded to the residence of James Macdonald, of Black Bush, whose wife and child, according to report, had recently died of a disorder resembling Cholera - here again we were happy to find that no symptoms of this disease could be traced - Mr. Macdonald gave us a clear and intelligent description of their complaints, and, from his statement, the infant, about thirteen months' old, evidently died of a bowel affection which had prevailed in the neighbourhood and from which several of his younger children had suffered. - Mrs. Macdonald, it would appear, shortly after the wreck of the vessel (which happened about a quarter of a mile from their house), complained of slightly disordered bowels; but from the employment of a little medicine, administered by her professional attendant, was soon enabled to resume the duties of her family. In a day or two after this, she, imprudently, while under the influence of complaints peculiar to her sex, went to a cold spring for the purpose of rinsing out some home made cloth, and was suddenly seized, and, probably, from this cause, with the usual symptoms of pneumonia - pain in the chest, difficulty of breathing, cough, &c. She died on the fourth day, and we have no hesitation in pronouncing her death, to have been the result of pulmonic inflammation.

We have thus, Sir, with every possible regard to expedition, having travelled upwards of a hundred miles, faithfully discharged the duties imposed upon us, and take the earliest opportunity of acquainting your Honor, for the information of the public, that the reports of the existence of Asiatic malignant Cholera in the districts we have been called upon to visit, are altogether imaginary and without slightest foundation.

We have the honor to be

Sir, your Honor's

Most obedient humble servants,





As an act of justice to Mr. Craig, the Surgeon who attended the family of Mr. M'Donald, of Big Bush, during the whole of the illness with which they were recently afflicted, we herewith insert a letter which he has addressed to us, in which the particulars of the different cases are set forth.

To the Editor of the Royal Gazette

SIR, Owing to the very numerous reports that have been circulated, concerning the family of James Macdonald, of this place, I would wish to make a few remarks, as I see the disease has been pronounced to be Pneumonia.  On the 31st day of July, I visited Donald Macdonald, æt. 3 years, at 10 o'clock, A.M., when I found him to have a most ghastly appearance; his eyes were deep sunk, and surrounded by a dark areola; his lips purple, mouth dry, tongue covered with a dark thick crust; vomiting and purging excessive, and of a dark bilious appearance; extremities cold; pulse 120; thirst incessant, but immediately on taking any drink, it was again thrown off. I immediately ordered him a warm bath, and to be well dried - stimulants applied over the region of the stomach; I then gave him an anodyn. haust., ordered him to be wrapped in warm flannel, and put to bed, paying attention to have the extremities kept as warm as possible by friction, &c. I saw him again in the evening, when he had got some good rest; his breathing greatly relieved; vomiting nearly ceased; purging continued. I then ordered slight astringents, and to continue the external heat. In the morning, he was considerably relieved. I then ordered slight cathartics, since which he is well.

August 1st. - Flora Macdonald, æt. 8, was this morning seized with the same symptoms, which commenced in the same manner, only that the pain in the stomach was far more severe. I followed nearly the same treatment. She got well the next evening.

August 2d. - Catherine Macdonald, æt. 15 months, had the same symptoms; but I did not see her until 8 hours after her first attack; observed much the same treatment, but extremities could not be kept warm. I ordered bottles, filled with warm water, to be applied, and continued a gentle friction; gave stimulants internally; but, however, all failed, and she expired same evening.

August 4th. - Mrs. Macdonald æt. 38, was this morning attacked in the same manner, only the pain in the stomach far more severe, I might say, tantamount to spasm; I gave a dose of calomel and opium, followed by haust. anodyn., and then used the general treatment; she got into a fair convalescent state on the Wednesday following; but, that same evening, going to the spring to clean some clothes, she had a relapse, in a far more violent manner. All the remedies that I could apply, viz. sedatives, stimulants, astringents, heat and friction, took no effect; cold clammy sweats, great prostration of strength, coldness of the extremities, hiccough, with the eyes deep sunk into the orbits, the purple areola, lividity of the lips and about the nails of the fingers, which, on the Saturday evening following, terminated her existence, being six days from the first attack.

Alexander Macdonald, æt. 14, on the 8th of August complained of the same symptoms, and had nearly the same treatment, and, on the 10th, was convalescent. Now, Sir, if the one was a case of Pneumonia, I should be led to believe that all were; and as to the third case alluded to, I had the opportunity of seeing the child frequently since she was born, and I never knew her to be sickly, unless from dentition, or such like - so that I think it was a disease of a contagious nature, and that I was justifiable in advising the people to be cautious, in having intercourse with that family.

I remain, Sir,

Your obdt. Servant,



Big Bush, Aug. 23, 1834.

On comparing the foregoing letter with the Report of the Medical gentlemen who were sent from Charlottetown, chiefly with the view of ascertaining the nature of the malady under which Macdonald's family laboured; and viewing the minuteness of the details given in the one case and their brevity in the other, we cannot help being struck with the different conclusions arrived at by the different reporters. The Charlottetown doctors state in their report that the infant "evidently died of a bowel afffection;" and as the mother, they have no hesitation in pronouncing her death to have been the result of pulmonic inflammation." On the other hand, Dr. Craig, who attended all the patients during the whole of their illness, "thinks it was a disease of a contagious nature." One thing is clear - Macdonald's house was in the immediate vicinity of the spot where a vessel admitted to have been infected went on shore; in a few days, five of the family are seized with a disease, resembling that which had proved fatal to half the crew of the said vessel - his wife and one of his children die, and their medical attendant is of the opinion, of the same malady. What is the consequence? - Macdonald's house is shunned by all the neighbourhood, and no one will hold the smallest intercourse with him. Things were in this position when the two doctors from Charlottetown arrived; and a reference to their Report will shew that all the information they obtained was derived from Macdonald himself. Now, "clear and intelligent" as his description may have appeared to them, is there anything unreasonable in supposing, that, unpleasantly situated as he was, and desirous of having the ban of the neighbourhood removed, which a favourable report from the doctors was the most likely means of accomplishing, he would be apt to frame his answers so as to produce that end? And it is natural also to presume, that the two medical gentlemen themselves, although both men of unquestionable courage, were disposed to make their stay in the infected region as brief as possible. Their anxiety to leave it was so great, that they could not wait for the return of Dr. Craig, who was only a few miles off, although the only person competent to give them all the information they were sent to obtain. Compare their breathless haste in returning with the length of time it required to complete their preparations for leaving town, and the idea will not appear by any means absurd. The conclusion is forced upon us that rather too much was sacrificed to a "regard for expedition," particularly in the latter stage of their progress; as the shortness of their stay prevented them from obtaining the best information that might have been procured - at any rate, on a calm consideration of the whole case, it will, we think, be admitted, that the reports which were in circulation of a disease resembling Cholera being in the district which they visited, were neither so "imaginary" nor so destitute of foundation, as their report would leave us to believe.