Disasters of the day: plague and fire

The Great Plague spread slowly over London during the late spring of 1665. It was not until June 7 that Samuel Pepys first saw the dread quarantine sign:

“This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and ‘Lord Have Mercy upon Us’ writ there – which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind….that I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll tobacco to smell and chew, which took away the apprehension.”…

—During the great outbreak of bubonic plague or black death in the hot summer of 1665 in London, special bills of mortality were issued that listed causes of death. By mid-July over a thousand deaths a week were reported on handbills that were stuck up in public places to warn people that the plague was growing. The rich fled the city but the poor did not have that option and died in droves. Shown is the front of a bill that lists the final count for the year of 1665 with memento mori or remember you will die, written across the top of it and skeletons representing death around the edges. —Read More:http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/159

Just three days later Pepys wrote in his diary that he feared for his own life:

“To bed, being troubled by sickness, and particularly how to put my things and estates in order, in case it should please God to call me away.”

On June 15th, Pepys wrote:

“The town grows very sickly, and people are afraid of it.”…

—Well-off residents soon fled to the countryside, leaving the poor behind in impoverished and decrepit parishes. Tens of thousands of dogs and cats were killed to eliminate a feared source of contagion, and mounds of rotting garbage were burned. Purveyors of innumerable remedies proliferated, and physicians and surgeons lanced buboes and bled black spots in attempts to cure plague victims by releasing bad bodily humors.—Read More:http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/plague.html

Pepys had the necessary money and political connections to get a health certificate to flee London during the plague, but he did not do so. However, very many of the city’s wealthy did leave including Charles II whose court left on June 29th. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Vincent wrote that as he walked the streets of London in the summer of 1665, he saw few rich men and even fewer women from wealthy backgrounds.Read More:http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/samuel_pepys_plague.htm

The cry for divine mercy was understandable, for the inmates of a quarantined house were more than likely doomed. All through the summer, officials kept records of burials and published them in bills of mortality. The epidem

eached its height in September, when there were more than thirty thousand recorded deaths. By the, the affluent had long since fled the city, although Pepys syayed at his London post and looked with scorn upon the “great people” who had deserted theirs.

In October, the Great Plague at last began to subside, never again to return to England.


Samuel Pepys and William Boghurst: Eyewitness Accounts

In his famous diary, Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator and Member of Parliament, conveyed the melancholy image of desperate people wandering the streets in search of relief from the ravages of the plague. His notes during 1665 often intimate the severity of London’s Great Plague epidemic. In July, he lamented “the sad news of the death of so many in the parish of the plague, forty last night, the bell always going . . . either for deaths or burials.” A month later, when London’s mortality rate rose sharply, Pepys noted that survivors “are fain to carry the dead to be buried by daylight, the nights not sufficing to do it in.”

In another eyewitness account, Loimographia (1665), William Boghurst, a general practitioner who accurately described the symptoms of plague and predicted its demise in 1666, attributed the plague’s causes to filth and squalor, inadequate disposal of sewage, and poor nutrition among London’s impoverished residents. He criticized the standard treatments of bleeding, purging, and fumigating houses and objected to quarantining infected households since this had “oft [been] enough tried and always found ineffectual.” Read More:http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/plague.html

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>