Some Reminiscences of Helmsdale Part D
Published in the Northern Ensign on 22 July 1890
To The Editor of the Northern Ensign
Cholera in Helmsdale
“Helmsdale suffered severely from the cholera scourge that passed over the country in the summer of 1832."
Sketch of a Girl who died of cholera, in Sunderland, November, 1831 artist unknown.
"The herring-fishing boats from the south brought the disease with them, and in some cases one or more of the crew died during the passage. Latterly, the excitement got to such a height that the people lined the beach and stoned the boats attempting to land, when they had to put to sea again with some of their number dead on board.”
CHOLERA HOSPITAL IN HELMSDALE
"As soon as they heard of the dreaded disease being there, they fled, and went down to ports on the Caithness coast such as Dunbeath and Lybster. As for Wick, the plague broke out there also and a good many of the people of the place were carried away by the disease. Though other places had a second visit of the dread disease, it never reached Helmsdale again."
I am Etc
A Native of Badbea
Glasgow, July 1890
"When the report was heard at Wick that cholera was raging in Helmsdale, more than one hundred of those who were engaged as fishermen in Wick, belonging to the West coast and Skye, abandoned the work with horror, and left the town at night without their masters' consent. Being loath to take the usual road home, as Helmsdale was straight before them on their way, they steered their course through the mountains of Lord Reay's country and Sutherland. They had no money or provisions for their journey, and there were no houses during great part of their solitary and painful travel in the mountains. Some of their companions who left Wick along with them, have not as yet been seen or heard of; and whether they have returned to their masters at Wick, or perished in the mountains with hunger and fatigue, is not known." Inverness Courier.
A day or two ago, in an adjoining village, a tall raw-boned son of the Green Island was pursued by those harmless doves beadles. Pat was aware of their approach to his mansion, and, having put on a red nightcap, remained undaunted at their appearance. On being told he must accompany them to gaol, " Hold back," said he, "as you value your precious existence. I’m an Asiatic cholera patient; and, if you come one step nearer me, as I live, I'll blow my pestilential breath on you." A word is enough to the wise—the beadles postponed their call.
October 10.—There is a striking account of the introduction of cholera into the North of Scotland, and its ravages in Easter Ross, written by Hugh Miller. "In the month of July 1832," he says, "the disease was introduced by some South countrymen, fishermen, into the town of Wick, and a village of Sutherlandshire [Helmsdale]; and from the latter place, on the following August, into the fishing villages of the peninsula of Easter Ross. It visited Inverness, Nairn, Dingwall, Urquhart, and Rosemarkie, a few weeks after. In the villages of Ross the disease assumed a more terrible aspect than it had yet presented in any other part of Britain. In the little village of Portmahomack one-fifth of the inhabitants were swept away; in the still smaller village of Inver nearly one-half.
So abject was the poverty of the people that in some instances there was not a bit of candle in any house in a whole village; and when the disease seized the inmates in the night-time, they had to grapple in darkness with its fierce pains and mortal terrors, and their friends, in the vain attempt to assist them, had to grope round their beds. Before morning they were in most instances beyond the reach of medicine.
The infection spread with frightful rapidity. In Inver, though the population did not much exceed a hundred persons, eleven bodies were committed to the earth without shroud or coffin in one day; in two days after they had buried nineteen more. Many survivors fled from the village, leaving behind them the dead and the dying, and took shelter, some in the woods and some among the hollows of an extensive track of sandhills. But the pest followed them to their hiding place, and they expired in the open air. Whole families were found lying dead on their cottage floors. In one instance an infant, the only survivor, lay grovelling on the body of its mother, wailing feebly among the dead, the sole mourner in the charnel-house of the pestilence. Two young persons, a lad and his sister, were seen digging a grave for their father in the church-yard of Nigg, and then carrying the corpse to it on a cart, no one venturing to assist them." Such is a contemporary account of the horrors of this painful time. From the "Inverness Courier." 1832.
|Photo from Timespan exhibition|