RAMC

Medical Officers of the Malta Garrison
1837

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Malta Garrison – 1837

Regimental Medical Officers

Events 1837

Asiatic Cholera

The garrison had an average strength of 3,670 men.

On 9 June 1837, the first two cases of asiatic cholera appeared among the inmates of the Ospizio dei Vecchi situated below Floriana Barracks, which at the time was occupied by the 92nd Highlanders. On 13 June, 645 paupers were transferred to Fort Ricasoli, in the hope that better ventilation there, would stamp out the epidemic. Cholera spread to the Highlanders on 17 June, and to the Royal Artillery at Upper St Elmo on 19 June. As more Highlanders became infected, the regiment was placed under canvas at Fort Manoel.

Cholera soon appeared in every village within five miles of Valletta. Zabbar, Birkirkara and Qormi had the highest number of deaths, due to the great overcrowding and unhealthy conditions that characterised those casals. Many of the inhabitants fled to Gozo taking the cholera with them. In Gozo there were 804 attacks with 359 deaths.

On 4 July, a notice issued by the Central Committee, which had been appointed to manage the epidemic, invited: The Maltese members of the medical profession and medical students at large, to visit the Civil Hospital at Strada Cristoforo Valletta, and at the Convent of Saint Philip at Senglea, in order that they may become familiarised with the prevailing disease.

At the height of the Cholera epidemic, the interior of the Hornworks at Floriana was, by order of the Lt General Commanding Troops Malta, appropriated as a burial ground for the military. It remained in occasional use up to the 1840's.

Additional Staff Medical Officers arrived from Gibraltar to work along side their military colleagues. None of the army surgeons became infected.

Out of an average strength of 3,670 men, the garrison had 315 cases and 78 deaths. The Royal Navy had 60 cases with 21 deaths.

Inspector of Hospitals John Frederick Clarke opened the Military Hospital in Lower Merchant Street Valletta to Maltese practitioners, and medical students who had never seen cholera, so as to familiarise themselves with the disease.

The epidemic peaked in mid July and disappeared in early October. It had attacked 7,565 persons (4,462 in the towns, and 3,105 in the villages). There were 3,792 deaths (2,207 in the towns and 1,585 in the villages). Five doctors perished.

Dr Antonio Speranza, was singled out by the Governor for his work during the epidemic. He had been eminently distinguished by courage and decision under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. In 1813, Dr Speranza had served in the plague hospital at Fort Manoel and was later appointed First Physician of the Civil Hospital,

Jenkins Cure for Cholera

The following was advanced as a cure for cholera: Pure Strychnine, one grain and a half, powdered white sugar, 36 grains. Mix intimately and divide into 18 powders. Take one pill at onset and repeat every quarter hour for the first hour, then every half an hour for the second and third hour, and every hour until symptoms abate. Twelve pills are sufficient but 18 may be required. Use also unlimited quantities of pure cold water.

Naval Burials

The first recorded death from cholera at the Royal Naval Hospital Bighi took place on 20 June 1837. The register of postmortems kept by John Liddell (1794-1868), shows 14 postmortems on cholera victims carried out between that date and 29 Sept 1837.

Lloyd and Coulter quote only 5 deaths in 62 cases of cholera. The first naval victims to arrive for post mortem were five from HMS Hermes between 20 June and 30 June 1837. There then followed two cases from HMS Rodney in July and four cases from HM Cutter Hind in August. At the end of September, three men from HMS Vanguard were found on post mortem to have died of cholera.

The following naval burials were recorded in Malta in 1837 prior to the outbreak of cholera.

  • 1 Jan: Ordinary Joseph McKenzie HMS Caledonia.
  • 2 Jan: Able Seaman Henry Smith HMS Vanguard.
  • 7 Jan: Second Master George R Nicholson HMS Asia.
  • 14 Jan: Pte Marine Thomas Stevens HMS Asia.
  • 16 Jan: Second Master J. F. Little HMS Vernon.
  • 30 Jan: Ordinary James Block HMS Asia.
  • 5 Feb: Boy Thomas Garrett HMS Bellerophon.
  • 12 Feb: Able Seaman William Hayes HMS Barham.
  • 19 Feb: Able Seaman Leonard James HMS Caledonia.
  • 24 Feb: Pte Marine John Rogers HMS Caledonia.
  • 26 Feb: Able Seaman John Leaver HMS Bellerophon.
  • 6 Mar: Cook Matthew Hennesey HMS Vanguard.
  • 30 Mar: Able Seaman David ? HMS Pembroke.

Lazaretto

In 1837, the Superintendent of Quarantine Hector Greig, called for the erection of a Plague Hospital at the lazaretto, as none had existed, and the building then known as the Plague Hospital was inadequate.

References

  1. TNA:WO 17/2143, Returns of the General and Staff officers of the hospitals attached to the forces in Malta (1 January–1 December 1837).
  2. TNA:CO 158/145, Moore to Grey dated 6 February 1849.
  3. TNA:WO 156/121. Register of burials 1830–1837.
  4. TNA:WO 25/3901 Returns of Officers' Service.
  5. A list of all the officers of the Army and The Royal Marines. War Office 30 January 1837.
  6. Paxton Dewar. A survey of post postmortems Malta Hospital 1829 to 1838 with special reference to the cholera epidemic of 1837 J.Roy. Army Med Corps 1903-1995 84-88.
  7. Lloyd and Coulter 1963, The Mediterranean and the Navy 1200-1900 vol iv 1815–1900; E and S Livingstone Ltd.
  8. Pisani S. L., Faulty hygiene in connection with the mortality from cholera morbus at Malta during the epidemics of 1837 and 1850.
  9. Pisani S. L., Report on the cholera epidemic at Malta in 1887, Br Med J (1889), 1; 1481: 1147 (Published 18 May 1889).
  10. Pisani S. L, Mortality from Cholera Morbus at Malta.
  11. Stilon G, The Cholera at Malta in 1837. London 1848.
  12. Watson S. B., The cholera at Malta in 1837, from the Italian of Dr Giuseppe Stilon MD Physician to the Cholera Hospital Valletta.