The inspiration for this post came while I was researching my Quaker ancestors in Ireland. The comprehensive records kept by the Quakers have allowed me to trace back to my 7x great grandmother Mary Sparrow who married in Wexford in 1662. The marriage record tells me her father was Richard Sparrow and her mother Jane. Searching for further information on the Sparrow family led me to the records for St Stephens parish in Norwich, England, where a Richard Sparrow, baker, and his wife Joan/Joane/Jane began baptising their children in 1644. I don't think these records belong to 'my' Sparrow family, but they may do.
Norwich, England 1666 - Bubonic Plague
May 15 - the burial register for St. Stephen's parish in Norwich records the first death attributed to "the plague".
Bubonic plague is a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas which live on small mammals such as rats. It was Bubonic Plague that was "The Great Plague" of London in 1665, estimated to be responsible for the deaths of up to 100,000 people. Norwich, a provincial city situated between London and the Norfolk coastal town of Yarmouth also succumbed to the plague. The crowded streets and lack of sanitation typical of the times meant that the plague spread rapidly.
There is no marriage record for Richard and Joan in the St. Stephen's register, but the first baptism for a child of theirs is for Mary in 1644. If Joan was from a neighbouring parish then it is likely that the marriage took place there. I also suspect that there may have been an older child also named Mary, as there are two burials for Mary, daughter of Richard Sparrow the baker in 1644 and 1645. There was also another Mary born to the couple in 1659. This is why I think it unlikely that this is the family of my Mary Sparrow.
By the time the plague hit Norwich in 1666, Richard and Joan were the parents of six surviving children. Unfortunately the highly infectious disease hit their little family hard and in the space of three weeks four of their children were dead. The first was 12 year old Margaret on the 20th October, followed by 7 year old Mary on 3rd November, 14 year old Rose on 5th November and 2 year old Thomas on 7th November. Only James aged 16 and Richard aged 11 and their parents survived. It is impossible to imagine the heartache and grief Richard and Joan must have gone through at the time.
Page after page in the St. Stephens register records the deaths of townspeople, with the notation 'of the plague'. At the end of March* the Church Wardens recorded in the register: Buryed this year, of the plague 246. Of all illnesses 291.
* at that time the calendar year commenced on 1st April, so March 1666 was later than December 1666.
|from the burial register of St Stephen's parish, Norwich|
for the year 1666
Ennis, Ireland 1832 - Cholera
August 16 - Dr. Charles Keane lay on his death bed in his rented rooms in Ennis, county Clare. With him were his young wife Sarah, and various family and friends including his younger sister Charlotte. It is thanks to Charlotte recording the events surrounding his death in her journal that we have this record.
|Waterford Chronicle 9 June 1832|
Charles Robert Keane was the eldest son of Robert Keane of Beechpark, county Clare, and brother of my 2x great grandmother Anne Keane Pilkington. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin before graduating with his medical degree from University of Edinburgh in August 1831. Back in Ireland he commenced practice in Limerick at the Nunnery Hospital.
The cholera epidemic of 1832 had spread across Europe over the preceding couple of years, with the first cases recorded in Ireland in March. Charlotte records the first case in Ennis on the 8th June, when she writes of driving in to Ennis that day and being turned back. She reports seeing the Miltown road full of cars laden with luggage - all fleeing the cholera.
On the 10 June, the Board of Health sent a delegation to Dublin requesting doctors to come and assist in Ennis. Charles Keane met up with the delegation when they stopped in Limerick to change coaches. He caught the return coach to Ennis to investigate the situation in his home town first hand. On his arrival he went directly to the fever hospital where he found 6 dead bodies and no physician to care for the living and dying. Newspaper reports of the day state that the local physicians refused to attend the hospital, so Dr Charles Keane took charge himself.
For the next 2 months, Charles spent every night at the hospital tending to the sick and dying, returning to his rooms to snatch a few hours sleep each morning. On the 10 July he visited his family at Beechpark. Charlotte writes when he said good bye, little did they know it would be the last words he would speak in the family home.
On Sunday 12 August Charlotte went in to Ennis to attend church, after which she called to see Charles and Sarah. She had received a message saying Charles was ill. The following day, word came that Charles was very much better. Plans were commenced to arrange a break at Miltown to allow Charles to rest and recover. However this was not to be - on the 15th her brother Giles came and told Charlotte that Charles had taken a relapse that afternoon and was now very ill. Charlotte went to him at once and finding him very unwell, stayed all night. Her graphic description of that night is harrowing, it being obvious to all that he was dying. She writes of his unquenchable thirst, severe stomach cramps, and the cold beads of perspiration which she constantly wiped from his brow.
Charles was visited throughout the night by a steady stream of family and friends, some staying for a while, others too upset at the sight of him to remain. Charles took great comfort from the presence of the minister Mr. Young, as he made his peace with the world and prepared to meet his Maker. He dictated messages to Charlotte to pass on. He even shared a last pinch of snuff with his brother-in-law Tom Pilkington, my 2x great grandfather.
The long night finally came to an end, and with the dawn light streaming through the window came the sound of Irish keening for a man in the house directly opposite. Throughout the morning, Charles lapsed into unconsciousness and by midday there was a large crowd gathered in the street outside, as the townspeople learned that their popular young doctor was dying. Shortly before 2 pm, Charles roused briefly, then breathed his last and passed away.
Cholera continued its devastation in Ennis over the next few weeks, but by mid-October the worst had passed and the fever hospital closed. Across Ireland, it is estimated that 50,000 people died during this epidemic.
|Charles Kean Obituary|
Limerick Chronicle 22 August 1832
Melbourne, Australia 2020 - COVID-19
March 6th - almost eight months ago now, and actually the last time I went anywhere. Anywhere, that is, other than going to work or to the local shops to buy food and household supplies.
On that day we went into the city for an appointment, catching the train in early to make a day of it. We wandered the streets amongst the crowds of city workers, shoppers and sightseers, enjoyed a leisurely lunch in an arcade cafe, then crossed the Yarra to Southbank, where we took in the spectacular 360-degree views of Melbourne and surrounds from Skydeck on the 88th floor of Eureka Tower. We spent a couple of hours in that confined space, packed with visitors from across the globe, as evidenced by the variety of languages and accents. Along with everyone else we touched the glass as we pointed out landmarks, held onto the rails on the viewing deck, and bumped into people as we made our way around the room. Leaving there we made our way home, standing room only on the crowded commuter train.
|View from Skydeck|
©K. Vincent 2020
Little did we know how quickly things were to change! Our news bulletins over December and January had been filled with the horrors of the summer bushfires, but in amongst these stories were reports of a mystery respiratory illness causing concern somewhere in China. Living under a blanket of bushfire smoke, it didn't really seem relevant to us at the time, and hey - who'd even heard of Wuhan anyway?
February brought stories of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Japan with growing numbers of sick passengers. Our nightly current affairs show brought us a video diary recorded by an Australian couple on board, telling the story of their isolation. Poor buggers, we thought.
On the 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared the corona virus outbreak a pandemic, and on 16 March the Victorian Government declared a State of Emergency. By the 20th, Australia had closed its national border to all except returning residents. The advice from our state Health Department was to ensure we had enough food and supplies to last for 2 weeks, in case we had to self-quarantine. So began the panic buying, although it seemed that the item in highest demand was toilet paper, which disappeared off the shelves as fast as the supermarkets could stack it.
Then the restrictions - if you can stay at home, you must stay home. Four reasons to leave home - food & essential supplies, seeking or giving care, work or education if it cant be done at home, and one hour of exercise per day. Social media was full of hashtags #flatten the curve #stayathome, memes and song parodies based on corona virus. It was all mildly humorous and a bit of an adventure really. Three weeks, they said. Three weeks to flatten the curve, and then we'd be right. Our Prime Minister recommended we all go out and buy jigsaw puzzles to pass the time.
|©K. Vincent 2020|
Well, here we are in October and it's not over yet, not anywhere near it. We did indeed flatten the curve, but perhaps we got a bit complacent because then we got the 2nd wave. Certainly there have been mistakes, and things that would have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight. But amongst all the name-calling, back-stabbing and finger-pointing, one clear fact remains - if people could be trusted to follow the guidelines - ie self-isolate at home when required, we never would have needed hotel quarantine or security guards, and 905 people including dozens of vulnerable elderly in our community would not have lost their lives. If anything good can come out of this, it is the exposure of the absolute disgrace that is our aged care industry.
I'm one of the lucky ones - as a health care worker, I still have a job and I get to leave home each day and interact with people. On the other hand, I am unlucky in that I am exposed everyday to other people who may not treat this as seriously as I do, and risk not only catching the virus myself but also transporting it home to my loved ones. Telehealth, Webex and PPE are now part of our normal routine, as is communicating from behind a face mask and fogged-up plastic face shield across a distance of 1.5 metres while trying to use only your eyes to instil some meaning into your conversation. Currently it is estimated 1.13 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19. Thank goodness we have not (yet) seen the horror of overwhelmed and overrun hospitals that we see from overseas. I hope we never do.
|© K. Vincent 2020|