REPRINTED, WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND ILLUSTRATIONS, FROM
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH’S COMMEMORATIVE SOUVENIR, ISSUED ON
THE OCCASION OF THE UNVEILING OF THE NATIONAL
MEMORIAL ON THE 15TH AUGUST, 1909, INCLUDING
A FULL ACCOUNT OF THE DEDICATORY
By J. A. Jordan
As the author and compiler of the Quebec Daily Telegraph’s “Grosse Isle Monument Commemorative Souvenir”, the undersigned desires to return sincere thanks for the widespread appreciation of his modest effort to enhance the eclat of so important an event, nationally and historically, as the erection and dedication of a fitting monument to honor the memory of the unfortunate Irish Exiles of 1847, who succumbed to the terrible ship fever, and to recall the heroism of the clergy both Catholic and Protestant, who so nobly faced disease and death to minister to them in their dying struggles.
Encouraged by the remarkable favor with which the “Souvenir” was received in all quarters at home and abroad and wishing to meet the continuous popular demand for further copies of it, which the original edition proved entirely insufficient to gratify, the Daily Telegraph Printing Company has, with commendable enterprise, decided to re-issue it, in handsome and enduring book form. The author has therefore availed himself of the opportunity to carefully revise the text and to make such additions to the work and its illustrations, including a complete account of the dedicatory ceremonies and speeches at Grosse Isle on the 15th August last, as will render it a precious memento to of the occasion to every Irish home as well as a valuable and necessary adjunct to the historical collections in all public and private libraries.
For so comprehensive and accurate a record of the terrible tragedy of 1847, the undersigned has no hesitation in respectfully bespeaking the general and hearty support of his Irish fellow countrymen and the appreciation of the public at large.
J. A. JORDAN.
Quebec, September, 1909.
“There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin,
The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill.”
The Object of this Souvenir Number is to recall, on the occasion of the unveiling of the national monument to the Irish dead on Grosse Isle, who perished in the terrible famine and fever of 1847-48, the memories of one of the darkest, saddest and most trying episodes in the histories of the long suffering Irish race and of Canada, and at the same time to enhance as much as possible the national significance and eclat of the ceremony.
In issuing it, the QUEBEC DAILY TELEGRAPH, which was the first to propose and advocate the erection of that monument as a national duty and which for almost twenty years has made it a labor· of love to work for the success of a project so legitimately dear to every true Irish heart, as well as to many sympathizers of other nationalities, has the proud satisfaction to see that labor at last rewarded and the crowning touch put to the great undertaking which it had the honor to initiate so long ago. It did so in order to remove from the Irish name the reproach of having so far forgotten the traditions of the race as to threaten to leave forever unmarked by a fitting and enduring national memorial the last resting place of so many thousands of the exiles and martyrs of the misrule of the unhappy Green Isle, who, during the awful famine and pestilence years, had fled in terror and despair to this section of the New World only to find a hideous grave on a lonely island in the St. Lawrence. It felt that the national honor and the national reputation for love and veneration for the memory of the heroic dead were involved in the realization of a project that aimed at rescuing a spot of such historic and hallowed importance from that neglect and decay which menaced it with the forgetfulness and disrespect of later generations. To mark it, therefore. by some suitable and lasting memento of the national sympathy and to keep it in proper and creditable order for the future seemed an imperative duty, which the Irish race in America more especially would not be true to themselves in longer overlooking, and the DAILY TELEGRAPH accordingly took up the cause with ardor.
It was only natural that a Quebec paper should do this. Quebec was the port on the St. Lawrence which was the haven of refuge that the Irish exiles of 1847 were first seeking and which lies nearest to Grosse Isle. A large proportion of the DAILY TELEGRAPH’s readers and friends were of Irish blood. Not a few of, them had themselves passed through the fiery ordeals of the cholera, famine and fever years or were the immediate descendants of those who had done so. Quebec, moreover, from its situation, had been in closer contact than any other centre with the terrible events and scenes that were enacted on the island during those trying times. It was in constant communication with their reeking hotbed which was at its very doors, and it was even itself afflicted with the awful scourges which were committing such alarming havoc among the refugees from the famine and pestilence-stricken shores of poor Erin. Indeed, not a few of its own citizens and others had sickened and died from the contagion, which was brought into it by the good Samaritans, who nobly went to the physical and spiritual aid of the immigrant sufferers on the island, by the overflow of patients from the miserable shelters and so-called hospitals there, and by the seeming convalescents hurriedly discharged from the island only to scatter the fatal seeds of the malady far and wide wherever they went. Consequently, the remains of all the victims of 1847-48 do not rest in Grosse Isle. Many of them found graves in Quebec, others in Montreal, and others again in Kingston, Toronto, Ottawa and other places, where their names and tombs are to-day wholly or almost entirely forgotten. But the ghastly hecatomb, which cries to Heaven for vengeance upon the misrule that produced it, was at Grosse Isle. That was the great Irish charnel-house of 1847 and there the vast majority of the poor victims of the famine and pestilence dosed their eyes forever to the light of the sun. No other place was, therefore, more appropriate for a proper and lasting national memento of so grim an episode in Irish and Canadian history.
Twenty years ago, however, the DAILY TELEGRAPH’s appeal on the subject was necessarily made to the more or less local and limited auditory afforded by Quebec and its surroundings and to the rapidly dwindling Irish element of its population, who, however sympathetic otherwise, had neither sufficient means nor organization to carry the project to a successful issue. The result was that nothing practical came of it at the time or from its revival on various subsequent occasions.
It would serve no good or useful present purpose to relate in detail the varying phases of the movement in favor of the erection of the proposed monument and the causes which combined at different periods to delay it and even to so far imperil its success as to almost discourage many of its warmest promoters and sympathizers, who included from its earliest stages not only the DAILY TELEGRAPH and its many local Irish friends, but such prominent men as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Premier of the Dominion, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, the present Chief Justice and Administrator of the Government of Canada, Hon. John Costigan, Dominion Senator, Sir Richard Scott, Canada’s former Secretary of State, Hon. M. F. Hackett, ex-Provincial Secretary, and many other leading Irishmen and members of other nationalities in Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and other parts of Canada and the neighboring republic.
Suffice it to say that the question was confined to newspaper agitation until 1897, when the fiftieth anniversary of the national calamity of 1847 occurred and when the Quebec branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, then under the presidency of our worthy friend, Mr. Patrick Kirwin, of the Quebec Legislature’s official staff, and the chaplaincy of Rev d. Father Maloney, C.SS.R., of St. Patrick’s church, Quebec, but now of St. John, N.B., had the happy thought to commemorate it by a great religious and national pilgrimage to Grosse Isle to pray for the dead and to honor their memory. This afforded an opportunity to a great multitude, who had never before been on the ghastly scene, to see and note for themselves the utterly neglected, nationally unhonored and wholly discreditable condition of the God’s acre or ground in a secluded quarter of the island in which so many of their unfortunate kindred were sleeping in hideous common pits the long sleep that knows no waking in this world. To all the sight was extremely saddening, while to many it gave a shock of the most painful and even tearful surprise, and, in the case of so generous, warm-hearted and kin-loving a people as the Irish and one so famed for their affection and veneration for their martyred dead, the result can be easily surmised. The feeling in favor of the proposed monument and the removal of the national disgrace involved in the conditions at Grosse Isle at once became intense in Quebec, until the local branch of the Ancient Order rightfully resolved to give the movement greater cohesion and strength by taking up the question of the monument and endeavoring to solve it as a national one.
And though it has taken twelve years more to bring about the happy solution so long desired, none rejoices more than does the DAILY TELEGRAPH at the fact that, through the active instrumentality of the Quebec branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and with the patriotic co-operation of the supreme heads of the Order in the United States, as well as under the influential auspices of the National Board of that great national organization as a whole, the approaching 15th of August will witness, in the unveiling and dedication of a fitting national memorial monument, together with the accompanying ceremonial and gathering, at Grosse Isle, the performance of a great national duty and the glorious consummation of a great national work which will not only reflect honor upon the Irish name in all America, but bring- consolation to the hearts of the many descendants of the poor exiles of 1847 so widely scattered to-day throughout Canada and the United States.
For most precious and welcome aid in the compilation of this Souvenir, the DAILY TELEGRAPH is deeply and gratefully indebted to many sources, public and private, apart from the personal reminiscences of the writer, who, in his early days, while the events of ’47 were yet comparatively fresh in the local mind, had the advantage of knowing or coming into contact with many persons now deceased, who had been leading actors in or eye-witnesses of them. Directly from the lips of these, he heard much that left a most painful and lasting impression upon him. But he has not depended wholly upon his own recollections. All the known records, official and otherwise, bearing upon the dreadful calamity of 1847, have been carefully examined, compared and drawn upon. These include the Canadian and Provincial archives, the statutes and journals of the Imperial Parliament and of the Legislatures and Parliaments of Canada and its different provinces before and since the Union, the Relations des Jesuites, the newspaper press of the time in Ireland, England, the United States, Canada, and especially in Quebec, O’Rourke’s History of the Irish Famine, Maguire’s History of the Irish in America, Davin’s Irishman in Canada, McCarthy’s Irish Literature, Sullivan’s New Ireland, Sir J. M. Lemoine’s Quebec Past and Present, Chronicles of the St. Lawrence and other works, Bechard’s History of Crane Island and the surrounding islands, Douglas’ Old France in the New World, and La Revue Canadienne, together with such other well known writers on Canadian and Irish history, genealogy, literature, etc., as Bibaud, Faillon, Ferland, Laverdiere, Casgrain, Bouchette, Christie, Garneau, Suite, Tanguay, Tache, Bender, Mrs. Sadlier, D’Arcy McGee, etc., etc. Much help has also been received from letters still extant written by or to the celebrated Father McMahon, the founder of St. Patrick’s Church, Quebec, and for many years its beloved pastor, as well as by and to other priests of that congregation during the Irish famine and pestilence years, some of whom were at Grosse Isle in 1847. Letters in the possession of the writer from the late Mr. M. F. Walsh, of Ottawa, formerly of Quebec, and at one time Secretary of the Managing Committee of St. Patrick’s church, Quebec, have also been of great service, and the same may be said of the useful information so courteously placed at the DAILY TELEGRAPH’s disposal by the Abbe Lindsay, of the Archbishop’s Palace, Quebec, Mr. Phileas Gagnon, of the Archives Office, Quebec, Mr. Ernest Gagnon, former Secretary of the Provincial Department of Public Works, Dr. Montizambert, the official head of the Quarantine Service of Canada, and Dr. Martineau, the present Medical Superintendent of the Grosse Isle Station, as well as by a few of the remaining survivors of 1847 on that fateful island. To all these, the DAILY TELEGRAPH begs to return its warmest thanks.
But our chief debt of gratitude is due to one who, we regret to say, has passed from amongst us forever and with whom the careful collection and preservation of all information relating to the Irish immigration to Canada, the events of 1832, 1834 and 1847 at Grosse Isle, and the congregation of St. Patrick’s Church, Quebec, of which he was so long a member, may be truly said to have been ever a labor of love. We refer to the late Mr. James M. O’Leary, of the Postmaster General’s Department, Ottawa, who died only a few years ago, but who was born and reared in Quebec amid surroundings that bred in him an intense love for poor Ireland and his honest, sterling Irish ancestry. At various times, during his career, Mr. O’Leary, who handled a most graceful and interesting pen, wrote and contributed to the columns of the QUEBEC DAILY TELEGRAPH, the London, Ont., Catholic Record, and the Ottawa press, many valuable sketches on Irish and Catholic subjects, with which he had been connected or was acquainted, but especially on the terrible events at Grosse Isle with which he had opportunities to be more conversant owing to his respected father’s lengthy residence in Quebec and his prominence among the Irish Catholic element of its population. Thus in 1892 and 1897 were published articles from his pen on the Irish Exodus and the Horrors of Grosse Isle in 1847, which practically contain everything worthy of note on the subject and which are unsurpassed in graphic delineation and fidelity to the awful truth. Therefore, the present occasion is an appropriate one not only to do honor to the memory of so devoted and so patriotic an Irish writer as Mr. J. M. O’Leary, but to recall the admirable work in the national cause he did so lovingly and well. The DAILY TELEGRAPH is also glad to have this opportunity to publicly thank his surviving younger brother, Mr. Thos. O’Leary, the well known guardian of that storehouse of antiquarian lore, the Chateau de Ramezay, Montreal, for his great kindness and courtesy in placing his deceased brother’s papers and notes at our disposal for the purposes of this Souvenir.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, under whose auspices the Grosse Isle monument has been erected, is probably one of the largest national organizations of its kind in the civilized world. Its ramifications extend nearly all over the globe wherever the widely scattered members of the Irish race are to be found. It is composed wholly of Irish Roman Catholics. The early history of the society is somewhat shrouded in mystery, but it is generally believed to be the direct successor of the society organized in the county of Kildare, in 1565. At that time religious persecution was raging in Ireland and the priests were hunted and not allowed to celebrate mass or other religious ceremonies. Under those circumstances Rory Oge O’Moore established an organization known as “The Defenders.”
The Defenders took measures to protect the priests against those who were seeking for their lives, and at the same time they did all in their power to help their countrymen to get through the difficult times that were then experienced in tr ~Emerald Isle. Later on the Defenders went out of existence and were succeeded by the Ribbon men, and were known under various other names. They later became an oath-bound organization known as the Confederation of Kilkenny. This organization was founded in Kilkenny on the 14th October, 1642. Sir Phelim O’Neill was in charge of the Irish wing, made up of the Defenders. The English Catholics of Ireland, or Lords of the Pale, were under Lords Gormanstown and Mountgarret. After the religious troubles had subsided, the Defenders continued their work in favour of the labourers and the farmers of the country whom they took under their protection and defended against the rapacious instincts of the agents of absentee landlords. In later years the organization became more pacific. A number of the old Defenders formed in England the first division of the great organization now known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The society grew and progressed in that country, and in a short time was firmly established in Ireland. The first organization in America took place in New York, in 1836, whence it spread all over the United States. The first divisions established in Canada were opened in Montreal on November 20th, 1892, and in Quebec on 22nd June, 1893. Since that date it has spread all over the Dominion. It has also branches in Australia, as well as in England and Ireland and America.
The Order is controlled by a National Council or Board, a Provincial Council, County Councils and the officers of the several divisions. The affairs of the local divisions with a County President, Secretary and Treasurer form the County Board. The Provincial Board is made up of the officers of the County Councils, with a Provincial President and Secretary.
The members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was the title adopted for the organization in December, 1897. There had previously been some friction betwen the A.O.H. of America, Board of Erin, and the A.O.H. of the United States of America. The difficulties were submitted to His Lordship Bishop McFaul, of Trenton, and his decision was unanimously accepted by both branches of the organization. The convention of Trenton, held in 1898, supported this acceptance of the decision of Bishop McFaul.
The convention held on that occasion also adopted certain amendments to the constitution of 1884. The Order declares that its intents and purposes are to promote friendship, unity and Christian charity among its members, by raising or supporting a fund of money for maintaining the aged, sick, blind and infirm members, for the legitimate expenses of the Order and for no other purposes whatsoever. The motto of the Order is “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.”
During the past twenty years, the A.O.H. and Ladies Auxiliary, have paid out for sick and funeral benefits, charitable donations to churches, schools and orphanages, relief of sufferers by famine in the West of Ireland, as well as by earthquakes, floods and other great disasters in the United States, aid to the Gaelic League in Ireland, the Grosse Isle Monument, a grand total of $11,- 803,302.00 for educational and charitable purposes. The total cost of the Grosse Isle monument–$5,000–was defrayed out of the national or general treasury of the Order pursuant to unanimous vote of the National Convention of the A. 0. H. held at Indianapolis in July, 1908.
In connection with the several divisions are Ladies’ Auxiliaries, Knight and Cadet Corps, etc. At the Catholic University of Washington there is a chair of Gaelic known as the A.O.H. Gaelic chair. The money for this purpose, amounting to $50,000, was subscribed by the members of the Order in the United States and Canada, and forwarded to the then National Chaplain of the organization, who was treasurer of the Chair Fund, Right Rev. John S. Foley, Bishop of Detroit. The supreme heads of the Order are the officers of the National Council, who are on this memorable occasion the following:-
National President–Matthew Cummings.
National Vice-President–James T. Regan.
National Treasurer–John F. Quinn.
National Secretary–Jas. T. McGinnis.
National Chaplain–His Grace Archbishop O’Connell, of Boston.
National Directors–Rev. John D. Kennedy, P. T. Moran, Major E. T.
McCrystal, C. J. Foy, Mayor of Perth, Ont., John J. O’Meara.
The following are the present officers of Quebec Division No. 1, A. 0. H.:–
President--T. J. Murphy.
Provincial Chaplain–Rev. A. E. Maguire.
Recording Secretary–P. Brown.
Financial Secretary–W. Egan.
Chairman of Standing Committee–J. W. McDermott.
“Tear down the crape from the column,
Let the shaft stand white and fair.”
As stated, the ceremony of the unveiling and dedication of the national memorial monument, which is the fruit of the patriotic movement referred to and which is to fittingly mark for future generations the last resting place of the Irish martyrs of ’47 at Grosse Isle, is fixed to take place on Sunday, the 15th August, than which, apart from the sanctity of the day itself, both as the Lord’s Day and as the Feast of the Assumption, no better or more appropriate date could be selected. The glory of the Canadian summer and the beauty of the Canadian scenery, especially along the St. Lawrence, will then be in all their fullness. But fond Irish hearts will above all recall that this was the period of the sadly memorable year when the awful harvest of death among their kindred reached its apogee on the lonely island.
A most desirable opportunity will thus be afforded not only to visit the terrible Golgotha of the Irish race in America and to do honor to the memory of the dead by taking part in the dedication ceremony, but also to enjoy the charms of Canadian scenery and the cool, invigorating breezes of the great Northern river at a season when these are most welcome. Quaint, historic, picturesque old Quebec is easily and speedily reached by rail or boat from all parts of Canada and the United States and a pleasant two hours’ sail on fine river steamers will bring the visitors to the island. Consequently a vast gathering of the members of the race especially, from both countries, is looked for there on the coming 15th August, when all will in truth be able to re-echo the words of the old song–
“Deep in Canadian woods we’ve met,
From one bright island flown;
Great is the land we tread, but yet
Our hearts are with our own.”
As befitting a national memento of so melancholy an episode in the history of the Irish race, the great monument is a truly national one. It is in the form of a tall, free-standing Celtic cross, of which so many noble specimens still dot the surface in many places of holy Ireland and date back to the early ages of Christianity in the Green Isle. Petrie, in his interesting work on the Antiquities of Ireland, speaks of these crosses as erected both for sepulchral and dedicatory purposes. Their chief merit lies in the fact that they are essentially Irish in origin, design and execution. Nowhere else in the homes of the Celtic race are they to be found in such beauty and profusion as amid the ruins of the old abbeys, monasteries, churches and graveyards of Erin. Although the ruthless hand of the spoiler and of time was laid heavily upon many of them, happily enough of them are still left on the old sod to preserve their beautiful type and to show the wonderful taste and skill of the original Irish designers and craftsmen.
“Through storm, and fire, and gloom, I see it stand,
Firm, broad and tall–
The Celtic Cross that marks our Fatherland,
Amid them all!
Druids, and Danes, and Saxons, vainly rage
A round its base;
It standeth shock on shock and age on age,
Star of a scatter’d race.
“O Holy Cross! dear symbol of the dread
Death of our Lord,
Around thee long have slept our martyr-dead
Sward over Sward!
A hundred bishops I myself can count
Among the slain;
Chiefs, captains, rank and file. a shining mount
Of God’s ripe grain.”
It was eminently befitting, too, that the task of producing the memorial should have been entrusted to men of Irish blood and of such artistic taste and mechanical skill as the enterprising firm of Fall on Bros., of Cornwall, Ont., who, with the whole race, have every reason to be proud of their noble creation and handiwork, from designs prepared by Mr. J. Gallagher, one of the founders and leading members of the Quebec branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as well as one of Quebec’s chief civil engineers and head of its water works department. Standing on Telegraph Bill, the most elevated point on the island, where it occupies a site of 15O feet square, and overlooking the graves of the Irish dead near its western shore, the monument, which is composed of grey Stanstead granite, rises to a further height of 46 feet 6 inches, so that its total altitude above the level of the river is 140 feet, making it a most conspicuous and striking object in a landscape having as its foreground the sparkling waters of the St. Lawrence and for a background the dark ramparts of Cape Tourmente and the Laurentian mountains, and rendering it visible for miles up and down the river.
The pedestal is also of granite. The dimensions of the lower base are 15 feet by 13.4 by 2 feet; of the next base, 13 feet by 10.10 by 2 feet; of the die, 9 feet by 8.4 by 8 feet, and of the plinth, 8 feet by 7.2 by 5 feet. The shaft ·and cross stand 29 feet 6 inches high and the arms are 8 feet in length, the top of the cross being 2 feet 6 inches square. As usual, in the case of all Celtic crosses, the symbol of the Christian faith at the summit is enclosed within a ring or circle of the same material, binding as it were the shaft, arms and upper portion of the cross together, the spaces between the intersecting arms being pierced and the whole sculpture thus forming the cross.
The panels on which the inscriptions are carved are of dark ebony. There are four of these panels, one on each face of the pedestal. On three of them is the following inscription in Gaelic, English and French respectively. The English and French inscriptions are appended:
“Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish emigrants, who, to preserve the
faith, suffered hunger and exile in 1847-48. and, stricken with
fever, ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage.”
“Erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, and dedicated Feast of
the Assumption, 1909.
“Thousands of the children of the Gael were lost on this island while fleeing from
foreign tyrannical laws and an artificial famine in the years 1847·1848.
“GOD BLESS THEM.
“This stone was erected to their memory and in honor of them by the Gaels of America.
“GOD SAVE IRELAND!”
“A la pieuse mémoire de milliers d’émigrés Irlandais qui, pour garder la foi, souffrirent la faim et l’exile et, victimes de la fièvre, finirent ici leur douleureux pelerinage, consolés et fortifiés par le prêtre Canadien.”
“Ceux qui sèment dans les larmes moissonneront dans la joie.–Ps. xxv.-5.
The fourth panel or memorial tablet contains the names of the devoted Roman Catholic priests who ministered to the sick and dying on the island during the terrible typhus visitation of 1847-48, those of the reverend gentlemen who were stricken down by the fever, but who recovered, being distinguished by an asterisk or star, and those among them who died from it, martyrs to their charity and zeal, by two stars, as follows:–
Revd. Messrs. William Wallace Moylan; *Bernard McGauran; James C. McDevitt; *Pierre Telesphore Sax; James Nelligan; Celestin Zephirin Rousseau; *Antoine Campeau; *Jas. Bailey; Lean Provancher; *Michel Forgues; Thomas Caron; *Narcisse Belanger; Louis Antoine Proulx; *Hugh McGuirk; *James McDonnell; *Luc Trahan; *Philippe Honore Jean; J. B. Antoine Ferland; Jean Harper; Bernard O’Reilly; Louis Adolphe Dupuis; J. Bte. Perras; Moise Duguay; Maxime Tardif; Michael Kerrigan; John Caulfield O’Grady; *Elzear A1exandre Taschereau; *Edward John Horan; Pierre Beaumont; Etienne Payment: Etienne Halle; Jos. Hercule Dorion; *Charles Tardif; Antoine Lebel; Prisque Gariepy; William Dunn; Godfroy Tremblay; Ls. Stanislas Malo; **Hubert Robson; **Pierre Roy; **Hugh Paisley; **Michael Power; **Felix Severin Bardy; **Edouard Montminy.
Father Hugh Paisley, who was of Scotch descent, was not among the priests at Grosse Isle, but caught the disease while attending fever patients in Quebec and died there.
Of all this band of heroic Roman Catholic priests, only one now survives i11 the person of the venerable Father Hugh McGuirk, who is still living (retired from the active ministry) in the Hotei-Dieu of Chatham, N. B., at the advanced age of 96 years. Father McGuirk was expected to have been present at the dedication of the monument at Grosse Isle on the 15th August, but at the last moment the dear old man found himself unable physically to undertake the fatigue of the journey from his home in New Brunswick, and the celebration at the island therefore lacked through his absence one of its most interesting figures.
With favorable weather and other conditions, there is no doubt that the ceremony and gathering at Grosse Isle on the memorable occasion of the unveiling and dedication of the monument will be among the grandest and most imposing in Canadian as in Irish annals. As a great national and religious demonstration in honor of the martyred dead of the race, as a public expression of faith and of the national sympathy for the unfortunate exiles and victims of 1847 on the very spot hallowed for all time by their unparalleled sufferings and the melancholy deaths of so many of their number and as a prayerful and affectionate tribute of their descendants and kindred to their memory, the celebration of the 15th August promises to be as impressive as it will be unique. It will bring together a vast crowd of representatives of the widely scattered Irish race from all parts, but especially from Canada and the United States, besides many members of other races whose exalted positions, whose sympathies or whose claims upon the affection and respect of the Irish people entitle them to the places of honor at a manifestation of the kind alike religious and national.
The official invitations to be present and take part in the celebration embrace a wide range of distinguished personages. They include many of the leading public notabilities of Canada and the United States–Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister of the Dominion, and his colleagues of the Canadian Cabinet, Sir Lomer Gouin, the Premier, and members of the Quebec Provincial Government, among whom there are two Irish Catholics in the persons of Hon. Chas. R. Devlin, Minister of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries, (formerly a member of the Irish Nationalist party and member for Galway in the British Parliament), and Hon. John C. Kaine, member for Quebec West, and Minister without portfolio, Sir Chas. Fitzpatrick, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Hon. Chas. Murphy, Canada’s Secretary of State, besides other noted representative men of the Dominion and its different provinces, as well as of the United States, many of whom are Irish or of Irish extraction. On the other hand, the religious element will be represented by His Excellency Mgr. Sbaretti, the Papal Delegate to Canada, should he have returned in time from Europe, whither he has actually gone to see the Holy Father on business connected with the Church, and by His Grace the Archbishop of Quebec, accompanied by his Coadjutor, His Lordship Bisliop Roy, and all the Monsignori of the Archiepiscopal Court of Quebec, as well as by other distinguished members of the Canadian and American hierarchies.
In grateful remembrance of the great sympathy and valuable services shown by the kindly French Canadian people and their devoted clergy to the poor Irish exiles and orphans of 1847, the officers of the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Quebec and Montreal, which is the great national society of French Canada, have also been specially invited to attend, and their participation in the ceremony with their chief ecclesiastical dignitaries will serve not only to fittingly recall the heroic and generous role played by that people and clergy during the terrible ordeal of that fatal year, but to remind Irishmen that after all blood should be thicker than water and that the French-Canadians are not only bound to them by the ties of a common faith and the memories of a patriotic and friendly past beyond the Atlantic, but that they are largely descendants from the same original stock–the grand old Celtic race to which they are so proud to belong.
Naturally, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as the chief organizers and promoters of the whole affair, will be strongly represented and occupy the most conspicuous place in the celebration. Besides the supreme national heads of the great association, numerous contingents of the officers and members of its different sections and branches in many parts of Canada and the United States are coming to take part in it. Foremost among these will be the officers, local chaplain, (Father Barrett, C.S.S..R.), and members of the Quebec branch, upon whom has fallen the chief burthen of the work of organization. In addition, the branches of Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, St. John, N.B., and Halifax, will grace the ceremony and impart greater eclat to it by the presence of their uniformed knight or cadet corps. The Ottawa and Montreal. brethren have chartered special boats of their own to convey themselves and their friends from Quebec to Grosse Isle, but besides these there will be ample steamboat accommodation at Quebec to transport all others to and from the island. The Quebec branch has retained for the purpose a number of fine river boats, including the Pilot, Queen, L’Etoile, St. Croix, and one of the splendid vessels of the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Co.’s Saguenay line, while the Dominion Government has further generously placed the Government steamship Druid at the disposal of the Order for the use of the official guests. Thus all danger from overcrowding will be obviated and careful precautions will also be taken, moreover, to see that no such thing shall happen on any boat.
The different steamers will leave Quebec at or shortly after 9 a.m., so as to reach Grosse Isle about 11 a.m., when the crowd as they land will form into procession and headed by the Knights and Cadets with their banners draped in mourning and their bands, the national heads of the Order, the officers and members of the branches represented, and the ecclesiastical, civil and national dignitaries, march to the cemetery, which is the last resting place of the dead of 1847 and which is immediately overlooked from Telegraph Hill by the great Celtic cross forming the national memorial and awaiting unveiling.
In the cemetery itself, on the very spot where the final scenes in the terrible tragedy of 1847 were enacted and where the eye can still after sixty-two years trace the outlines of the ghastly trenches in which the unfortunate victims were buried, the holy sacrifice of the mass will be offered up for the eternal repose of their souls, in the presence of the great assemblage of guests, priests and people, on an altar specially erected for the purpose in the open air, on either side of which stands and seats will be provided for the accommodation of the official guests and other distinguished personages present. In view of the lateness of the hour at which the island will be reached and the length of the religious ceremonial, the requiem mass will be a low mass, but marked by all the solemnity of the Roman Catholic ritual and enhanced by band acompaniment and the singing of a special choir of 100 trained voices under the leadership of Mr. Ed. A. Batterton, from the congregation of St. Patrick’s, Quebec, whose devoted pastor, Rev. Father Hanley, and assistants of the Redemptorist Order, as well as the Christian Brothers in charge of St. Patrick’s School, have also been specially invited to attend as guests of the Ancient Order on the occasion. The sermon of the day will be preached by the Provincial Chaplain of the Order, Rev. Father Eustace Maguire, the respected rector of the important parish of St. Columba of Sillery, near Quebec, which has for long years been the home of a considerable Irish population, not a few of whom are descended from the exiles of 1847. A descendant himself of the princely family of the Maguires of Fermanagh, Father Maguire possesses exceptional claims upon Irish sympathy in the connection as a patriotic Irishman and as the nephew of Father Horan, one of the devoted young Irish priests, who so heroically responded to th~ call to minister to the sick and dying of his race at Grosse Isle and who afterwards became Bishop of Kingston, Ont.; as the brother of another worthy priest, now dead, the late Father John E. Maguire, who in after years served as a resident missionary on the island; and lastly as the son of an Irishman of distinction in the annals of old Quebec, the late Judge Maguire, of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec. Finally the religious ceremonies will be brought to an end with the solemn chanting of the Libera by His Grace the Archbishop of Quebec and choir. Father Hanley, of St. Patrick’s, will officiate at the requiem mass. Then the gathering will adjourn to Telegraph Hill close by for the unveiling of the monument which will be solemnly performed by His Excellency the Papal Delegate, if present, or by His Grace of Quebec, in his absence, and after which appropriate and eloquent addresses will be delivered by Mr. Matthew Cummings, the National President of the Order, Major McCrystal, National Director (who will speak in Gaelic), Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, Chief Justice of Canada, Hon. Chas. Murphy, Dominion Secretary of State, Hon. Chas. R. Devlin and others, including probably also, Hon. L. A. Taschereau, Minister of Public Works in the Quebec Government, and a nephew of the late Cardinal Taschereau, one of the Grosse Isle missionaries of 1847.
With these, the memorable celebration on the island will terminate and the boats will return to Quebec with their passengers.
Far from their own beloved isle
Those Irish exiles sleep,
And dream not of historic past,
Nor o’er its memories weep;
Down where the blue St. Lawrence tide
Sweeps onward wave on wave,
They lie–old Ireland’s exiled dead
In cross-crowned lonely grave.
Sleep on, O hearts of Erin,
From earthly travail free!
Our freighted souls still greet you
Beyond life’s troubl’d sea:
In every Irish heart and home,
Is built an altar to your faith–
cross above each mound.
No more the patriot’s words will cheer
Your humble toil and care–
No more your Irish hearts will tell
The beads of evening prayer;
The mirth that scoffed at direst want
Lies buried in your grave,
Down where the blue St. Lawrence tide
Sweeps onward wave on wave.
O, toilers in the harvest field,
Who gather golden grain!
O, pilgrims by the wayside,
Who succor grief and pain!
And ye, who know that liberty
Oft wields a shining blade,
Pour forth your souls in requiem prayer
Where Irish hearts are laid!
Far from their own beloved land
Those Irish exiles sleep,
T¥here dreams nor faith crown’d shamrock,
Nor ivies o’er them creep;
But fragrant breath of maple
Sweeps on with freedom’s tide,
And consecrates the lonely isle
Where Irish exiles died!
A souvenir of Grosse Isle and of the frightful affliction of 1847 to Ireland, to Canada and to humanity at large would not be complete without some reference to the history of an island, which evokes so many ghastly and saddening memories that even to-day, after a lapse of sixty-two years, the beholder still shudders at the sight of this Golgotha of the Irish race in America and at the recollection of the horrors and the appalling sum of human agony and grief which it witnessed. Yet there is nothing otherwise repellant about it or its general aspect when viewed from the deck of a passing vessel. It is a pretty enough little forest and verdure clad island, about three miles long and scarcely one wide, indented with bays and situated in the open channel of the St. Lawrence, 33 miles below Quebec. It forms one of the many similar islands, which stud the miles below Quebec. It forms one of the many similar islands, which stud the bosom of the mighty river of Canada on its way to the sea. Its surface is generally rocky and picture5que, still nicely wooded, with patches of cultivated land between, dotted with the neat, well kept buildings of a Canadian Government quarantine station of the present day, over which floats the flag of the Dominion. To look at it now sleeping peacefully on the surface of the wave, it would never be dreamt that it was once the scene of such a grim tragedy and such an awful hecatomb.
The name “Grosse Isle” means “Big Island,” but, according to so eminent an authority as Dr. Montizambert, for many years the medical superintendent of the quarantine station there, and at present the official head of the entire quarantine service of the Dominion, this is a corruption of “Isle de Grace,” or Grace Island, under which title it was designated on old French charts. And this appears to be likely, too, for Grosse Isle is not the biggest island of the group in that neighbourhood to which it belongs.
Nothing very definite is known of the history of the island in the early days of the French colony, except that it appears to have been included in a territorial grant made by the King of France in 1646 to Governor de Montmagny, one of the first viceroys of New France. In this grant, it is not specially named, but there is hardly any doubt that it was embraced in it, as the royal patent covers Crane and Goose Islands close at hand “and all the surrounding islands, islets and beaches.” In those days, these were the resort of myriads of wild geese, ducks and other water fowl and as old Governor de Montmagny was an ardent sportsman, he probably secured and retained the property as a game preserve for his own use and that of his friends. After de Montmagny, it seems to have passed through different hands, as we find mentioned, in connection with its ownership under the seigniorial tenure, the names of such old French noble families as the de Grandvilles, de Tourvilles, LeMoynes, Dupuys and de Beaujeus. One of these last, Lienard de Beaujeu, was a brother of the celebrated de Beaujeu, who defeated the English General Braddock at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburg, Ohio, now stands.
After De Montmagny, too, settlement began on some of the adjacent islands and especially on Crane Island, but Grosse Isle remained in its primreval state. It is still a tradition among the French-Canadian inhabitants of Crane Island that the fierce Iroquois, in one of their raids upon the French settlements, penetrated to that island, slaughtering and burning all before them and even pursuing to Grosse Isle the few stragglers who had escaped and taken refuge there. Another tradition among them is that a well-known family still on Crane Island are the descendants of an English lad, captured by the Canadian Indians in one of their retaliatory forays upon the New England colonies and adopted by one of the then settlers on that island, who gave him the name of “L’Anglais” or Langlois (the Englishman), by which the posterity of this boy captive are still
But the most curious and romantic tradition of all still extant in Grosse Isle and its neighbourhood and referred to by Sir J. M. Lemoine in his “Legendary Lore of the Lower St. Lawrence,” relates to an unknown individual, supposed to have been a French officer of exalted rank who in the early days, with his little son, took up his abode on one of the small adjacent islands, built for himself a castle or strongly fortified mansion upon it, and lived like a hermit there until he died, without ever revealing his identity.
Again, under British rule, the seigniory originally granted to De Montmagnv appears to have passed through different hands, until it reached those of one Daniel McPherson, a Scotch gentleman and a United Empire Loyalist, who had formerly resided in Philadelphia at the breaking out of the American revolution and who had fled to Canada after the war. From the McPhersons it finally passed back by will to the LeMoyne family in the person of McPherson LeMoyne, a descendant of both, who still holds it and who is a near relative of Sir James Macpherson LeMoyne, the venerable historian of Quebec, and author of Maple Leaves, Chronicles of the St. Lawrence, etc., etc. But long before this, Grosse Isle had become detached from the seigniory by sale to others.
In 1832, Grosse Isle suddenly jumped into the unenviable notoriety by which it has ever since been distinguished. In the spring of that year, in anticipation of an invasion of the Asiatic cholera, which had reached Europe and extended even to England in 1831, the Imperial authorities summarily took possession of it to use it as a lazaretto or quarantine. Accordingly a military force consisting of two companies of infantry and a detachment of the royal artillery and several surgeons was sent down to occupy it under the command of Captain Reid, of the 32nd Regiment, who was also appointed commandant of the island. At this time, one Bernier, a notary of Chateau Richer, on the mainland not far distant, claimed to be its owner and to have sub-leased it to one Duplain, who had cleared and put under tillage some of the land on it. Bechard, in his history, pretends that there was a regular four years’ lease of the island between Bernier and the British Government and that, on the expiry of this lease, the latter purchased tht: island from him, but this seems to be disproved by the petitions presented both by Bernier and Duplain to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1835, complaining that His Majesty’s Government had taken possession of th~ir property without their consent or authority and without any indemnity whatever to them, and praying to be compensated for the loss and damage which they had thereby sustained. Duplain further set forth that he had not only been dispossessed, forced to abandon his lease and eventually driven off the island, but that some of the soldiers had been billeted upon him, while the others lived in tents. The result of these petitions was that an act was passed for the indemnifying of Bernier and Duplain and the purchase of the island, the amount to be decided by valuators or arbitrators. But, for some reason or other, this arbitration seems never to have been held, or any sum ever paid to Bernier or Duplain or their descendants. If there was, there appears to be no record of it.
Before 1832 there had been a quarantine or rather an apology for one, near Levis, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, opposite Quebec, but the then Governor-General, Sir James Kempt, and the Medical Board of the city of Quebec, insisted that in the case of so “awful a pestilential disease” as the cholera, it was extremely dangerous to maintain a lazaretto so near the city and accordingly, upon the advice of Commander Hayfield, of the Royal Navy, Grosse Isle was selected as the most eligible place for its successor. It is worthy of note that the policy since adopted by Great Britain in the connection was foreshadowed in 1832 by Dr. Roberts a member of the Quebec Medical Board, who differed from his colleagues, con1tending that there need not be the slightest apprehension of cholera possessing any contagious properties an.d who opposed as useless and unnecessary the establishment and enforcement of strict and lengthened quarantine regulations in or near the port of Quebec, but evidently he was the only one on the board who held this opinion at the time, for, in spite of his opposition, Grosse Isle became a quarantine station.
And just here it may be well to correct the very common error that the dreadful typhus or ship fever was first imported into this country by the Irish exiles of 1847. The “Relations des Jesuites” state that, under the French, in 1659, nearly two hundred years before, typhus broke out on a French vessel called the “Saint-Andre,” which had on board three nuns, two priests and one hundred and thirty French emigrants bound for Quebec and Montreal, that ten of these died on the passage, that four more were landed at Quebec sick with the deadly malady, and that the contagion spread from them among the residents, among whom it made many victims, including Father de Quen, who had, like many other devoted priests, fallen a voluntary martyr to duty in ministering for the dying. As will be seen, therefore, not many were added to the population of the struggling French colony by the one hundred and thirty immigrants who had sailed from France on the “Saint-Andre,” for of these some had died on shipboard and others had landed only to occupy a narrow bed in the little cemetery near the top of Mountain Hill in Quebec, or the Hotel Dieu graveyard, while not a few of the old inhabitants of the town also succumbed.
But, to return to 1832, one of the first acts of the military force on the island was to place an 18-pounder cannon en barbette and two 12-pounders on the flag staff battery to stop all incoming vessels and compel them to undergo quarantine, if necessary. These guns are still in position and for some years the quarantine staff on the island was drilled as a half battery to man them, until the armory was burned in 1877.
Although the military power retained the supreme control of the island until 1857 when the military force, under Lieut. Noble, of the Royal Artillery, was withdrawn and the station was regularly transferred to the Canadian Government, tradition has it that the upsetting of a boat by the soldiers rowing the surgeon back from inspecting a vessel had long before led to the first introduction of the civilian element on the island by the appointment of six efficient boatmen from Crane Island, who lived together at Grosse Isle, their wives being permitted to visit them during one day in each month to wash their clothes. Military surgeons being- also apparently too scarce at that time to be spared, Dr. Poole, a civilian, was appointed medical superintendent, with Dr. George M. Douglas, the father of the present Admiral Douglas, of the British Navy, as his assistant. After a few years Dr. Douglas succeeded Dr. Poole as medical superintendent, and Dr. Von Iffland, father of the present Canon Von Iffland, of Quebec, became his assistant. Dr. Von Iffland succeeded Dr. Douglas about 1864, and was in turn succeeded by his assistant, Dr. Montizambert, in 1869, the latter retaining the important office until 1898-99, when he was promoted to the position of Director-General of Public Health and moved to Ottawa, being replaced at Grosse Isle by the present incumbent, Dr. G. E. Martineau, who has given the country a most satisfactory service during the past eleven years. Born in Quebec in July, r867, he was also educated there, taking his medical course at Laval University, from which he obtained his degree in 1892. He also visited Europe twice to perfect himself in his profession and spent months there with that object. He has as his assistant, Dr. W. W. Aylen, of Montreal, and a working staff of forty-three employees. As may be imagined, Canada was but poorly prepared to face the terrible cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1834· A few miserable wooden sheds had been hurriedly put up on Grosse Isle and converted into hospitals for the sick, most of whom, however, had to be sheltered in tents, while a small temporary wharf or stage was built as a landing place. The horrors of the situation were, therefore, great, aggravated as they were also by inadequate attendance and other drawbacks and evils more or less incidental to all new establishments of the kind in a new and inexperienced country and by the virulence and fierceness of the disease. Under the circumstances, the death roll on the island was heavy, especially in 1832, and the epidemic extended to Quebec, Montreal and other parts of Canada, where poor humanity fell before it like grass before the scythe of the mower.
The first buildings erected on the island in 1832 were all, with one except: on, which was used as a farm residence, located on the upper point of the island. Those in the lower and centre parts of the island, chiefly date from 1847. In 1878 three of the largest of these were destroyed by an accidental fire and many of the quarantine records were lost, but enough remain to show that in 1832 no less than 51,146 immigrants were examined at Grosse Isle and 30,935 during the second cholera outbreak in 1834. Of the latter number, 264 died.
The first chapels on the island, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, were also erected in 1832. In fact, from the opening of the quarantine, spiritual consolation for the sick and dying there appears to have been well provided for.Among the names at least of the Roman Catholic missionary priests stationed and resident there during the summer season, from 1832 to 1847, may be found those of Fathers O’Dwyer, Dunn, Harkin (afterwards rector of Sillery), Huot (St. Foy), Belleau, Fortier, Griffiths, Frechette, Dowling, Moylan and Beaubien.
To-day Grosse Isle constitutes a separate and distinct R. C. canonical parish under the name of St. Luke, with a resident parish priest there all the year round, the present one, who is the second, being Rev. J. B. Derome.
Such is the history of the island where in 1847 scenes of horror and desolation were witnessed which, to use the words of the Most Reverend Joseph Signai, then Archbishop of Quebec, “almost stagger belief and baffle description.”
“And when I looked, behold a hand was sent unto
me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein.
And he spread it before me, and it was written
within and without; and there was written therein,
lamentations and mournings, and woe.”
Yet there were many precursors and forewarnings of the approaching tragedy which should not have been overlooked or misread by the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. Coming events were casting their shadows before in a way that brooked neither misconception of their terrible significance, nor procrastination in preparing to meet them. Nevertheless the advent of the crisis revealed so much wrongheadedness, as well as such a lack of ordinary foresight, preparedness and in some quarters even of good will as to be positively criminal and to fully justify the remark of Lord Sydenham that “to throw starving and diseased paupers under the rock at Quebec ought to have been punishable as murder.”
Of all the accounts published in regard to the conditions which led up to the catastrophe of 1847, one of the fairest and best is that given by A. M. Sullivan in his “New Ireland.” Says this eminent writer:
“In 1841 the population of Ireland was 8,175,124 souls. By 1845 it had probably reached to nearly nine millions. The increase had been fairly continuous for at least a century, and had become rapid between 1820 and 1840. To any one looking beneath the surface the condition of the country was painfully precarious. Nine millions of a population living at best in a light-hearted and hopeful hand-to-mouth contentment, totally dependent on the hazards of one crop, destitute of manufacturing industries (which had been either proscribed by English law or killed out by favored English competition), and utterly without reserve or resource to fall back upon in time of reverse,–what did all this mean but a state of things critical and alarming in the extreme? Yet no one seemed conscious of danger. The potato crop had been abundant for four or five years, and respite from dearth and distress was comparative happiness and prosperity. Moreover, the temperance movement (initiated by the celebrated Father Matthew) had come to make the “good times” still better. Everything looked bright. No one concerned himself to discover how slender and treacherous was the foundation for this general hopefulness and confidence.
“Yet signs of the coming storm had been given. Partial famine caused by failing harvests had indeed been intermittent in Ireland, and quite recently warnings that ought not to have been mistaken or neglected had given notice that the esculent which formed the sole dependence of the peasant millions was subject to some mysterious blight. In 1844 it was stricken in America, but in Ireland the yield was as healthy and plentiful as ever. The harvest of 1845 promised to be the richest gathered for many years. Suddenly in one short month, in one week it might be said, the withering breath of a simoom seemed to sweep the land, blasting all in its path. I myself saw whole tracts of potato growth changed in one night from smiling luxuriance to a shriveled and blackened waste. A shout of alarm arose. But the buoyant nature of the Celtic peasant did not yet give way. The crop was so profuse that it was expected the healthy portion would reach an average result. Winter revealed the alarming fact that the tubers had rotted in pit and store-house. Nevertheless the farmers, like hapless men who double their stakes to recover losses, made only the more strenuous exertions to till a larger breadth in 1846. Although already feeling the pinch of sore distress, if not actual famine, they worked as if for dear life; they begged and borrowed on any terms the means whereby to crop the land once more. The pawn-offices were choked with the humble finery that had shone at the village dance or christening-feast; the banks and local money-lenders were besieged with appeals for credit. Meals were stinted, backs were bared. Anything, anything to tide over the interval to the harvest of “Forty-six.”
“Oh, God, it is a dreadful thought that all this effort was but more surely leading them to ruin! It was this harvest of Forty-six that sealed their doom. Not partially, but completely, utterly, hopelessly, it perished. As in the previous year, all promised brightly up to the close of July. Then, suddenly, in a night, whole areas were blighted; and this time, alas! no portion of the crop escaped. A cry of agony and despair went up all over the land. The last desperate stake for life had been played, and all was lost.
“The doomed people realized but too well what was before them. Last year’s premonitory sufferings had exhausted them: and now?–they must die!
“My native district figures largely in the gloomy record of that dreadful time. I saw the horrible phantasmagoria–would to God it were but that!-pass before my eyes. Blank stolid dismay, a sort of stupor, fell upon the people, contrasting remarkably with the fierce energy put forth a year before. It was no uncommon sight to see the cottier and his little family seated at the blighted plot that had been their last hope. Nothing could arouse them. You spoke; they answered not. You tried to cheer them; they shook their heads. I never saw so sudden and so terrible a transformation.
“When first in the autumn of 1845 the partial blight appeared, wise voices were raised in warning to the Government that a frightful catastrophe was at hand; yet even then began that fatal circumlocution and inaptness which it maddens one to think of. It would be utter injustice to deny that the Government made exertions, which, judged by ordinary emergencies, would be prompt and considerable. But judged by the awful magnitude of the evil then at hand or actually befallen, they were fatally tardy and inadequate. When at length the Executive did hurry, the blunders of precipitancy outdid the disasters of excessive deliberation.
“In truth, the Irish famine was one of those stupendous calamities which the rules and formula of ordinary constitutional administration were unable to cope with, and which could be efficiently encountered only by the concentration of plenary powers and resources in some competent “despotism” located on the scene of disaster. It was easy to foresee the result of an attempt to deal “at long range” with such an evil,–to manage it from Downing Street, London, according to orthodox routine. Again and again the Government were warned, not by heedless orators or popular leaders, but by men of the highest position and soundest repute in Ireland, that, even with the very best intentions on their part, mistake and failure must abound in any attempt to grapple with the famine by the ordinary machinery of government. Many efforts, bold and able efforts, were made by the Government and by Parliament eighteen months subsequently: I refer especially to the measures taken in the session of 1847. But, unfortunately, everything seemed to come too late. Delay made all the difference. In October, 1845, the Irish Mansion House Relief Committee implored the Government to call Parliament together and throw open the ports. The Government refused. Again and again the terrible urgency of the case, the magnitude of the disaster at hand, was pressed on the Executive. It was the obstinate refusal of Lord John Russell to listen to these remonstrances and entreaties, and the sad verification subsequently of these apprehensions, that implanted in the Irish mind the bitter memories which still occasionally find vent in passionate accusation of “England.”
“Not but that the Government had many and weighty arguments in behalf of the course they took. First, they feared exaggeration, and waited for official investigation and report. The truth is, the fight over the Corn Law question in England at the time was peculiarly unfortunate for Ireland; because the protectionist press and politicians felt it a duty strenuously to deny there was any danger of famine, lest such a circumstance should be made a pretext for Free Trade. Thus, the Duke of Richmond, on the 9th of December, 1845, speaking at the Agricultural Protection Society, said, “With respect to the cry of ‘Famine,’ he believed that it was perfectly illusory, and no man of respectability could have put it in good faith if he had been acquainted with the facts within the knowledge of their society.” At Warwick, on the 31st of December, Mr. Newdegate carried a resolution testifying against “the fallacy and mischief of the reports of a deficient harvest,” and affirming that “there was no reasonable ground for apprehending a scarcity of food.” Like declarations abounded in England up to a late period of the famine, and, no doubt, considerably retarded the prompt action of the Government. Even when official testimony was forthcoming, the Cabinet in London erred, as the Irish peasantry did, in trusting somewhat that the harvest of 1846 would change gloom to joy. When the worst came in 1846-47, much precious time was lost through misunderstanding and recrimination between the Irish landlords and the Executive,–charges of neglect of duties on one hand, and of incapacity on the other, passing freely to and fro. No doubt the Government feared waste, prodigality, and abuse if it placed absolute power and unlimited supplies in the hands of an Irish board; and one must allow that, to a commercially-minded people, the violations of the doctrines of political economy involved in every suggestion and demand shouted across the Channel from Ireland were very alarming. Yet in the end it was found–all too late, unfortunately–that those doctrines were inapplicable in such a case. They had to be flung aside in 1847. Had they been discarded a year or two sooner, a million of lives might have been saved.
“The situation bristled with difficulties. “Do not demoralize the people by pauper doles, but give them employment,” said one counsellor. “Beware how you interfere with the labor-market,” answered another. “It is no use voting millions to be paid away on relief works while you allow the price of food to be run up four hundred per cent.; set up Government depots for sale of food at reasonable price,” cried many wise and far-seeing men. “Utterly opposed to the teachings of Adam Smith,” responded Lord John Russell.”
Thus were thousands upon thousands of Irish lives doomed to untold suffering and premature end in order to carry out the smug theories of economic doctrinaires and to gratify that grasping spirit of commercialism, which destroyed the industries and the once flourishing trade of the Emerald Isle, and left to its unhappy landlord-ridden, rack-rented people, scarcely anything but agriculture and the potato for their miserable subsistence. And when the potato failed completely, they were literally crushed to the earth. The annual value of the crop was estimated at millions of pounds and, considering the immense amount of human and animal sustenance derived from it, some idea may be formed of the awful misery consequent on the destruction of the root that not only proved disastrous to the poorer classes, but threatened the existence of everyone of the eight to nine millions of souls then in Ireland. Is it any wonder, therefore, that this population was reduced by the famine and the exodus following it by fully one· half or more?
“‘Twas famine’s wasting breath,
That wing’d the shaft of death,
A ghra gal mochree!
And the landlord lost to feeling,
Who drove us from our sheeling,
Though we pray’d for mercy kneeling,
A ghra gal mochree!”*
*A ghra gal mochree (O, bright love of my heart).
On the opening of the fateful year of 1847, which has been ever since known among the Irish race as “The Black Forty-Seven,” the acute gravity of the situation could no ·longer be denied or concealed by any one. Gaunt famine and pestilence were stalking with giant strides through the unfortunate Green Isle, striking down their victims by the hundreds and thousands. The crisis had come and the Queen, in her speech from the throne to the British Parliament on the 19th January of that year, said: “It is with the deepest concern that, upon again assembling, I have to call your attention to the dearth of provisions which prevails in Ireland and parts of Scotland. In Ireland especially, the loss of the usual food of the people has been the cause of severe sufferings, of disease, and of greatly increased mortality among the poorer classes.”
Thus, for the first time, in a long series of years, Ireland appeared no longer in the arena of political agitation, for now a widespread and desolating famine, unequalled in th~ past history of the world, certainly not to be paralleled in the history of modern times, raged supreme.
Amid the horrors of “Black Forty-Seven–says Sullivan and other writers, the reason of strong men gave way in Ireland. The people lay dead in hundreds on the highways and in the fields. Yet there was food in abundance in the country, for the corn exported from Ireland that year would alone–it is computedhave sufficed to feed a larger population, but the Government said it should not be touched unless in accordance with the teachings of Adam Smith and the “laws of political economy.” Consequently, the British Ministers of that day compelled the young Queen to utter a falsehood when she said that there was “a dearth of provisions in Ireland.”
“At first the establishment of public soup-kitchens under local relief committees, subsidized by Government, was relied upon to arrest the famine. I doubt if the world ever saw so huge a demoralization, so great a degradation, visited upon a once high-spirited and sensitive people. All over the country large iron boilers were set up in which what was called “soup” was concocted,–later on, Indian-meal stir-about was boiled. Around these boilers on the roadside there daily moaned and shrieked and fought and scuffled crowds of gaunt, cadaverous creatures that once had been men and women made in the image of God. The feeding of dogs in a kennel was far more decent and orderly. I once thought–ay, and often bitterly said, in public and in private–that never, never would our people recover the shameful humiliation of that brutal public soup-boiler scheme. (which was in too many places accompanied by attempts on the part of religious bigots and zealots to proselytize the poor Catholic applicants at the price of such relief). I frequently stood and watched the scene till tears blinded me and I almost choked with grief and passion. It was heart-breaking, almost maddening, to see; but help for it there was none.
“The Irish poor-law system early broke down under the strain which the famine imposed. Until 1846 the work-houses were shunned and detested by the Irish poor. Relief of destitution had always ben regarded by the Irish as a sort of religious duty or fraternal succor. Poverty was a misfortune, not a crime. When, however, relief was offered, on the penal condition of an imprisonment that sundered the family tie, and which, by destroying home. howsoever humble, shut out all hope of future recovery, it was indignantly spurned. Scores of times I have seen some poor widow before the workhouse board clasp her little children tightly to her heart and sob aloud, “No, no, your honor. If they are to be parted from me, I’ll not come in. I’ll beg the wide world with them.”
“But soon beneath the devouring pangs of starvation even this holy affection had to give way, and the famishing people poured into the workhouses, which soon choked with the dying and the dead. Such privations had been endured in every case before this hated ordeal was faced, that the people entered the Bastille to die. The parting scenes of husband and wife, father and mother and children, at the board-room door would melt a heart of stone Too well they felt it was to be an eternal severance, and that this loving embrace was to be their last on earth. The warders tore them asunder,-the husband from the wife, the mother from the child,–for “discipline” required that it should be so. But, with the famine-fever in every ward, and the air around them laden with disease and death, they knew their fate, and parted like victims at the foot of the guillotine.
“It was not long before the workhouses overflowed and could admit no more. Rapidly as the death-rate made vacancies, the pressure of applicants overpowered all resources. Worse still, bankruptcy came on many a union. In some the poor-rate rose to twenty-two shillings on the pound, and very nearly the entire rural population of several were needing relief. In a few cases, I am sorry to say, the horrible idea seemed to seize the land-owners on the boards that all rates would be ineffectual, and that, as their imposition would result only in ruining “property,” it was as well to “let things take their course.”
“The conduct of the Irish landlords throughout the famine-period has been variously described, and has been, I believe, generally condemned. I consider the censure visited on them too sweeping. I hold it to be in some respects cruelly unjust. On many of them no blame too heavy could possibly fall. A large number were permanent absentees; their ranks were swelled by several who early fled the post of duty at home,–cowardly and selfish deserters of a brave and faithful people. Of those who remained, some may have grown callous: it is impossible to contest authentic instances of brutal heartlessness here and there. But, granting all that has to be entered on the dark debtor side, the overwhelming balance is the other way, The bulk of the resident Irish landlords manfully did their best in that dread hour. If they did too little compared with what the landlord class in England would have done in similar case, it was because little was in their power. The famine found most of the resident landed gentry of Ireland on the brink of ruin. They were heritors of estates heavily overweighted with the debts of a bygone generation. Broad lands and lordly mansions were held by them on settlements and conditions that allowed small scope for the exercise of individual liberality. To these landowners the failure of one year’s rental receipts meant mortgage-foreclosure and hopeless ruin. Yet cases might be named by the score in which such men scorned to avert by pressure on their suffering tenantry the fate they saw impending over them. They “went down with the ship.”
“In the autumn of 1846 relief works were set on foot, the Government having received parliamentary authority to grant baronial loans for such undertakings. There might have been found many ways of applying these funds in reproductive employment, but the modes decided on were draining and road-making. The result was in every sense deplorable failure. The wretched people were by this time too wasted and emaciated to work. The endeavor to do so under an inclement winter sky only hastened death. They tottered at daybreak to the roll-call, vainly tried to wheel the barrow or ply the pick, but fainted away on the “cutting,” or lay down on the wayside to rise no more.
“It was the fever which supervened on the famine that wrought the greatest slaughter and spread the greatest terror. For this destroyer when it came spared no class, rich or poor. As long as it was “the hunger” alone that raged, it was no deadly peril to visit the sufferers; but not so now. To come within the reach of this contagion was certain death. Whole families perished unvisited and unassisted. By levelling above their corpses the sheelings in which they died, the neighbors gave them a grave.
“No pen can trace nor tongue relate the countless deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice which this dreadful visitation called forth on the part, pre-eminently, of two classes in the community,–the Catholic clergy and the dispensary doctors of Ireland. I have named the Catholic clergy, not that those of the Protestant denominations did not furnish many instances of devotion fully as striking, but because on the former obviously fell the brunt of the trial. For them there was no flinching. A call to administer the last rites of religion to the inmate of a plague-ward or fever-shed must be, and is, obeyed by the Catholic priest, though death to himself be the well-known consequence. The fatality among the two classes I have mentioned, clergymen and doctors, was lamentable. Christian heroes, martyrs for humanity, their names are blazoned on no courtly roll; yet shall they shine upon an eternal page, brighter than the stars!
“But even this dark cloud of the Irish famine had its silver lining. If it is painful to recall the disastrous errors of irresolution and panic, one can linger gratefully over memories of Samaritan philanthropy, of efficacious generosity, of tenderest sympathy. The people of England behaved nobly; and assuredly not less munificent were the citizens of the great American Republic, which had already become the home of thousands of the Irish race. From every considerable town in England there poured subscriptions, amounting in the aggregate to hundreds of thousands of pounds. From America came a truly touching demonstration of national sympathy. Some citizens of the States contributed two shiploads of breadstuffs, and the American Government decided to furnish the ships which should bring the offering to the Irish shore. Accordingly, two war-vessels, the “Macedonian” and the “Jamestown” frigates, having had their armaments removed, their “gun-decks” displaced and cargo bulkheads put up, were filled to the gunwale with best American flour and biscuits, and despatched on their errand of mercy. It happened that just previously the British naval authorities had rather strictly refused the loan of a ship for a like purpose, as being quite opposed to all departmental regulations, and a good deal of angry feeling was called forth by the refusal. Yet had it a requiting contrast in the despatch from England, by voluntary associations there, of several deputations or embassies of succor, charged to visit personally the districts in Ireland most severely afflicted, and to distribute with their own hands the benefactions they wrought.”
In this sketch of “Grosse Isle and the Irish Exodus of 1847,” published in the QUEBEC DAILY TELEGRAPH of 11th September, 1897, the late James M. O’Leary thus referred to the situation on the opening of and during 1847:
“The result was that the workhouses were filled to overflowing, and the governors had been compelled to close their doors against further admissions, while the local authorities were anxiously waiting for the time when the Canadian navigation usually opened, in order to rid their wharves, crowded hospitals, and hulks at anchor in every seaport of the living mass of misery for whom they could not or would not find shelter and relief.
“Hitherto the landlords of Ireland had received the full amount of their rents, which they had spent in distant lands, never returning even a single farthing towards the relief of their suffering tenantry, but on the 26th of February, 1847, an Act came into force which compelled them to contribute to the support of the poor on their estates, by defraying the cost of buildings for them, the providing of kitchen utensils, and the purchase, preparation, and distribution of food and clothing. Sooner, however, than comply with the law, they began their inhuman work of wholesale demolition and extermination. They took special care to rid their estates of the helpless widows and their little ones, of the old, the crippled, and those whose constitutions had been enfeebled by sickness and destitution. Some gave their famishing tenants a mere trifle, on condition that they would take the road to the nearest seaport. Others placed in their hands pretended cheques on Canadian mercantile houses, to induce them to give up their little farms. Others, like the two thousand tenants shipped from Lord Palmerston’s estates, were not only promised clothing, but solemnly assured that His Lordship’s agent at Quebec had been instructed to pay them from £2 to £5 a family, according to their number. Others, as in the case of the tenants of Lord Darnley, County Meath, were given sealed letters addressed to the Chief Emigrant Agent at Quebec, and told that they contained orders to give them ten shillings each, while the letters only requested the agent to give them good advice.
“Where persuasion failed, coercion came in. Hundreds of families were driven from their homes, and these homes razed before their eyes. Not content with this, the landlords mercilessly drove them from the ditches to which they had betaken themselves for shelter and where they were attempting to fit up a place of some kind for themselves and their little ones, by means of sticks and wood. In the case of the Girrard evictions, the unfortunate tenants had their rent ready. They offered it to the landlord, implored him to receive it, but their entreaties were in vain. They were driven from their holdings and an entire village depopulated.
“As a general thing the tenants hurried away, as best they could, to parts where kind friends awaited them,-friends, who during the famine of ’46, had sent them such generous, although insufficient assistance.”
“Lochaber no more! Lochaber no more!
We’ll may be return to Lochaber no more!”
Mr. A. M. Sullivan relates that a Scotch Highland friend, whose people were swept away by the great “Sutherland Clearances,” describing to him some of the scenes in that great dispersion, often dwelt with emotion on the spectacle of the evicted clansmen marching through the glens on their way to exile, their pipers playing as a last farewell “Lochaber no more!,” and he adds: “I sympathized with his story; I shared all his feelings. I had seen my own countrymen march in like sorrowful procession on their way to the emigrantship. Not alone in one district, however, but all over the island, were such scenes to be witnessed in Ireland from 1847 to 1857. Within that decade of years nearly a million of people were “cleared” off the island by eviction and emigration.
“A bitter memory is held in Ireland of the “Famine Clearances,” as they are called. There was much in them that was heartless and deplorable, much also that was unfortunately unavoidable. Three years of dreadful privation had annihilated the resources of the agricultural population. Throughout whole districts the tenant-farmers–the weak and wasted few who survived hunger and plague were without means to till the soil. The exhaustion of the tenant class involved, in numerous cases, the ruin of the landlords. A tenantry unable to crop the land were, of course, unable to pay a rent. Many of them, so far from being in a position to pay, rather required the landlord’s assistance to enable them to live.
“Apart from all question as to the disposition of the Irish landlords to yield such aid, it is the indubitable fact that, as a class, they were utterly unable to afford it. Some of them nearly extinguished their own interests in their estates by borrowing money in 1848, 1849 and 1850, to pull the tenants through.
“Too many of the Irish landlords acted differently; and for the course they adopted they were not the only persons to blame. The English press at this juncture embraced the idea that the Irish famine, if properly availed of, would prove a great blessing. Many of the English papers, led by the London Times, actually gloated over the Irish situation and the dispersion of the troublesome Irish. Providence, it was declared, had sent this valuable opportunity for settling the vexed question of Irish misery and discontent. Nothing could have been done with the wretched population that had hitherto squatted on the land. They were too poor to expend any capital in developing the resources of the soil. They were too ignorant to farm it scientifically. Besides, they were too numerous. Why incur ruinous expense to save or continue a class of landholders so undesirable and injurious? Rather behold in what has happened an indication of the design of Providence. Ireland needs to be colonized with thrifty Scotch and scientific English farmers; men with means; men with modern ideas.
“Thus pleaded and urged a thousand voices on the English shore; and to impecunious Irish landlords the suggestion seemed a heavenly revelation. English tenants paid higher rents than Irish, and paid them punctually. English “colonists” would so farm the land as to increase its worth four-fold. English farmers had a proper idea of land-tenure, and would quit their holdings on demand. No more worry with half-pauperized and discontented fellows always behind with their rent, always wanting a reduction, and never willing to pay an increase! No more annoyance from tenant-right agitators and seditious newspapers; no more dread of Ribbonite mandates and Rickite warnings! Blessed hour! El Dorado was in sight!
“To men circumstanced as the Irish landlords were in 1847, these allurements were sure to prove irresistible. They formed the theme and substance of essay, speech, and lecture in England at the time. Some writers put the matter a little kindly for the Irish, and regretted that the regeneration of the country had to be accomplished at a price so painful. Others, unhappily, made no secret of their joy and exultation. Here was the opportunity to make an end of the Irish difficulty. The famine had providentially cleared the way for a great and grand work, if England was but equal to the occasion. Now was the time to plant Ireland with a British population.
“One now can afford to doubt that the men who spoke and wrote in this way ever weighed the effect and consequences of such language on a people like the Irish. I recall it in a purely historical spirit, to identify it as the first visible origin and cause of a state of things which disagreeably challenges English attention,– the desperate bitterness, the deadly hatred of England, which the emigrant thousands carried with them from Ireland to America. To many an Englishman that hostile spirit must seem almost inexplicable. “If Irishmen have had to emigrate,” they say, “it was for their own good and advantage: why should they hate England for that? There is no need to dwell upon the painful circumstances that distinguish the Irish exodus from the adventurous emigration of Germans or Swedes or Englishmen. The Irishman who comes to tell the story of these famine- evictions, and the emigration-panic which followed, finds himself, in truth, face to face with the origin of Irish-American Fenianism.
” ‘Thanks be to God, they have fired in the air!’ says the Cork waiter to the English visitor in one of Lever’s stories. Two Irish gentlemen having quarreled in the hotel coffee-room, a duel with pistols was arranged to come off on the spot there and then. To the delight of their friends, however, and of the assembled waiters, napkin on arm, they “fired in the air,” that is, through the ceiling, and nearly shot the Englishman in “No. 10” overhead. Very like this “firing in the air” was the conduct of the Irish landords who sent off their pauperized tenantry and cottiers to England and America. “Thanks be to God, they are gone!” was, no doubt, the happy reflection of many a benevolent landlord at this time But gone whither, and to what fate? Gone from possibly burdening or inconveniencing him; but what of the possible burden and inconvenience to the social systems into wh:ch this mass of strange material was thus flung?
“Often as I stood and watched these departing groups I tried to think what it might be that they could do in “the land they were going to.” What were they fit for? Many of them had never seen a town of ten thousand inhabitants; and in a large city, even in their own country, they would be helpless and bewildered as a flock of sheep on a busy highway. What was before them in the midst of London or New York? What impressions would they create in the minds of a strange city people? What species of skill, what branch of industry, did they bring with them, to command employment and insure a welcome? Few of them could read; some of them, accustomed to speak the native Gaelic, knew little of the English tongue. Their rustic manners would expose them to derision, their want of education to contempt, on the part of those who would not know, or pause to consider, that in the hapless land they left, the schoolmaster had been proscribed by law for two hundred years. Wofully were they handicapped.
Nearly everything was against them. Their past ways of life, so far from training them in aught for these new circumstances, in nearly every way unfitted them for the change.
“I speak in all this of the peasant or cottier emigrants. Mingling in the vast throng went thousands, no doubt, who, happily for them as it afterward proved, possessed education, skill, and occasionally moderate means for a start in life on the other side,–members of respectable and once prosperous families that had been ruined in the famine-time. Nay, there sailed in the steerage of the emigrant-ships many a fair young girl, going to face a servant’s lot in a foreign land, who at home had once had servants to attend her every want; and many a fine young fellow ready to engage as groom, who learned that business, so to speak, as a gentleman’s son in the hunting-field. In the cities and towns of Great Britain and America there are to-day hundreds of Irishmen, some having risen to position and fortune, others still toiling on in some humble sphere, who landed on the new shore friendless and forlorn from the wreck of happy and affluent homes.
“But as to the vast bulk of uncultured peasants, victims of this wholesale expulsion, their fate was and could but be deplorable. Landing in such masses, everything around them so strange, so new, and sometimes so hostile, they inevitably herded together, making a distinct colony or “quarter” in the city where they settled. Destitute as they were, their necessities drove them to the lowest and most squalid lanes and alleys of the big towns. At home in their native valleys poverty was free from horrors that mingled with it here, namely, contact with debasing city crime. The children of these wretched emigrants grew up amidst terrible contaminations. The police-court records soon began to show an array oi Celtic patronymics. “The low Irish” grew to be a phrase of scorn in the community around them; and they, repaying scorn with hatred, became, as it were, the Arabs of the place, “their hand against every man’s hand, and every man’s hand against them.”
“This dismal picture, painfully true of many a case a quarter of a century ago, is now happily rare. A brighter and better state of things is rapidly making its appearance. But, for my own part, I can never forget the mournful impressions made upon me.
“The Irish exodus had one awful concomitant, which in the Irish memory of that time fills nearly as large a space as the famine itself. The people, flying from fever-tainted hovel and workhouse, carried the plague with them on board. Each vessel became a floating charnel-house. Day by day the American public was thrilled by the ghastly tale of ships arriving off the harbors reeking with typhus and cholera, the track they had followed across the ocean strewn with the corpses flung overb’oard on the way. Speaking in the House of Commons on the 11th of Feburary, 1848, Mr. Labouchere referred to one year’s havoc on board the ships sailing to Canada and New Brunswick alone in the following words:
“Out of 106,000 emigrants who during the last twelve months crossed the Atlantic for Canada and New Brunswick, 6,100 perished on the voyage, 4,100 on their arrival, 5,200 in the hospitals, and 1,900 in the towns to which they repaired. The total mortality was no less than 17 per cent. of the total number emigrating to those places; the number of deaths being 17,300.”
“In all the great ports of America and Canada, huge quarantine hospitals had to be hastily erected. Into these every day newly-arriving plague-ships poured what survived of their human freight, for whom room was as rapidly made in those wards by the havoc of death. Whole families disappeared betwen land and land, as sailors say. Frequently the adults were swept away, the children alone surviving. It was impossible in every case to ascertain the names of the sufferers, and often all clue to identification was lost. The public authorities, or the nobly humane organizations that had established those lazar-houses, found themselves toward the close of their labors in charge of hundreds of orphan children, of whom names and parentage alike were now impossible to be traced. About eight years ago I was waited upon in Dublin by one of these waifs, now a man of considerable wealth and honorable position. He had come across the Atlantic in pursuit of a purpose to which he is devoting years of his life,–an endeavor to obtain some clue to his family, who perished in one of the great shore hospitals in 1849. Piously he treasures a few pieces of a red-painted emigrant-box, which he believes belonged to his father. Eagerly he travels from place to place in Clare and Kerry and Galway, to see if he may dig from the tomb of that terrible past the secret lost to him, I fear, forever!
“From Grosse Island, the great charnel-house of victimized humanity’ (says the Official Report of the Montreal Emigrant Society for 1847), “up to Port Sarnia, and all along the borders of our magnificent river; upon the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie,–wherever the tide of emigration has extended, are to be found the final resting-places of the sons and daughters of Erin; one unbroken chain of graves, where repose fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, in one commingled heap, without a tear bedewing the soil or a stone marking the spot. Twenty thousand and upward have thus gone down to their graves.”
“I do not know that the history of our time has a parallel for this Irish exodus. The Germans, to be sure, have emigrated in vast numbers, and, like the Irish, seem to form distinct communities where they settle. But many circumstances distinguish the Irish case from any that can be recalled. Other emigrations were, more or less, the gradual and steady overflow of a population cheerfully willing to go. This was the forcible expulsion or panic rush of a stricken people, and was attended by frightful scenes of suffering and death. Irishmen, moreover, feel that their country has not had a chance of fair play, if I may so express it, and especially the one section least likely to impress strangers with favorable and high ideas of Ireland and the Irish.”
“Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark,
Wherever blows the welcome wind;
It cannot lead to scenes more dark,
More sad, than those we leave behind.”
In his sketch already referred to of the events of 1847, J. M. O’Leary says: “The emigration of this year was marked by a depravity, seldom if ever recorded in the shipment of living men. One cannot but remark that the broken down and destitute condition of the greater portion of the class who intended to emigrate from Ireland in 1847 should have warned the Home authorities of the necessity of so regulating their departure, as to ensure some safety in the passage. Instead· of this they had been allowed to ship in numbers out of all proportion to the tonnage of the vessels, that is, in numbers two or three times greater than the same vessel would presume to embark for any port in the United States. The natural, the certain, consequence was a never before heard of mortality on the ocean and misery among the survivors who arrived, almost terrible to enquire into. Such appeared the indifference of commerce to everything but gain that free human beings were the only cargo shipmasters could embark, without some responsibility, for its safe delivery, or guarantee for deficiency, on its arrival at its destined port. Whatever might be the casualties, whether they were landed healthy or sick, or whether half were thrown into the sea, the pounds, shillings and pence were received, for the freight was already paid for, and there was no bill of lading.
“What helped to turn the stream of the poorest class of emigrants to Canada and other of the British provinces was, first, a United States law, limiting the number of persons each passenger vessel should carry, thus increasing the cost of passage, and second, laws were made by the States of New York and Massachusetts, which obliged the master or owner of a vessel bringing passengers, to give bonds that no emigrant brought out by them became chargeable to the State for a period of two years after their arrival.”
Different writers state that the departure of an emigrant cavalcade was a saddening sight. English travellers on Irish railways have sometimtes been startled as the train entered a provincial station to hear a loud wail burst from a dense throng on the platform. While the porters with desperate haste are trundling into the luggage-van numerous painted deal boxes, a wild scene of leave-taking is proceeding. It is an emigrant farewell. The emigrants, weeping bitterly, kiss, over and over, every neighbor and friend, man, woman and child, who has come to see them for the last time. But the keen pang is where some member of the family is departing, leaving the rest to be sent for by him or her out of the first earnings in exile. The husband goes, trusting the wife and little ones to some relative or friend till he can pay their passage out from the other side. Or it is a son or daughter who parts from the old father and mother, and tells them they shall not be long left behind. A deafening wail resounds as the station-bell gives the signal of starting. I have seen gray-haired peasants so clutch and cling to the departing child at this last moment that only the utmost force of three or four friends could tear them asunder. The porters have to use some violence before the train moves off, the crowd so presses against door and window. When at length it moves away, amidst a scene of passionate grief, hundreds run along the fields beside the line to catch yet another glimpse of the friends they shall see no more.
“Where are the swift ships flying
Far to the West away?
Why are the women crying
Far to the West away?
Is our dear land infected,
That thus o’er her bays neglected,
The skiff steals along dejected,
While the ships fly far away?”
HON. THOS. D’ARCY McGEE.
Everything that could convey human beings like so many cattle to the shores of America was pressed into the service of transporting the crowds of Irish exiles from every Irish and many English ports to the New World. In those days all the vessels used for the purpose were sailing ships, which took from one to three months to make a passage across, which is now accomplished in less than a week. Many of these craft were rotten old wooden tubs which had been used in the Canadian lumber trade and the unfortunate emigrants were packed into them like so many herrings in a barrel without any accommodation for the separation of the sexes or the convenience of passengers such as so distinguish even the poorest of modern passenger boats. Is it any wonder, therefore, that that terrible pestilence, the typhus or ship fever, should have broken out on them hardly before they were out of sight of the Irish coast ?
But let us accompany the suffering sons and daughters of old Erin across the Atlantic to Grosse Isle, leaving Stephen E. De Vere to tell the story. He was a nephew of Lord Monteagle and submitted himself to the privations of a steerage passage to Quebec in an emigrant ship for nearly two months in order to make himself personally acquainted with the condition of the emigrant on board.
“Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered man. How can it be otherwise? Hundreds of people, men, women and children, of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of ninety to the babe just born, all huddled together, without light, without air, wallowing in filth, and breathing a fetid atmosphere. The fevered patients are lying between the healthy in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging by a change of position the natural restlessness of the disease,–and by their agonized ravings disturbing those around, and predisposing them through the effects of the imagination to imbibe the contagion,–living without food or medicine except as administered to them by the hand of casual charity,–dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the Church.
“The food is generally unselected and seldom sufficiently cooked, in consequence of the bad construction of the cooking places. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking, does not allow washing. In many ships the filthy beds, teeming with all abominations, are never required to be brought on deck and aired. The narrow space between the sleeping berths and piles of boxes is never washed or scraped, but breathes a damp and fetid stench, until the day before arrival at Quarantine, when all hands are required to scrub up and put on a fair face for the Doctor and Government Inspector. No moral restraint is attempted. The voice of prayer is never heard. Drunkenness, with its train of ruffianly debasement, is not discouraged, because it is profitable to the captain. who sells the grog.”
“It is only fair to state that, while many passengers bitterly complained of the treatment they had received both on the part of the captain and crew, others related with the liveliest satisfaction all that they owed to their kind offices.
“Now the great demand for passages induced many owners of vessels to fit them out, whose captains were ignorant of the means to be taken to preserve the health of their passengers. When fever broke out, they became alarmed for their own safety and would not go into the hold, which, from a neglect of cleanliness, had become a reeking pesthouse, where even those not stricken down were indifferent to all exertion, even to the preservation of life. This apathy was so great, that time and again bodies were allowed to remain for a long time in the bunks, where death ended their troubles, as the passengers and sailors positively declined to remove them, leaving the captain to carry the corpses on his back. Other captains bribed their seamen with a sovereign, to perform this duty, while, in other cases, the dead were dragged out of their bunks with boat-hooks, their nearest relatives refusing to touch them. Yet, as in reproof to those on whom the blame of all this wretchedness fell, Germans, from Hamburg and Bremen, arrived at the Quarantine, all healthy, robust and cheerful.
“On arriving at Grosse Isle, all hands were, summoned on deck to pass the medical inspection, which was slight and hasty. Hardly any questions were asked, but as the doctor walked down the file he selected those for the hospital who did not look well, and after a trivial examination ordered them ashore. This medical inspection was not of daily occurrence, and even, after the first inspection, days passed without a doctor’s visit, although sickness and the number of deaths were daily increasing aboard.
“On the 14th of May, 1874, the first of the fever fleet, the Syria, from Liverpool, reached Grosse Isle, and here it may be said, that almost all the emigrants from Liverpool, Dublin, Cork and Limerick,–Cork and Limerick especially,–were half dead from want and starvation before embarking, and the slightest diarrhoea, which was sure to come with change of food, ended their days without a struggle. Then the weak condition of others before leaving, rendered them unable to bear the fatigue of a voyage, and consequently increased the mortality, especially as few, if any, of the vessels were provided with a doctor. In vessels that had to put back to port by stress of weather, fever had extensively broken out after the first day or two at sea.
“Thirty vessels were anchored at Grosse Isle on the 20th May, 1847. They left port with 12,519 passengers, of whom 777 died at sea, and 459 on board at the island. Neither the sick nor the healthy could be landed, as there was no room for them ashore. In this sad state of affairs, Dr. G. Campbell, of Montreal, and Mr. A. C. Buchanan, Chief Emigrant Agent, at Quebec, commissioned Captain John Wilson, of Quebec, to remove the healthy from the vessels to Montreal, at the rate of $1 a·head. For this purpose, the steamers “Quebec,” “Alliance” and “Queen,” were sent to the island, and on arrival, drew up alongside the vessels, until a sufficient number of passengers were removed. As Doctor Douglas, the medical superintendent at Quarantine, and Mr. Buchanan were suffering from the fever, Captain Wilson, and the few hands who were willing to man his steamers, were left very much to their own resources in dealing with an immense crowd of suffering humanity, who really stood more in need of food than medicine. Acting on instructions received from Dr. Douglas, Captain Wilson and his aides judged by the color of the tongue of the poor emigrant whether he should or should not be left at Grosse Isle. There was no time for a thorough examination, for time meant money, and in this way families were forever separated, husband from wife, parents from children, neighbor from neighbor, and friend from friend.
“Abroad as at home, our people bore their sufferings with the greatest patience. For six months, famine had swept through the length and breadth of the old land. Then came pestilence, followed by their seeking exile in an overcrowded, uncleanly, and deadly emigrant ship, and now came the last earthly separation. They were taught by their pastors the duty of submission, and they exhibited to the whole world an example without a parallel in history. In reply to expressions of commiseration, the starving peasant would exclaim “Welcome to the will of God” and now as the steamer slowly moved away, bearing on its deck their nearest and dearest, they bowed to the divine will.
“When the sad and broken hearted ones left Grosse Isle, they were literally crammed on board the steamer, exposed to the cold night air or the burning sun, (and the summer of ’47 was decidedly hot), and in this condition the most robust constitution gave way to an unbroken series of hardships. The provinces of Quebec and Ontario learned to their cost the fatal consequence of allowing emigrants to leave Quarantine without a sufficient sanitary probation, as well as the effect of having 800, 900, 1,000 and even 1,400 persons in a state of uncleanliness and debility, to be huddled, in some cases for forty-eight hours, on the deck of a steamer between Grosse Isle and Montreal.
“In a tour which I made through Upper Canada, I met in every quarter some of my poor wandering fellow-country-people. Travelling from Prescott to Bytown, by stage, I saw a poor woman with an infant in her arms, and a child pulling at her skirt, and crying as they went along. The driver compassionately took them up, and the wayfarer wept her thanks. She had lost her husband upon the voyage and was going to Bytown to her brother, who came out the previous year, and having made some money by lumbering in the woods, remitted to her the means of joining him; she told her sad tale most plaintively, and the passengers all sympathized with her. The road being of that description called “corduroy,” and the machine very crazy, the latter broke down within five miles of our destination, and as she was unable to carry her two children, the poor creature was obliged to remain upon the road all the night. She came into Bytown the following morning, and I had the satisfaction to learn that she found her brother.
“A large proportion of the emigrants who arrived in Canada crossed the frontiers, in order to settle in the United States. So that they were to be seen in the most remote places. At St. Catherine’s, upon the Welland Canal, 600 miles from Quebec, I saw a family, who were on their way to the western part of the State of New York. One of them was taken ill, and they were obliged to remain by the wayside; with nothing but a few boards to protect them from the weather. There is no means of learning how many of the survivors of so many ordeals were cut off by the inclemency of a Canadian winter, so that the grand total of the human sacrifice will never be known but by “Him who knoweth all things.” The following quotation from England’s most popular writer, Charles Dickens, is apposite, and would that his suggestions uttered five years before the commencement of the tragic drama in Ireland and Canada had been attended to in time: if they had, much evil would have been spared humanity. In his “American Notes,” Dickens said:
“The whole system of shipping and conveying these unfortunate persons is one that stands in need of thorough revision. If any class deserve to be protected and assisted by the government, it is that class who are banished from their native land in search of the bare means of subsistence. All that could be done for those poor people by the great compassion and humanity of the captains and officers, was done, but they required much more. The law is bound, at least upon the English side, to see that too many of them are not put on board one ship; and that their accommodations are decent, not demoralizing and profligate. It is bound, too, in common humanity, to declare that no man shall be taken on board without his stock of provisions being previously inspected by some proper officer, and pronounced moderately sufficient for his support upon the voyage. It is bound to provide, or to require that there be provided a medical attendant; whereas in these ships there are none, though sickness of adults and deaths of children on the passage are matters of the very commonest occurrence. Above all, it is the duty of any government, be it monarchy or republic, to interpose and put an end to that system by which a firm of traders in emigrants purchase of the owners the whole ‘tween-decks of a ship, and send on board as many wretched people as they can get hold of on any terms they can get, without the smallest reference to the ·conveniences of the steerage, the number of berths, the slightest separation of the sexes, or anything but their own immediate profit. Nor is this the worst of the vicious system; for certain. crimping agents of these houses, who have a percentage on all the passengers they inveigle, are constantly travelling about those districts where poverty and discontent are rife, and tempting the credulous into more misery, by holding out monstrous inducements to emigration which never can be realized.”
“Immediately a place
Before his eyes appeared, sad, noisome, dark,
A lazar-house it seem’d; wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseased; all maladies of ghastly spasm
Or racking torture, qualms
Of heart-sick agony, all feverous kinds,
Marasmas and wide-wasting pestilence.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: Despair
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch;
And over them triumphant Death his dart
Shook, but delay’d to strike, though oft invok’d
With vows, as their chief good, and final hope.
Sight so deform what heart of rock could long
The Canadian authorities were hardly less remiss than the Brittsh in preparations to meet the terrible emergency before them; although they had equally received ample warning of it. In 1846, Dr. Douglas, the medical superintendent at Grosse Isle, had repeatedly urged them to get ready for what was coming. The British, Irish, American and Canadian newspapers had almost daily reported and commented on the alarming progress which the famine and pestilence were making in Ireland, so that they could not plead ignorance of the ominous outlook or of the fact that the emigration from the Green Isle to Canada in 1847 would be on a very large scale. Early in that year Mr. Robert Christie, the historian, then a leading member of the Provincial Parliament, wrote to the Provincial Secretary, Hon. Dominick Daly, complaining of the Government’s inexcusable failure to take proper and necessary precautions and pointing out the great danger to which the country would be exposed, together with the measures to be adopted to avert it. Reverend Father Moylan, the Catholic missionary at Grosse Isle in those days, also gave timely forewarning to the Government with respect to the gravity of the situation, and it was upon his urgent recommendation that, later, when the crisis was on, the available police force to keep order on the island was increased by so men of the 93rd Regiment, under Lieut. Studdard, sent down from Quebec.
But all the signs and the warnings of the coming storm were virtually unheeded until it was practically too late. The only additions made to the Quarantine establishment were through the purchase of so bedsteads, double the quantity of straw used in former years and the erection of a new shed or building to serve as an hospital and to contain 6o more beds. In this way provision, including the old hospitals and sheds dating from 1832, was made for only 200 sick, the average of former years never having attained half that number requiring admission at one time. How utterly inadequate this was, the alarming sequel soon showed.
But, while there was little or no excuse for the failure of the British authorities to have risen equal to the great emergency, there was certainly a good deal for that of their Canadian colleagues. At that time the British North American provinces were comparatively new and poor, carrying on a struggling existence and possessing little means or few resources that were then available. Their political and social organization was yet in a more or less primitive and chaotic state, and, as already seen, they were also divided among themselves by conflicting opinions as to the gravity of the danger and the steps to be taken to avert or meet it. However, they were very soon brought face to face with it in all its hideousness and scarcely a month had elapsed after the opening of navigation in 1847, when a session of the Provincial Parliament was hurriedly called and held in Montreal, a select committee was appointed to inquire into the situation, and a Commission was also appointed consisting of Drs. Painchaud, of Quebec, and McDonnell and Campbell, of Montreal, to investigate the character and amount of sickness prevailing among the emigrants at Grosse Isle and the best mode to be adopted to arrest the disease and prevent its dissemination, with full powers to make all such changes on the island as they thought proper.
The Commissioners reported. Of the sick in the hospitals, sheds and tents, they said: “We found these unfortunate people in the most deplorable condition for want of necessary nurses and hospital attendants; their friends who had partially recovered being in too many instances unable and, in most, unwilling, to render them any assistance, common sympathies being apparently annihilated by the mental and bodily depression produced by famine and disease. At our inspection of many of the vessels, we witnessed some appalling instances of what we have now stated–corpses lying in the same beds with the sick and the dying, the healthy not taking the trouble to remove them.”
Immediate steps were taken by the Commissioners for affording temporary shelter on the island, by means of spars and sails borrowed from the ships and the putting up of shanties for the accommodation of the healthy.
What pen can fittingly describe the horrors of that shocking summer at Grosse Isle? All the eye-witnesses, all the writers on the subject, agree in saying that they have never been surpassd in pathos, as well as in hideousness and ghastliness. In a few months one of the most beautiful spots on the St. Lawrence was converted into a great lazar and charnel-house to be forever sanctified by the saddest memories of an unhappy race. In speaking of the fever sheds, Mr. De Vere says: “They were very miserable, so slightly built as to exclude neither the heat nor cold. No sufficient care was taken to remove the sick from the sound or to disinfect and clean the beddings. The very straw upon which they had lain was often allowed to become a bed for their successors and I have known many poor families prefer to burrow under heaps of loose stones, near the shore, rather than accept the shelter of the infected sheds.”
Captain, afterwards Admiral Boxer, of Crimean fame, stated that there was nothing more terrible than the sheds. Most of the patients were attacked with dysentery and the smell was dreadful, as there was no ventilation.
Fathers Moylan and O’Reilly saw the emigrants in the sheds lying on the bare boards and ground for whole nights and days without either bed or bedding. Two, and sometimes three, were in a berth. No distinction was made as to sex, age or nature of illness. Food was insufficient and the bread not baked. Patients were supplied three times a day with tea, gruel or broth. How any of them ever recovered is a wonder. Father O’Reilly visited two ships, the “Avon” and the “Triton.” The former lost 136 passengers on the voyage and the latter 93. All these were thrown overboard and buried in the Atlantic. He administered the last rites to over 200 sick on board these ships. Father Moylan’s description of the condition of the holds of these vessels is simply most revolting and horrible.
As for the dead, who were not buried at sea, it has been already seen how they were taken from the pest ships and corded like fire-wood on the beach to await burial. In many instances the corpses were carried out of the foul smelling holds or they were dragged with boat-hooks out of them by sailors and others who had to be paid a sovereign for each.
A word more as to the removal of the corpses from the vessels: They were brought from the hold, where the darkness was, as it were, rendered more visible by the miserable untrimmed oil lamp that showed light in some places sufficient to distinguish a form, but not a face. It was more by touch than by sight that the passengers knew each other. First came the touch and then the question, who is it? Even in the bunks many a loved one asked the same question to one by his or her side, for in the darkness that reigned their eyesight was failing them.
When the priest, leaving daylight and sunlight behind, as each step from deck led him down the narrow ladder into the hold of the vessels of those days, as wanting in ventilation as the Black Hole of Calcutta, he had to make himself known, and your poor Irish emigrant, with the love and reverence he had for his clergy, who stuck to him through thick and thin, endeavored to raise himself and warmly greet him with the little strength that remained.
Another death was announced on board, but no thrill, or excitement was caused the news, among the seamen or passengers. As for the latter they had seen death by the road-side at home–they had seen their best and bravest fall “like leaves in wintry weather,” at home and abroad, and thy were prepared at any time for the inevitable. With them there was no fear, no shrinking from death, no longing for life. All the hopes they ever had of success on earth were crushed forever, and their hopes now were beyond the grave–hopes with which their cherished religion inspired them.
Another death announced, orders were given by the captain for the removal of the body. Kind hands in many cases attended to this. In other cases, as we have seen, it was left to strangers. Up the little narrow ladder to the deck, were the corpses borne in the same condition in which they died, victims among other things of filth, uncleanliness and bed sores, and with hardly any clothing on them. There was no pretence of decency or the slightest humanity shown.
On deck a rope was placed around the emaciated form of the Irish peasant, father, mother, wife and husband, sister and brother. The rope was hoisted and with their heads and naked limbs dangling for a moment in mid-air, with the wealth of hair of the Irish maiden, or young Irish matron, or the silvered locks of the poor old Irish grandmother floating in the breeze, they were finally lowered over the ship’s side into the boats, rowed to the island and left on the rocks until such time as they were coffined. Well might His Grace the Archbishop of Quebec, in his letter to the Bishops of Ireland, say that the details he received of the scenes of horror and desolation at the island almost staggered belief and baffled description.
There was no delay in burying the dead. The spot selected for their last resting place was a lonely one at the western end of the island at about ten acres from the landing. At first the graves were not dug a sufficient depth. The rough coffins were piled one over the other and the earth covering the upper row, in some instances, was not more than a foot deep and generally speaking about a foot and a half. The cemetery was about 6 acres in extent. Later huge trenches were dug in it about 5 or 6 feet deep and in these the bodies were laid often uncoffined. Six men were kept constantly employed at this work.
Bechard, in his history of the island, adds a new horror to the ghoulish scene. He states that an army of rats, which had come ashore from the fever ships, invaded the field of death, took possession of it and pierced it with innumerable holes to get at and gnaw the bodies buried in the shallow graves until hundreds of loads of earth had to be carted and placed upon them.
At first–says the late J. M. O’Leary–the sick were placed in the hospitals, while the seemingly healthy were sent to the sheds, but emigrants were continually arriving who were left for days and nights without a bed under them, or a cover over them, wasting and melting away under the united influence of fever and dysentery, without any one to give them a drink during their long hours of raging thirst and terrible sufferings. For want of beds and bedding, for want of attendants, hundreds of poor creatures, after a long voyage, consumed by confinement and hunger, thirst and disease, were compelled to spend the long, long nights and sultry days, lying on the hard boards, without a pillow under their burning heads, without a hand to moisten their parched lips, or fevered brows, and what was the result?–they who, by a little providential precaution, and ordinary care, might have been restored to their large, helpless families and distracted relations, were hurried away in a few hours to their premature and unhonored graves, while those who should at once have provided for their salvation, at any cost and sacrifice, were higgling about the means. What encouragement was it for a young professional man to expose himself to almost certain death for the paltry remuneration of 17 shillings and 6 pence a day held out to those who tendered their services? What could be hoped for or expected from nurses who were willing to spend their nights and days in a fever hospital for three shillings a day.
In the sheds were double tiers of bunks, the upper one about three feet above the lower. As the planks of the former were not placed close together, the filth from the sick fell upon those in the lower tier who were too weak to move. Filth was thus allowed to accumulate, and with so vast a crowd of fever cases in one place, and with no ventilation, generated a miasma so virulent and concentrated that few who came within its poisonous atmosphere escaped. Clergy, doctors, hospital attendants, servants, and police, fell ill one after the other and not a few of them succumbed. A number 0f the captains, officers and crews of the pest ships also died at Grosse Isle and some of the vessels were so decimated of these during the voyage across and so short-handed, that it is a wonder how they ever reached the island.
Oftentimes there were two and sometimes three in a bed, without any distinction of age, sex, or nature of illness. Corpses remained all night in the places where death occurred, even when there was a companion in the same bed, while the bodies that had been brought from the ships were piled like cordwood on the beach, without any covering over them, until such time as they were coffined. In the midst of this fierce Canadian summer, thousands of sick kept pouring into Grosse Isle. Not a drop of fresh water was to be found on the island, no lime juice, no clean straw even to protect the patients from the wet ground in the tents, while, in the beginning of July, with the thermometer at 98° in the shade, hundreds were landed from the ships and thrown rudely, by the infeeling crews, on the burning rocks, and there they remained whole nights and days without shelter of any kind.
And as if this terrible, almost incredible state of affairs was not sufficient, outside the hospitals no order was observed. The very police, who were appointed to maintain order, were the first to set an example of drunkenness and immorality. Is it to be wondered at then that great difficulty was experienced in retaining honest nurses or attendants, who had a reputation to sustain? On those days of the week, when the opportunity of leaving the island was offered by the arrival of the steamer from Quebec, a great number of servants insisted upon their discharge, but such applications were firmly refused, unless the applicant could produce a substitute. It is hardly necessary to say that many, so retained against their will, neglected their duty to the sick, and sought by every means to provoke their dismissal. ·
Nurses were obliged to occupy a bed in the midst of the sick, and had no private apartment where they could change their clothing. Their food was the same as was given to the emigrant, and had to be taken, in haste, amid the effluvia of the sheds, and in this way, they were frequently infected with fever. When they fell sick, they were left to themselves.
The report of these melancholy events, magnified by rumor, circulated in Quebec to such an extent that none were willing to expose themselves to a fate which seemed to wait on those who had the care of the sick. What happened? The door of the common jail was thrown open, and its loathsome inmates were sent to Grosse Isle to nurse the pure, helpless Irish youth.
“The Ides of March are come.
Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”
From the opening of the Quarantine Station in May to its closing at the end of October, there was no change in the heartrending tale of misery and suffering. Vessels arrived daily with their cargo of sick, and in autumn, as in summer, unless some person, through kindness, for it was no one’s business, brought a priest on board, the emigrant was allowed to die in sight of his clergy, without the supreme consolation of an Irish Catholic,–the last rites of his Church.
By the end of August, when thousands were resting in their graves, a number of sheds, affording room for upwards of 3,000 sick, were finished and the sick were removed from the tents to them, while on Sunday, the 12th of September, the Catholic and Protestant churches, which had been used as hospitals, were reopened for divine service.
Quarantine closed on the 28th of October, as no more passenger vessels were expected, but on Sunday, the 7th of November, as the people from Diamond Harbor, Quebec, were on the road to St. Patrick’s church, they noticed a vessel coming up the river, which turned out to be the “Richard Watson” from Sligo, with 165 passengers, one-fourth of whom were males, and the remainder women and children, all from the Irish estates of Lord Palmerston. As a fit ending to the sad emigration of this season, a more destitute, helpless lot never landed in Canada,penniless, and in rags, without shoes or stockings, without even straw to cover the boards of their bunks. When the Health Officer at Quebec, Dr. Parent, visited the ship, he noticed three poor children, the youngest about 2 years of age, sitting on the deck, altogether naked,–huddled together, and shivering with the cold (for winter had already set in), with a small piece of blanket thrown over them, while the widowed mother sat by without a copper in her possession. In another place I noticed a young woman whose only article of clothing was made out of the canvas of a biscuit-bag. In fact, in more cases than one, the biscuit-bag was turned to that use. As for the men, their shreds of clothing were held
Martyrs! who left for our reaping
Truths you had sown in your blood–
Sinners! whom long years of weeping
Chastened from evil to good.
* * * * *
Say, through what region enchanted
Walk ye, in Heaven’s sweet air?
Say, to what spirits ’tis granted,
Bright souls to dwell with you there?
According to the official returns, the number of emigrants, who died in 1847 at sea and at Grosse Isle, was as follows:–4,092 at sea, 1,190 on board of ship at Grosse Isle and 3,389 in Grosse Isle. Little reliance, however, can be placed in these as in most other official statistics. Other and more reliable reports declare that the total number of the dead and buried on Grosse Isle alone exceeded 10,000; while there is reason to believe that the total mortality among the Irish emigrants there and elsewhere in Canada amounted to over 25,000, to which must be added the numerous deaths caused by the spread of the pestilence from them among the Canadian clergy, medical profession and people.
For instance, Dr. Douglas, the medical superintendent, estimated at 8,000 the number who died and were buried at sea in 1847, while the decaying monu- ment in the graveyard at Grosse Isle, which is all that has remained since that terrible year to mark it, erected by him and eighteen other medical officers on duty there during that year, places at 5,424 the number of bodies interred in it; and the inscription on the great boulder that marked the last resting place of the emigrant victims at Point St. Charles, Montreal, claims that 6,000 more were buried there. On its different sides, the old memorial stone at Grosse Isle, erected by Dr. Douglas and his colleagues, bears the following inscriptions:
On its eastern face :
“In this secluded spot, lie the mortal remains of 5,424 persons who, flying from pestilence and famine in Ireland, in the year 1847, found, in America, but a grave.”
On the southern face :
“To the memory of Dr. Benson, of Dublin, who died in this hospital on the 27th May, 1847;
Dr. Alexandre Pinet, of Varennes, died on 24th July, 1847.
Dr. Alfred Malhiot, of Vercheres, died on the 22nd July, 1847.
Dr. John Jameson, of Montreal, died on the 2nd August, 1847, aged 34
These gentlemen were assistant medical officers of this hospital and all died of typhus fever contracted in the faithful discharge of their duty upon the sick.”
“To the memory of Alfred Panet, medical officer of this establishment, who died of cholera, July, 1834.
Dr. Robert Christie, medical assistant, who died of typhus in this hospital, on the 2nd of July, 1837.”
And looking west:
“Erected by Dr. Geo. M. Douglas, medical superintendent, and eighteen medical officers on duty in 1847·”
On the other hand, the entries at the port of Quebec for 1847 show 98,821 emigrant arrivals, of whom 8,691 were admitted to the quarantine hospital, 8,639 of these having the fever and 51 the smallpox. Died of the fever, 3,227; of the smallpox, 12, which would leave a total of 5,453 discharged as cured.
Bechard claims, however, that the discrepancy betwen the figure on the monument and that shown by the customs’ entries and amounting to 2,186 less in the latter case, is easily explained by the fact that hundreds of the sufferers died after leaving the ships for the shore and before they could undergo proper medical examination and that, delirium being one of the symptoms of typhoid fevers, a great many others, on landing, made their escape to the woods on the island, where they died and were buried on the spots where they had breathed their last, the finders subsequently of their remains being afraid to remove them. He, therefore, with most of the survivors of that trying time, places the total deaths and burials not only in the cemetery, but all over the island, at 12,000, while to these must be added 189 more who were passengers on the ill-fated emigrant ship “Carrick,” which was lost with them off Cape Rosier on the voyage. In the same connection, J. M. O’Leary says:
“What was the character of the emigration? The emptying of poor-houses and hospitals, the shipment of the starving, the penniless and the fever-stricken, not in small numbers, but in multitudes, crammed on board of ship, as if they were beasts, uncared for as to food and medicine, and their prospects upon landing in Canada altogether left to that chance assistance which Government aid or private benevolence could supply. And what was the result? 4,192 died at sea ; 1,190 died on board of ship at Grosse Isle; 3,389 died in Grosse Isle; 712 died in the Marine Hospital at Quebec; 5,330 died at Point St. Charles, Montreal; 71 died in St. John, N.B.; 130 died at Lachine; 863 died in Toronto, and 3,048 in other places in Ontario–16,825 out of an emigration of 97,953, though I feel confident the mortality was far greater. However, I have given official figures.
“In their temporary sojourn in Canada the Irish emigrants fresh from the fever sheds of Grosse Isle, scattered pestilence and death far and wide, depriving society of some of its best, its most valuable and its most cherished members.
“Such conduct on the part of the landlords of Ireland, in sending them out, was most cruel to the emigrants themselves, rendering most bitter the last sorrows of a shortened life, by casting them out from their native soil to die at sea or in a distant land.
“Quebec and Ontario were not alone in the infliction of indigent and diseased emigration, so recklessly forced upon them, for each and all of the colonies suffered more or less from those causes.
“In New Brunswick, for example, upwards of 15,000 emigrants landed at St. John. They comprised aged and worn-out people, widows and orphans, sent off at the expense of their former landlords to relieve their estates from supporting them.
“According to official returns the number of passengers that sailed for Quebec was as follows:
“It has been acknowledged that the money left by emigrants who died without relatives in Grosse Isle from the 16th May to the 21st October, 1847, amounted to upwards of £829 sterling, varying in sums from 2 1/2d. to £129. In some cases the money was returned to their relatives in Ireland, or in different parts of Canada. In other cases it was used for the orphans of the deceased. But there is no doubt that a good deal more money belonging to the dead or sick emigrants was never acknowledged, as it was appropriated by unscrupulous nurses and orderlies.
“There also remained unclaimed two hundred and four boxes and trunks, a large number of feather beds, and a great quantity of wearing apparel. “We come now to the number of clergymen, doctors, hospital attendants and others who contracted the fever and died in 1847 while in attendance on the sick emigrants at Grosse Isle.”
Of the 26 doctors employed on the island during the fever period, 22 sickened and 4 died; of the 29 hospital stewards, 21 sickened and 3 died; of the 10 police, 8 were attacked by the fever and 3 died, and of the 186 nurses, orderlies and cooks, 76 contracted the disease and 22 died. The carters engaged to remove the sick, the dying and the dead, furnished 2 victims, while the clerks, bakers and other servants and officials supplied 4 more.
“Man’s inhumanity to man makes
countless thousands mourn.”
It would take infinitely more space than can be disposed of to reproduce the names of the Irish emigrants who fell victims to the pestilence and were buried at sea or at Grosse Isle, not to speak at all of those who died in Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto and elsewhere in Canada. But anyone anxious or curious to see and consult the sad lists can do so by referring to the Quebec newspapers of 1847, the Gazette, Mercury and Chronicle, from May to the end of December, as well as the Montreal and Toronto papers of the same period. Whole columns and even pages of the Quebec papers, especially, will be found filled with the names of the dead compiled from the reports of the different shipmasters on arrival and the official weekly returns from the hospitals at Grosse Isle. It is well, however, to note that too much reliance cannot be placed on these statistics. They are unquestionably far from complete and far from accurate. Many of the names are clearly given incorrectly, while there is a multitude of the victims, whose names are declared to be unknown, their relatives, friends or acquaintances, who could have identified them, having probably been all swept away by the plague. The general reader, however, can form an idea of the terrible death rate and the burials at sea from the following reports handed in by some of the shipmasters:
As showing the reckless way in which the flying emigrants were crammed into the holds of ships altogether inadequate to receive and accommodate their numbers, the following figures of the number carried by a few of the principal vessels sailing from Irish and British ports to Quebec in 1847 are suggestive:
From Limerick.–Nerio, 132; Jessie, 479; Mary, 101; Bryan Abbs, 185; Ann, 119; Primrose, 334; Celesta, 199; Ninian, 258.
From Dublin.–Perseverance, 310; Wandsworth, 531.
From Belfast.–Lord Sea ton, 299; Caithness, 240; Chieftain, 245; Lady Gordon, 206; W. Pirrie, 414.
From Cork.–Scotland, 563; Urania, 199; Agnes, 437; Tottenham, 228; Bee, 373; Ganges, 410; John Francis, 253; Try Again, 184.
From Waterford.–Thistle, 166.
From New Ross.–Standard, 363.
From Sligo.–Wolfville, 309
From Plymouth.–Spermaceti, 252.
From Liverpool.–John Bolton, 580; Clarendon, 286; George, 394; Phoenix, 276; Burnace, 370; Lotus, 535; Achilles, 413; Blonde, 427; Loothaut, 428, Sisters, 508, &c., &c.
“What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.”
HAMLET, ACT II.
In every section of the British North American Provinces, repeated remonstrances were published, but without effect, against the iniquitous system of transferring to their shores the needy, the sick, the helpless, and the aged. On the 25th of June the Parliament of Canada besought the Queen’s interference, “under the affliction with which this land has been visited, and is still further threatened, not to permit the helpless, the starving, the sick and diseased, unequal, and unfit as they are to face the hardships of a settler’s life, to embark for these shores, which if they reach, they reach in too many instances, only to find a grave.” At this time the Emigration Department was under the control of the British Government.
Earl Grey, as Colonial Secretary, acknowledged to the Governor·General, Lord Elgin, the receipt of the petition, and promised that it would receive “serious consideration.” “In the meantime,” he added, “I have to direct Your Lordship’s attention to the importance of enforcing the strictest economy in affording such assistance to the emigrants as may be absolutely necessary, and of not losing sight of the danger that the grant of such assistance, if not strictly guarded, may have the effect of inducing the emigrants to relax their exertions to provide for themselves.”
On the 1st of December, 1847, Earl Grey wrote a letter to Lord Elgin, in which he stated that he purposely deferred answering his despatches of the 28th of June, and 13th July, on the subject of the immigration to Canada, until the termination of the season for emigration had enabled him to review all that had taken place during its progress. Among other things, he said: “I need scarcely assure Your Lordship that the calamities as described in your despatches, and in the public journals of the colony, have caused to us most sincere and lively sorrow, but upon looking back at the melancholy history of these sufferings, it is at least some consolation to us to reflect that they do not appear to have been produced, or aggravated by our measures, or by our having neglected any precautions that it was in our power to adopt.”
In the next paragraph can be traced the doings of the Irish landlord:
“It is no slight gratification to us, now, to remember that strongly as we were urged, in the beginning of the present year, to take measures for carrying emigration from Ireland to a much greater extent than that to which it could naturally attain, and to increase the multitudes who flocked unaided to America, by providing, at the public expense, for the conveyance across the Atlantic of a large additional number of those who were anxious thus to fly from distress in Ireland, we steadily refused to do this, and abstained from giving any artificial stimulus to the tide of emigration, while, at the same time, we took such precautions as were in our power to investigate as far as possible the sufferings to which we foresaw that even this spontaneous emigration would most probably give rise.”
In treating of the question of restraining emigration, he said, “it would have been practically impossible, and, if possible, it would have been inhuman and unjust to have interfered by an exercise of the authority of the Legislature, or of the Executive Government, to detain at home the multitudes, who, during the past year, have endeavoured to escape from misery and starvation by emigration from Ireland to America; and also, that the emigration of so large a number of persons, who had, previously suffered so severely from the consequences of that visitation with which it pleased Providence to afflict us, inevitably led to the breaking out of disease which could not be prevented from spreading itself, from the emigrants to the inhabitants of the colonies to which they flocked.”
In the same letter Earl Grey reminds the Governor-General that should the Parliament of Canada pass a law respecting emigration, “the regulations should not, by their severity, throw needless obstructions in the way of intercourse between the Queen’s dominions on this and on the opposite side of the Atlantic, which is of the utmost importance to both.
“With regard, therefore, to any bill for the regulation of emigrant ships, which may be tendered for your acceptance by the other branches of the Provincial Legislature, it will be your duty to carefully consider its provisions before you assent to it, and to decline doing so if you should judge that it is of too injurious a character.”
On the 9th June, 1847, His Grace the Archbishop of Quebec, Joseph Signai, addressed a letter to the hierarchy of Ireland, telling each one that, “the voice of religion and humanity imposes on me the sacred and imperative duty of exposing to Your Lordship the dismal fate that awaits thousands of the unfortunate children of Ireland who come to seek in Canada an asylum from the countless evils afflicting them in their native land.
“Already a considerable number of vessels overloaded with emigrants from Ireland have arrived in the waters of the St. Lawrence. During the passage, many of them, weakened beforehand by misery and starvation, have contracted fatal diseases, and the greater part have thus become the victims of an untimely death. This was but the result of their precarious situation. Crowded in the holds of the vessels, unable to strictly adhere to the rules of cleanliness, breathing constantly a putrid atmosphere, and relying frequently for nourishment upon insufficient and very bad provisions, it was morally impossible to escape, safe and sound, from so many causes of destruction.
“Anchoring at Grosse Isle, about thirty miles below Quebec, where they are compelled to perform quarantine, the trans-Atlantic vessels are mostly infected with sick and dying emigrants. Last week more than two thousand patients were detained at the station, of whom more than a half had to remain on board,–in some cases abandoned by their friends,–spreading contagion among the healthy passengers who were confined in the vessels, and exhibiting the heartrending spectacle of a mortality three times greater than what prevailed on shore. Already more than a thousand human beings have been consigned to their eternal rest in the Catholic cemeteries, precursors of thousands who will join them there if the stream of emigration from Ireland continues to flow in the same abundance.
“One Catholic clergyman alone, in ordinary circumstances, ministered to the spiritual wants of the quarantine station, but this year the services of even seven at a time have heen indispensably required to afford to the dying emigrants the last rites and consolations of their cherished religion.
“Two of these gentlemen are actually lying on the bed of sickness from the extreme fatigues they have undergone, and the fever they have contracted in visiting the infected vessels and the hospitals on the island, to accomplish the duties of their sacred ministry and gladden the last moments of the Irish emigrants.
“The details we receive of the scenes of horror and desolation of which the chaplains are daily witnesses, almost stagger belief and baffle description. Most despairingly and immeasurably do they affect us, as the available means are totally inadequate to apply an effectual remedy to such awful calamities. Many of the unfortunate emigrants, who escape from Grosse Isle in good health, pay tribute to the prevailing disease either at Quebec or Montreal, and overcrowd the hospitals of these two cities, where temporary buildings are erected for the reception of a great number without still affording sufficient accommodation. Amid the present confusion we have had neither leisure nor opportunity to ascertain the number of orphans and families that are thrown for support on public charity.
“I deem it also necessary to mention that those who have escaped from the fatal influence of disease are far from realizing, on their arrival here, the ardent hopes they so fondly cherished of meeting with unspeakable comfort and prosperity on the banks of the St. Lawrence. To attain so desirable an end they should possess means, which the greater number have not, and which cannot be rendered available and efficacious, unless emigration be conducted on a more diminished scale.
“I submit these facts to your consideration that Your Lordship may use every endeavour to dissuade your diocesans from emigrating in such numbers to Canada, where they will but too often meet with either a premature death or a fate not less deplorable than the heartrending condition under which they groan in their unhappy country. Your Lordship will thus open their eyes to their true interests and prevent the honest, religious and confiding Irish peasantry from being the victims of speculation, and falling into irretrievable errors and irreparable calamities.”
On the 12th July, 1847, the Earl of Enniskillen, after reading the above letter at the session of the House of Lords, said he was disposed to apprehend that the Government of Canada had, to a certain extent, been taken by surprise by the influx of emigrants, and he wished to know the views of the Government in the matter.
Earl Grey grieved to say that it was true the Government had received accounts of most deplorable sufferings endured by the emigrants. He had anticipated that this would be the case, and his anticipation had unfortunately turned out to be correct. A large number of the emigrants having endured, during the previous winter, extreme suffering, the consequence was that though the ships that carried them out were quite as well provided as emigrant ships usually were, the mere change of life, combined with their weakened state, had been productive of fever. Acordingly, on arriving in the St. Lawrence, it was found necessary that they should be detained in a quarantine station. Lord Elgin lost not a moment in adopting the most prompt and energetic measures to meet the evil, having been already warned by him (Grey) that evils of this kind were likely to arise. Application was made by Lord Elgin to the Ordnance Department, and tents for the use of 10,000 persons were got ready, and means taken to erect sheds for their accommodation. A large number of additional medical officers were also engaged to render assistance. In short, all that human skill, or art could effect for the relief of these unhappy persons was put into requisition. Measures of precaution had likewise been taken in advance, the usual vote for assisting emigrants having been greatly increased; and Lord Elgin had been instructed, in full confidence, that Parliament would, under the circumstances, acquiesce in the arrangement to take all the measures best calculated to mitigate the sufferings of the emigrant, by providing increased medical attendance and greater accommodation, even if, for that purpose, it was necessary to exceed the amount of the vote granted by Parliament for that attendance. He trusted that the advice which had been given by the Reverend Prelate, to whose letter the noble Lord had referred, might not have the effect of discouraging and checking emigration in future years, because the sufferings to which the emigrant had recently been subjected were undoubtedly to be traced entirely to the consequence of the distress which had operated in Ireland.”
The advice given from this side of the Atlantic was too late for action, for by the time it reached home, many a once happy homestead was deserted and its inmates beyond recall.
But, if the Imperial Government was primarily responsible for the terrible infliction on Canada in 1847, it tried to make financial reparation for that responsibility by paying all or most of the cost of the establishment of the Grosse Isle quarantine and its expenses during the epidemic. This cost amounted to over $1,000,000 and included the medical relief of the sick, the support and inland transport of the destitute, hospital buildings and expenses, provisions to destitute healthy emigrants in detention, and expenses of the medical commission, etc. But the Canadian Government and the local authorities in Lower and Upper Canada had also to bear a heavy share of the burthen.
“Who, in the winter’s night,
When the cold blast did bite,
Came to my cabin door,
And, on the earthen floor,
Knelt by me, sick and poor,
No pen can do, adequate justice to the remarkable zeal, the noble heroism, the wonderful self-sacrifice, and the admirable devotedness to duty of the Canadian clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, during the terrible ordeal of 1847· In the sacred cause of religion and humanity, they faced death like true soldiers of the Cross and to many a poor suffering mortal they brought supreme consolation in his last agony. They also labored unceasingly to succor the physical wants of the fever patients and relieve their physical distress, and the hard fate of many an unfortunate victim was alleviated by their loving care and their sacred ministrations. No one, who does not properly understand the Irish character and Irish traditions, can properly appreciate what all this meant to the sick and dying refugees on Grosse Isle. The names of these good Samaritans, of these worthy Levites, deserve, therefore, to be emblazoned in undying lustre on the roll of fame. Not a few of them fell victims themselves to the dreadful contagion, while a still larger number caught it and were carried almost to death’s door by it, but happily survived.
In the darkest hour of their affliction, the Irish Catholic emigrants at Grosse Isle found true friends in the Irish and French Catholic missionary priests, who volunteered to go to their relief and, if it was God’s will, to also die with them and for them.
The honor list included William Wallace Moylan, Bernard McGauran, James C. McDevitt, Pierre Telesphore Sax, James Nelligan, C. Z. Rousseau, Antoine Campeau, Hugh Robson, Jos. Bailey, L. Provancher, Michel Forgoes, Thos. Caron, N. Belanger, L. A. Proulx, Hugh McGuirk, James McDonnell, Luc Trahan, P. H. Jean, J. B. A. Ferland (the Canadian historian), John Harper, F. S. Bardy, Ed. Montminy, Bernard O’Reilly (afterwards Mgr. O’Reilly, of New York, a celebrated preacher and litterateur), L. A. Dupuis, J. B. Perras, Moise Duguay, Maxime Tardif, Michael Kerrigan, J. C. O’Grady, Elzear Alexandre Taschereau (afterwards Archbishop of Quebec and the first Canadian Cardinal), Edward John Horan (afterwards Bishop of Kingston, Ont.), P. Beaumont, W. Dunn, E. Payment, E. Halle, J. H. Dorion, Hugh Paisley, C. Tardif, A. Lebel, P. Gariepy, Godfroy Tremblay, L. S. Malo, Pierre Roy and Michael Power.
Of these heroes, no less than 19 contracted the fever, including the two later princes of the Church, Fathers Taschereau and Horan, while 6 of them died: Rev. Messrs. Hubert Robson, Ed. Montminy, Hugh Paisley, F. S. Bardy, Michael Power and Pierre Roy. Father Robson was the maternal uncle of Messrs. Joseph Archer, one d Quebec’s leading citizens, John Archer, also of Quebec, and · Robert Archer, of Montreal, and was of English extraction. Father Paisley, who was rector of St. Catherine’s, Portneuf Co., was of Scotch descent.
Of this gallant band of ecclesiastical heroes, only one, as already seen–the venerable Father McGuirk–is now living, as far as known. Another of the pioneer priests of New Brunswick, who played the hero’s part at Grosse Isle in 1847 was the Revd. James Charles McDevitt, who survived until quite recently, dying at Fredericton, N.B., only a couple of years since. Father McDevitt, who was born in Donegal in 1823, emigrated with his parents while yet a child to St. John, N. B., where he received his primary education in the local schools and his classical and theological training at Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia, from which latter place he graduated with honors. Being too young for ordination, he entered the Seminary of Quebec, where he continued his studies. In 1847 he was asked to go to the quarantine station at Grosse Isle, where several priests had died and many others were ill with the fever. He consented to go, was ordained a priest and immediately started for the quarantine station, where, after nursing the fever-stricken patients for some time, he contracted the disease himself. He was removed to the Hotel-Dieu Hospital at Quebec, where he was ill with the fever for thirteen weeks. Upon his recovery, he removed to Fredericton, N.B., to assist the late Bishop Dollard, and except for two years, 1847-9, spent at Grosse Isle and at St. Andrew’s, had charge from that time of St. Dunstan’s parish, N. B. His mission extended over thirty miles and comprised Fredericton, Cork, New Market, Acton, Oromocto, Maugerville, Stanley, St. Mary’s, Nashuaaksis, French Village and Allendale. During this long period he built the commodious brick convent, the parochial residence, St. Dunstan’s Hall and Orphanage. He also purchased the Hermitage and erected a small building thereon, in which he conducted a school for many years and educated a number of young men for the priesthood.
The first to reach Grosse Isle in the spring of 1847 to exercise their holy ministry were Rev. Messrs. McGauran (afterwards for many years the revered pastor of St. Patrick’s church, Quebec), and McDonnell. These two good Samaritans got no rest either during night or day, except during the few moments that human nature could stand the terrible strain no longer. Very often they had no time to remove their boots, so swollen were their feet from fatigue. Finally both devoted priests took the disease and were removed back to Quebec, but, on their recovery, they .returned to Grosse Isle, which Father McGauran was the last to leave on 28th October on the “Alliance,” with a number of emigrants, five of whom died between Quarantine and Quebec.
It is stated that, in all, at Grosse Isle, Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and other parts of Lower and Upper Canada, as well as of New Brunswick, 26 Catholic priests and 18 nuns fell victims to their devotion during the epidemic of 1847, the number including the Right Reverend Bishop Power, of Toronto. But a very much larger number also took the fever and only recovered from it after long suffering.
At Quebec, the French and English-speaking Catholic clergy also distinguished themselves in ministering to the fever-stricken among their own flocks and to the discharged emigrants and convalescents brought up from the island charnel-house only to scatter the seeds of the contagion, far and wide, and the same may be said of the Catholic clergy at Montreal and elsewhere. The presbytery of St. Patrick’s church, Quebec, and its then incumbent, the deservedly celebrated Father McMahon, were the centres around which these exiles chiefly revolved, and it is no exaggeration to say that they had no truer· or more tireless and devoted friends than that worthy priest and his assistants and the late Vicar-General Cazeau, of the Quebec Archdiocese. And there was scarcely a Sunday that Father McMahon did not use his remarkable eloquence to explain the gravity of the situation and to appeal for help for the sufferers. But there was a humorous side sometimes to these appeals. In one of them made from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s on 10th October, 1847, he read a list of the emigrants who had been separated from their families and who took this method of finding them out and a letter received from Ireland addressed “To my Aunt Biddy,” for a like purpose, which, he remarked, was too vague even for his comprehension or power of divination.
Nor did the Protestant, and especially the Church of England clergy, lag behind their Catholic colleagues in the desperate fight with death. The great and good Anglican Bishop Mountain, of Quebec, was the first to set the noble example to them. No sooner had the fever outbreak at Grosse Isle declared itself than he issued a stirring appeal to them for volunteers to man the breach there, proposing to first step into it himself and the others in turn to each spend a week on the island in the exercise of their ministry. The response to this appeal was prompt and hearty and the .poor Protestant sick, who composed abou’t one-tenth of the whole fevered and festering mass, had the consolation of being attended by the ministers of their faith in their dying hours. In this respect the bishop led the way by going to and remaining on the island to the 15th June, returning to it later for another week in August to succor the sick and comfort the dying. On the 16th June he was followed by Rev. J. Torrance and others. In all, during the ordeal at Grosse Isle, the Church of England was represented there by 17 of its clergy, 7 of whom contracted the disease and 2 died, the latter being Rev. Richard Anderson and Rev. Charles J. Morris. Among those who sickened, but recovered, were Rev. E. C. Parkin and Rev. J. Butler, the latter being the Anglican missionary at Kingsey, and the former a brother of one of the most eminent members of the Quebec Bar during the last century, the late J. B. Parkin, K.C.
In his “Story of the First Hundred Years of the Diocese of Quebec, prepared for the Centenary Celebration on Thursday, June 1st, 1893,” the late Venerable Archdeacon Roe, who died only quite recently at an advanced age, and who was rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican church, Quebec, in 1847, placed the number of the Protestant clergy (Anglican) on duty at Grosse Isle during that fearful season at 14 only, including Bishop Mountain, though other accounts make it 17. Under the caption of “The Martyr Clergy of 1847,” Archdeacon Roe said:
“No sketch of the history of the diocese of Quebec could pass over in silence the heroism with which the Bishop and his clergy jeoparded their lives during the awful visitation of ship fever in 1847. In the spring of that year, following upon the fearful Irish famine of the winter of 1846, tens of thousands of poor famine stricken Irish emigrants fled to Canada, bringing with them typhus fever in its most malignant form; were carried ashore out of the emigrant vessels at our quarantine station at Grosse Isle, and there died in thousands. No language could adequately describe the horrors of the months of that awful summer. The island was almost literally covered with the poor dying people, men, women and children; the emigrant sheds, the churches, every available building, nearly one hundred tents overflowed with them, and many were lying in the open air. There were for much of the time as many as seventeen or eighteen hundred down with the fever on the island, and half as many more afloat in the ships, for whom room could not be made ashore. The description of the scenes given in extracts from the Bishop’s private letters printed in his Memoir,–the suffering, the filth, the sickening stenches, the cries of the dying people, the wailing of orphans,–is most heartrending.
“The heroic Bishop met this awful irruption of plague, as he had met the inroad of cholera fifteen years before, with a calm courage, which communicated itself to others. Taking the first turn at Grosse Isle himself, after Mr. Forest, the chaplain for the season, was prostrated by the disease, and a second later on, he invited such of the clergy of the diocese as seemed most able for the service, to offer themselves for the work of ministering to their poor dying fellow creatures, each to take one week. To this call fourteen of the clergy responded. It was surely a sublime devotion for men to leave their own quiet, healthy country parishes, their wives and their children, and go far away down into the valley of death in that lonely plague-stricken island. Of the fifteen clergymen of our Church, (being the only Protestant ministers in attendance) who served at Grosse Isle, two caught the fever and died,–Richard Anderson, of New Ireland, and Charles J. Morris, of Portneuf. Three of the clergy took it in attendance on the emigrant sheds elsewhere and died,–namely, William Chaderton, of St. Peter’s, Quebec; Mark Willoughby, of Trinity Church, Montreal, and William Dawes, of St. John’s. These five were among the most devout and efficient of the clergy, and their death was a serious loss to the diocese. They left it, however, enriched forever with the memory of their noble self-sacrifice in laying down their lives for their brethren. Seven more of the clergy took the fever at Grosse Isle and recovered. They were Charles Forest, John Torrance, Richard Loosdell, Edward Cullen Parkin, William King, Charles Peter Reid and John Butler. The six, equally meritorious, who escaped unhurt, were, besides the Bishop, Dr. George Mackie, Official of the Diocese; Charles Rollit, Edward G. Sutton, Andrew T. Whitten, Narcisse Guerout, and Charles Morice. Let their names be held in everlasting remembrance!”
Among the pulpit references to the heroic part played by the Anglican, as well as the Roman Catholic, clergy, during the terrible visitation of 1847, the following was mentioned by the QUEBEC DAILY TELEGRAPH of the 17th August, two days after the dedication of the monument at Grosse Isle:–
“Sunday’s ceremony at Grosse Isle called forth an interesting reference to the scourge of 1847 in the sermon preached on the evening of that day by the Rev. E. A. Willoughby King, M.A., Rector, in St. Peter’s Anglican church, Quebec. St. Peter’s, said the preacher, had a direct interest in the ship fever visitation of 1847, for its then pastor, the Rev. William Chaderton, was himself one of the vietime, having died in this city as a result of the foul disease, contracted in the discharge of his duties among the sufferers. In honor of his faithfulness to death, the congregation erected to his memory the mural monument still in the chancel of the church, setting forth the circumstances and the date of his death. A remarkable coincidence, noted by the preacher, was that on the 15th of July, 1847, the date of the death of Mr. Chaderton,–one of his own predecessors at St. Peter’s,·–there also died in Montreal another clerical victim of his zeal in ministering to the fever victims, in the person of the Rev. Mr. Willoughby, attached to Trinity church in that city, after whom the preacher in St. Peter’s was named, and who was an intimate friend of Rev. Rural Dean King’s father, the late Rev. William King, of St. Sylvester, and several times his fellow-passenger across the Atlantic. The late Rev. William King was himself one of the volunteer priests who ministered to the fever victims at Grosse Isle in response to the appeal of the late Bishop Mountain, and the remarks made by his son from the pulpit of St. Peter’s church last Sunday evening in regard to the self-sacrificing work of both Roman Catholic and Anglican clergymen among the fever victims at Grosse Isle, were very much upon the same lines as those reported to have been made by the Right Hon. Sir Charles Fitzpatrick and the Hon. Charles Murphy, at the Grosse Isle ceremony on the same day, and especially as to the equal honor due to all who so faithfully and so zealously labored, at such a tremendous self-sacrifice.”
Referring to the dedication of the Grosse Isle monument and to the only one now living of the Anglican clergy of Montreal, who attended to the stricken immigrants there in 1847, the Montreal Daily Witness said:–
“The event recalled by this monument marked the saddest epoch in the history of the Irish people in Canada. Thousands died of ship fever, not only at Grosse Isle, but also in the shelters erected at Point St. Charles. The huge boulder which rested until within a few years at the entrance to Victoria Bridge bore record to the six thousand Irish immigrants who were buried there. Tne monument is now situated in St. Patrick’s Park, near the Wellington street bridge.
“Of the eye-witnesses of the appalling scenes that marked the ship fever, only one of the devoted clergy who attended to the stricken immigrants in the shelters at Point St. Charles is alive, in the person of the Rev. Canon Ellegood, rector of the church of St. James the Apostle, who was then in charge of ‘Old St. Ann’s.’
“The Venerable Archdeacon Kerr, rector of Point St. Charles, preaching in the church of St. James the Apostle, on May 13, 1906, on the occasion of the commemoration of the fifty-eighth year of Canon Ellegood’s ordination, referred to this fact in the following words :–‘Although more than fifty years have elapsed since those days in 1847 and 1848, we sometimes meet with people who were friends and parishioners of the Rev. Dr. Ellegood in ‘Old St. Ann’s.’ They tell of his devoted labors in seasons of flood and pestilence, how he stood by his flock through two visitations of cholera and through the terrible days of the ship fever; they tell how emigrants fleeing from Ireland were attacked by this fearful malady; how in what were then the green fields of Point St. Charles, the city of Montreal erected shelters for the stricken strangers ; how between the quarantine station at Grosse Isle and the Point St. Charles sheds, seven clergymen of the Church of England died of fever, contracted in the discharge of duty; how the Rev. Father Dowd, the venerated priest of the Roman Catholic parish of St. Patrick’s (not long since called to the rest of Paradise) with great devotion and self-forgetfulness, consoled the dying and buried the dead, and how, with equal devotion and self-forgetfulness, Mr. Ellegood, then a young priest of the English Church, walked in the midst of the plague discharging the duties of his holy office.”
But, besides the clergy, the Canadian medical profession deserve honorable mention.They also set striking examples of heroism, zeal and devotion to duty. In the reeking hotbed of the contagion at Grosse Isle and in the fever hospitals at Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere, they did all they could for the poor sufferers that the limited resources at their command and the less advanced science of their day permitted. And if the conditions were so horrible and the death roll so great, it was the fault of these and not of the gallant disciples of Esculapius, who so unselfishly labored night and day to ameliorate the shocking state of affairs, relieve the sick and stop the progress of the devastating plague. As already seen, several of them died at Grosse Isle and a large number were prostrated and almost brought to death’s door by fatigue and the pestilence. Among these were the late Drs. Painchaud and Jackson and eight nuns of the Hotel Dieu, Quebec.
This chapter cannot be better concluded than by quoting the following from O’Leary’s account in the DAILY TELEGRAPH’s supplement of 1897:
“In the darkest hour of their affliction, the emigrants at Grosse Isle found a true friend in the Canadian clergy, among whom the following yielded their lives in their behalf:–Reverend Messrs. Hubert Robson, Ed. Montminy, Hugh Paisley, F. S. Bardy, Michael Power and Pierre Roy.
“Among the others who asked the Archbishop’s permission to share the work of their Irish confreres were the present Cardinal Taschereau, Reverend Messrs. L. S. Malo, P. Huot, J. B. A. Ferland, L. A. Proulx, P. Beaumont, C. Tardif, J. B. Perras, T. Caron, M. Duguay, P. H. Jean, P. Sax, L. Trahan and J. Bailey.
“The Irish clergymen were: the Reverend Bernard McGauran, who was the first clergyman stricken with fever. On recovery, he returned to Grosse Isle, and was the last to leave, on 28th October, on the “Alliance,” with a number of emigrants, five of whom died between Quarantine and Quebec. “The others were Rev. Messrs. B. O’Reilly, W. W. Moylan, ]. McDonnell, H. McGuirk and J. C. McDevitt. –
“On Friday, 23rd of July, 1847, Father John Richards died at Montreal of ship fever, which he contracted while ministering to the sick in the sheds at Point St. Charles. On the Sunday previous he preached at St. Patrick’s church, Montreal, upon the sufferings and faith of the Irish people, and I cannot better conclude than by giving an extract of what he said on that occasion :–
” ‘Oh, my beloved brethren, grieve not, I beseech you, for the sufferings and death of so many of your race, perchance, your kindred, who have fallen, and are still to fall victims to this fearful pestilence. Their patience, their faith, their resignation to the will of God under such unprecedented misery, is something so extraordinary that, to realize it, it requires to be seen. Oh, my brethren, grieve not for them; they did but pass from earth to the glory of Heaven. True, they were cast in heaps into the earth, their place of sepulchre marked by no name or epitaph; but I tell you, my dearly beloved brethren, rest assured that from their ashes the faith will spring up along the St. Lawrence, for they died martyrs, as they lived confessors, to the faith.’ ”
“Lord, God of our progenitors,
The mighty and the just,
Of sages, chiefs and senators,
Now mingled with the dust;
Who through the night of ages
For thee have wept in chains,
Upon whose history’s pages
Thy foes have scattered stains.
“Oh! by the love you bore them,
Look on their suffering sons ;
Cast thy soft shadows o’er them,
Guard well their little ones!
Once Thou did’st plant thy fountains
Of mercy and of grace,
‘Mid Erin’s holy mountains,
And love her royal race.”
There is no more harrowing or pathetic feature of the dreadful episode of 1847 than the multitude of young children of both sexes, who succumbed or whose parents, relatives or guardians fell victims to the pestilence at Grosse Isle and elsewhere, leaving them unprotected and helpless in this New World. They ranged from the babe in arms to boys and girls of all the intervening ages up to fifteen or sixteen years, and nothing more pitiable can be imagined than the scenes presented by the emaciated little bodies awaiting burial or by the orphaned survivors just severed by the cruel hand of death from their natural protectors and their loved ones.
What brush can paint such melancholy scenes; what pen can describe the mortal anguish of the last partings between parents and their offspring under such circumstances? Look at the poor mother or father mourning and not to be comforted over the loss of their little ones or with their last moments embittered by the reflection that the poor helpless young creatures whom they had brought into the world and were leaving behind, were about to be cast as penniless waifs upon it in a new country and amid a strange people! Look at the children, too young yet to realize all the gravity of their bereavement, crying, as if their little hearts would break, over the inanimate remains of their dearest and truest friends on earth. Such sights were calculated to touch even the most callous natures! But what of the misrule, the oppression and the deceit which were the first cause of such sights?
“Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small, Though with patience stand:: He waiting With exactness grinds He all.”
No very definite or accurate statistics are available to show the number of the orphaned survivors of 1847. Even an approximate estimate can hardly be made of it, for the helpless children were soon dispersed far and wide, but there is every reason to believe that it ran up into the thousands. Many of the little ones were taken away from Grosse Isle with them by surviving old country neighbors and friends of the dead parents. Others were taken and cared for by Irish Catholic residents of Quebec, Montreal, etc., or temporarily sent to already existing or rapidly improvised charitable refuges and asylums in those cities. One of these refuges is still·to be seen at Quebec in the old stone building in rear of that noble Irish charity, the St. Bridget’s Asylum, where the orphans were placed in the charge of that worthy priest and warm friend of the Irish people, the late Father Sax, and not a few were adopted by other good French-Canadian priests, including Vicar-General Cazeau and the late Father Bolduc, of Quebec, who reared, educated and started them in life. One devoted priest, Father Harper, rector of St. Gregoire, paid no less than three visits to Grosse Isle, taking away thirty orphans each time and distributing them among his parishioners. Others again were forwarded to or assisted to reach relatives or friends in the United States. But the great majority of the poor Irish Catholic waifs were adopted by the good habitants or farmers in the French Canadian rural districts, who reared them up to manhood or womanhood arid treated them as lovingly and well as their own offspring, giving them in many instances the highest college and university education, making them priests, lawyers, doctors, nuns, etc., or mechanics, and in not a few cases, at death, leaving them their farms or other valuable property as proofs of their affection. And many of these fortunate children or their descendants have since risen to wealth and distinction as citizens of Canada or the United States. To-day· they are scattered far and wide. Some of them have preserved and still proudly retain their original family names or Celtic patronymics, but most have lost these or are only known by those of their foster parents, with whose nationality they became identified in every way-in feeling, language, etc. In fact, they are as much French Canadian today as if to the manner born. Hundreds of instances of this absorption and assimilation of the orphans of ’47 by the French Canadian element might be cited. But one of the most striking is recalled by the expected visit to Grosse Isle on the 15th August of Rev. Father Robichaud, pastor of Madawaska, N.B., who, though bearing to-day a French Acadian name, is none the less of Irish origin, his parents, with whom he came out a child to this country from Ireland in 1847, having died victims of the ship fever at Grosse Isle, being counted among the unknown dead, and leaving to their poor orphan not even the heritage of the family name. His case furnishes another of the many examples of the kindly way in which the helpless Irish orphans of 1847 were adopted and provided for by the good French-Canadian families by whose names so many of them are still known. But nothing in the history of the French Canadian people does more honor to them than the kindness shown by them to the poor Irish Catholic orphans of 1847 and no member of the Irish race should ever forget this important fact. As for the Protestant orphans, they were taken in hand and well looked after by their own devoted clergy and people and many of them and their descendants are to-day amongst the most solid and respected citizens of the land.
“I would a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul.”
In October, 1852, the Reverend Bernard O’Reilly lectured in New York on “The Irish Emigration of 1847,” and said, among other things:
“About five years ago, while surrounded on the shores of the St. Lawrence, with the victims of hunger and ship fever, I was given a copy of a lecture delivered in New York, on the “Antecedent Causes of the Irish Famine.” I had then before me a truthful commentary to those pages. My only regret in perusing them was that their illustrious author had not been an eye-witness of the scenes, in which I was nightly and daily privileged to take an active part.
“The dungeons of Naples, and the cruelties of Sicily would have sunk into the shade, before the horrid realities of Grosse Isle.
“My purpose before you is to disburden my soul of the conviction which I felt, even in the lazar-houses and fetid shipholds of Canada, that Providence would bring some mighty good out of all that suffering. Yes, I read that assurance in the sublime virtues which I witnessed. That alone enabled me not to curse the oppressor. It gave me hope for Ireland, but, above all, it made me rejoice for America. Since that time my feelings have assumed the form of this consoling truth, that the heart of a nation, tried by suffering unparalleled in. duration and intensity, is destined for some great end.
“In stating a few of the facts, of which I had personal knowledge, I shall not promise to be unimpassioned, for that would argue that I was without feeling on a subject which so powerfully moves the sympathies of a manly and Christian heart.
“In the accounts of the sad condition of Ireland, given by Lord Clare, Lord de Grey, and others, during the reign of Elizabeth, we can almost conceive that they were expressly written for the year 1847, instead of the year of grace 1580. So that after nigh three centuries of gigantic struggles and sufferings, a nation of eight millions and a half of people stands before the civilized world as a mendicant for universal charity, her people starving, while her granaries and warehouses are filled with her own grain and provisions, which she is not allowed to touch, and while the treasuries of the Imperial Government are piled up with heaps o£ gold, of which Ireland may touch only a moiety. Now, let us direct our attention to the endurance of her children abroad.
“Early in the spring of 1847 the tide of emigration set in through the valley of the St. Lawrence. The local authorities in every part of Ireland had been anxiously watching for the time when the Canadian navigation usually opens, in order to rid their wharves, poor houses, crowded hospitals, and the hulks at anchor, on every seaport, of the living mass of misery, for which they could or would not find shelter and relief.
“The landlords, too, throughout the country had begun their work of whole· sale demolition and extermination. Some gave to their famishing tenants a mero trifle on condition that they should take the road to the nearest place of embarkation. Others put into their hands pretended cheques on Canadian mercantile houses to induce them to give up their little farms, while all employed every means of persuasion and coerciOn to urge their dependents to the seaside, and indeed the tenants were not loathe to hurry away to the great Republic of the West, where loving friends awaited them, and whence, during that dreadful period, they had been sent such generous, although insufficient assistance. They crowded, therefore, imprudently and recklessly into every vessel that was advertised to sail for America, nor did the ship owners or emigrant agents scruple to receive more pas· sengers than the law permitted. The law was most notoriously and shamefully violated.
“In the colonies meanwhile the authorities and the people were quite unprepared for the frightful amount of sickness and destitution which the eastern winds hurried to their doors and there was consequently not even accommodation for one-fifth of the sick and dying that were landed during the months of April and May.
“The military authorities, at the first fearful tidings, with characteristic promptness, sent every tent which their stores contained. But the workmen sent to erect sheds soon caught the contagion, so that no bribe could induce mechanics to finish the works.
“The fierce Canadian summer had now come, and thousands of the sick kept pouring in at Grosse Isle.Not one drop of fresh water was to be had on the island. There was no lime juice, no clean straw, even, to protect the patients from the wet ground in the tents, or the rough boards in the hospital, while in the beginning of July, with the thermometer at g8 in the shade, I have seen hundreds landed from the ships and thrown rudely by the unfeeling crews on the burning rocks, and there I have known them to remain whole nights and days without shelter or care of any kind.
“I weep to say that the common jail was opened and its loathsome inmates were sent to watch the deathbed of our pure, helpless emigrant youth. Meanwhile those with strength enough proceeded to Quebec and the cities in the Upper Province, spreading infection on their way. The cholera, in its most malignant form, did not visit with death and desolation half the families which ship fever caused to mourn.
“On the 8th May, 1847, the “Urania” from Cork, with several hundred immigrants on board, a large proportion of them sick and dying of the ship fever, was put into quarantine at Grosse Isle. This was the first of the plague-smitten ships from Ireland which that year sailed up the St. Lawrence. But before the first week of June as many as eighty-four ships of various tonnage were driven in by an easterly wind, and of that enormous number of vessels there was not one free from the taint ot malignant typhus, the offspring of famine and of the foul ship-hold. This fleet of vessels literally reeked with pestilence. All sailing vessels,– the merciful speed of the well appointed steamer being unknown to the emigrant of those days,–a tolerably quick passage occupied from six to eight weeks, while passages of ten or twelve weeks and even a longer time, were not considered at all extraordinary at a period when craft of every kind, the most unsuited as well as the least seaworthy, were pressed into the service of human deportation.
“Who can imagine the horrors of even the shortest passage in an emigrant ship crowded beyond its utmost capability of stowage with unhappy beings of aU ages, with fever raging in their midst? Under the most favourable circumstances it is impossible to maintain perfect purity of atmosphere between decks, even when ports are open, and every device is adopted to secure the greatest amount of ventilation. But a crowded emigrant sailing ship of twenty years since, with fever on board!–the crew sullen or brutal from very desperation, or paralyzed with terror of the plague, the miserable passengers unable to help themselves, or to afford the least relief to each other; one-fourth, or one-third, or one-half of the entire number in different stages of the disease, many dying, some dead; the fatal poison intensified by the indescribable foulness of the air breathed and rebreathed by the gasping sufferers–the wails of children, the ravings of the delirious, the cries and groans of those in mortal agony. Of the eighty-four emigrant ships that anchored at Grosse Isle in the summer of 1847, there was not a single one to which this description might not rightly apply.
“The authorities were taken by surprise, owing to the sudden arrival of this plague-smitten fleet, and, save the sheds that remained since 1832, there was no accommodation of any kind on the island. These sheds were rapidly filled with the miserable people, the sick and the dying. Hundreds were literally flung on the beach, left amid the mud and the stones, to crawl on the dry land how they could. “I have seen,” says the priest who was then chaplain of the quarantine, and who had been but one year on the mission, “I have one day seen thirty-seven people lying on the beach, crawling in the mud, and dying like fish out of water.
“Many of these, and many more besides, gasped out their last breath on that fatal shore, not able to drag themselves from the slime in which they lay. Death was doing its work everywhere-in the sheds, around the sheds, where the victims lay in hundreds under the canopy of heaven, and in the poisonous holds of the plague-ships, all of which were declared to be, and treated as, hospitals.
“From ship to ship the young Irish priest carried the consolations of religion to the dying. Amidst shrieks, and groans, and wild ravings, and heart-rending lamentations,–our prostrate sufferers in every stage of the sickness,–from loathsome berth to loathsome berth, he pursued his holy task. So noxious was the pent-up atmosphere of these floating pest houses, that he had frequently to rush on deck to breathe the pure air, or to relieve his overtaxed stomach; then he would again plunge into the foul den and resume his interrupted labours.
“There being at first no organization, no staff, no available resources, it may be imagined why the mortality rose to a prodigious rate, and how at one time as many as 150 bodies, most of them in a half naked state, would be piled up in the dead-house awaiting such sepulture as a huge pit could afford. Poor creatures would crawl out of the sheds, and, being too exhausted to return, would be found lying in the open air, not a few of them rigid in death. When the authorities were enabled to erect sheds sufficient for the reception of the sick, and provide a staff of physicians and nurses, and the Archbishop of Quebec had appointed a number of priests, who took the hospital duty in turn, there was, of course, more order and regularity, but the mortality was for a time scarcely diminished. The deaths were as many as 100, and 150, and even 200 a day, and thus for a considerable period during the summer. The masters of the quarantine-bound ships were naturally desirous of getting rid as speedily as possible of their dangerous and unprofitable freight; and the manner in which the helpless people were landed, or thrown, on the island, aggravated their sufferings, and in a vast number of instances precipitated their fate. Then the hunger and thirst from which they suffered in the badly-found ships, between whose crowded and stifling decks they had been so long pent up, had so far destroyed their vital energy, that they had but little chance of life when once struck down.
“About the middle of June the young chaplain was attacked by the pestilence. For ten days he had not taken off his clothes, and his boots, which he constantly wore for all that time, had to be cut from his feet. A couple of months elapsed before he resumed his duties; but when he returned to his post of danger the mortality was still of fearful magnitude. Several priests, a few Irish, the majority French-Canadians, caught the infection, and of the twenty-five who were attacked. seven paid with their lives the penalty of their devotion. Not a few of these men were professors in colleges, but at the appeal of the Archbishop they left their classes and their studies for the horrors and perils of the fever sheds.
“It was not until the 1st of November that the quarantine at Grosse Isle was closed. Upon that barren isle as many as 10,000 of the Irish race were consigned to the grave pit. By some the estimate is made much higher, and 12,000 is considered nearer the actual number. A register was kept and is still in existence, but it does not commence earlier than June 16, when the mortality was nearly at its height. According to this death-roll, there were buried, between the 16th and 30th of June, 487 Irish immigrants “whose names could not be acertained.” In July, 941 were thrown into nameless graves; and in August, 918 were entered in the register under the comprehensive description “unknown.” There were interred, from the 16th of June to the closing of the quarantine for that year, 2,905 of a Christian people whose names could not be discovered amidst the confusion and carnage of that fatal summer. In the following year, 2,000 additional victims were entered in the same register without name or trace of any kind, to tell who they were, or whence they came. Thus 5,000 out of the total number of victims were simply described as unknown.’
“This deplorable havoc of human life left hundreds of orphans dependent on the compassion of the public, and nobly was the unconscious appeal of this multitude of destitute little ones responded to by the French Canadians. Half naked, squalid, covered with vermin generated by hunger, fever, and the foulness of the ship’s hold, perhaps with the germs of the plague lurking in their vitiated blood, these helpless innocents of every age-from the infant taken from the bosom of its dead mother to the child that could barely tell the name of its parents, were gathered under the fostering protection of the Church. They were washed, and clad, and fed; and every effort was made by the clergy and nuns who took them into their charge to discover who they were, what their names, and which of them were related, the one to the other, so that, if possible, children of the same family might not be separated forever. A difficult thing it was to learn from mere infants whether, among more than 6oo orphans, they had brothers and sisters. But by patiently observing the elittle creatures when they found strength and courage to play, their watchful protectors were enabled to find out relationships which, without such care, would have been otherwise unknown. If one infant ran to meet another, or caught its hand, or smiled at it, or kissed it, or showed pleasure in its society, here was a clue to be followed; and in many instances children of the same parents were thus preserved to each other. Many more, of course, were separated forever as the children were too young to tell their own names, or do anything save cry in piteous accents for “mammy, mammy,” until soothed to slumber in the arms of a compassionate Sister.
“The greater portion of the orphans of the Grosse Isle tragedy were adopted by the French Canadians, who were appealed to by their cures at the earnest quest of Father Cazeau, then Secretary to the Archbishop, and now one of the Vicars-General of the Archdiocese of Quebec. M. Cazeau is one of the ablest of the ecclesiastics of the Canadian Church, and is no less remarkable for worth and ability than for the generous interest he has ever exhibited for the Irish people. Father Cazeau had employed his powerful influnce with the country clergy to provide for the greater number of the children, but some 200 still remained in a building specially set apart for them, and this is how these 200 Irish orphans were likewise provided for:
Monseigneur Baillargeon, Bishop of Quebec, was then cure of the city. He had received three or four of the orphans into his own house, and among them a beautiful boy of two years, or perhaps somewhat younger. The others had been taken from him and adopted by the kindly habitants, and became part of their families, but the little fellow, who was the cure’s special pet, remained with him for nearly two years. From creeping up and downstairs, and toddling about in every direction, he soon began to grow strong, and bold, and noisy, as a fine healthy child would be, but though his fond protector rejoiced in the health and beauty of the boy, he found him rather unsuited to the quiet gravity of a priest’s house, and a decided obstacle to study and meditation. In the midst of his perplexity, of which the child was the unconscious cause to the cure of Quebec, a clergyman from the country arrived in town. This priest visited M. Baillargeon, who told him that he had 200 poor orphan children,–the children “of the faithful Catholic Irish”–still unprovided with a home, and he was most anxious that his visitor should call on his parishioners to take them. “Come,” said he, “I will show you a sample of them, and you can tell your people what they are like.” Saying this M. Baillargeon led his visitor upstairs, and into the room where, in a little cot, the orphan child was lying in rosy sleep. As the light fell upon the features of the beautiful boy, who was reposing in all the unrivalled grace of infancy, the country cure was greatly touched; he had never, he said, seen a ‘lovelier little angel’ in his life. “Well,” said M. Ballargeon, “I have 200 more as handsome Take him with you, show him to your people, and tell them to come for the others.” That very night the boat in which he was to reach his parish was to start, and the cure wrapped the infant carefully in the blanket in which he lay and, without disturbing his slumber, bore him off to the boat, a valued prize.
“The next Sunday a strange sight was witnessed in the parish church of which the cure was the pastor. The priest was seen issuing from the sacristy, holding in his arms a boy of singular beauty, whose little hands were tightlv clasped, half in terror, half in excitement, round the neck of his bearer. Every eye was turned towards this strange spectacle, and the most intense curiosity was felt by the congregation, in a greater degree by the women, especially those who were mothers, to learn what it meant. It was soon explained by their pastor, who said:
“Look at this little boy! Poor infant! (Here the cure embraced him). Look at his noble forehead, his bright eyes, his curling hair, his mouth like a cherub! Oh, what a beautiful boy! (Another embrace, the half-terrified child clinging closer to the priest’s breast, his tears dropping fast upon the surplice). Look, my dear friends, at this beautiful child, who has been sent by God to our care. Here are 200 as beautiful children as this poor forlorn infant. They were starved out of their own country by bad laws, and their fathers, and their poor mothers now lie in the great grave at Grosse Isle. Poor mothers! They could not remain with their little ones. You will be mothers to them. The father died, and the mother died, but before she died, the pious mother left them to the good God, and the good God now gives them to you. Mothers, you will not refuse the gift of the good God.” (The kindly people responded to this appeal with tears and gestures of passionate assent). Go quickly to Quebec; there you will find these orphan children-these gifts offered to you by the good God–go quickly–go tomorrow– lose not a moment–take them and carry them to your homes, and they will bring a blessing on you and your families. I say, go to-morrow without fail, or others may be before you. Yes, dear friends, they will be a blessing to you as they grow up, a strong healthy race–fine women, and fine men, like this beautiful boy. Poor child, you will be sure to find a second mother in this congregation! (Another embrace, the little fellow’s tears flowing more abundantly; every eye in the church glistening with responsive sympathy). “This was the cure’s sermon, and it may be doubted if Bossuet or Fenelon ever produced a like effect. Next day there was to be seen a long procession of waggons moving towards Quebec, and on the evening of that day there was not one of the 200 Irish orphans that had not been brought to a Canadian home, there to be nurtured with tenderness and love, as the gift of the Bon Dieu. Possibly, in some instances that tenderness and love were not requited in after life, but in most instances the Irish orphan brought a blessing to the hearth of its adopted parents. The boy whose beauty and whose tears so powerfully assisted the simple oratory of the good cure, is now one of the ablest lawyers in Quebec, but a French Canadian in every respect save in birth and blood.
* * * *
Absorbed thus into the families of the French-speaking population, even the older Irish orphans soon lost almost every memory of their former home and of their parents, and grew up French-Canadians in every respect save in the more vigorous constitution, for which they were indebted to nature. It is not, therefore, a rare thing to behold a tall, strapping, fair-skinned young fellow, with an unmistakeable Irish face, who speaks and thinks as a French Canadian. Thus genuine Irish names–as Cassidy, or Lonergan, or Sullivan, or Quinn, or Murphy –are to be heard of at this day in many of the homes of the kindly habitants of Lower Canada.
“Though it was the humane policy of those who took care of the orphans of Grosse Isle to keep the same family in the same neighborhod, so as not to separate brother from sister, it has happened that a brother has been reared by a French family, and a sister by an Irish or English-speaking family, and when the orphans have been brought together by their adopted parents, they could only express their emotions by embraces and tears–the language of the heart.”
In the accounts of the sad condition of Ireland, given by Lord Clare, Lord de Grey, and others during the reign of Elizabeth, we can almost conceive that they were expressly written for the year 1847, instead of the year of grace 1580. So that after nigh three centuries of gigantic struggles and sufferings, a nation of eight millions and a half of people stood before the civilized world as a mendicant for universal charity, her people starving, while her granaries and warehouses were filled with her own grain and provisions, which she was not allowed to touch. The year 1847 had just opened when the thrilling news rang throughout all lands that starvation held sovereign sway in Ireland, its footprints marked by disease and death. Ireland had always been known as a brave nation. Even her most bitter enemy could not question her bravery, but now her sons were terror-stricken, and shuddered at the awful scenes they witnessed. The humble homes of the poorer classes were little better than charnel-houses, where the dead, uncared for, lay festering by the side of the dying. Day by day the heartrending details of wretchedness and suffering were brought before the public by the press, till even the very heathen stood aghast at the news.
This state of affairs demanded at once the exercise of the warmest sympathy of every people, but the inhabitants of Quebec required no stirring appeal to their feelings, for Quebec had suffered. Well she knew that when her cry for help rang out in the wild notes of despair, shrill and clear, from amid the still smoking ruins of many a once happy home, Ireland, dear old Ireland, came to her relief.
Quebec had suffered, and in what manner? Listen! The 28th May, 1845 dawned in all the brightness and warmth of summer over the Old Rock City, but ere the French Cathedral bells proclaimed the noon-day Angelus, it was a scene of terror and desolation. Thousands who rose that morning surrounded by all that labor and patient industry gave them, were beggars long before sunset. Many exchanged their morning greetings never again to meet on this side of the grave. From 11 a.m. to midnight, fire raged in all its fury through every highway and byway in St. Roch’s suburbs, ending its wild career in St. Charles street, after destroying two thousand houses, and leaving twelve thousand people homeless. As night came, sad sights were witnessed. Men, women and children sat by the roadside in silent grief, for their savings, their gatherings of years, were gone forever. Many knelt in prayer asking God’s protection and aid, and, as members of the clergy passed the way, crowds of desolate beings fell at their feet, craving their blessing.
But Quebec’s sufferings had not ended. On the night of the 28th June, 1845, fire broke out in D’Aiguillon street, and when morning dawned, the populous suburbs of St. John and St. Lewis were in ruins. Thousands here were also rendered homeless. Refugees were everywhere, from St. Paul street as far as Sillery, in Pointe Levi, St. Foy, Beauport and Lorette, while within the walls of the city every door was left open to receive the distressed.
But what was Quebec’s destitution compared to Ireland’s? Famine did not fasten its iron grip upon our people, disease was absent, and death claimed but few victims.
QUEBEC TAKES ACTION.
The first move made in Quebec in aid of the suffering Irish was at a meeting of the St. Patrick’s congregation held on Sunday, 31st January, 1847, when a committee was named to co-operate with the citizens of Quebec in the event of their having a meeting for the same object.
On Wednesday, 3rd February, the committee met, and appointed Mr. John Sharples, Chairman, Mr. William Cronin as Secretary, and the following persons as collectors, namely:–
St. Peter Street.— Messrs. Charles Sharples, John Sharples and Michael Connolly.
Srt. Peter’s Ward.— Messrs. Hugh Murray, Denis Maguire, John Murphy, ·
William Cronin, Matthew Enright and Peter Clark. ·
Champiain Ward.–Messrs. Patrick McMahon, John Doran, Patrick Stafford,
Thomas Gahan, Miles Kelly, Michael Power, Edward Duggan and John
Toll–Gate to Pointe-a-Puiseaux.–Messrs. William Quinn, Roderick McGillis,
William Richardson and Michael Carroll.
Coves above Pointe-a-Puiseaux.–Messrs. Joseph Cantillon, Peter Daly,
Michael Lowry and Michael P. Kenny,
New Liverpool and Pointe Levi.–Messrs. James Walsh and John McNaughton.
Palace Ward.— Messrs. Judge Power, J. P. O’Meara, Edward J. Charlton,
James Green, Thomas D. Tims and Lawrence Stafford.
St. Lewis Ward.— Messrs. J. P. Bradley, Henry O’Connor, Charles Alleyn,
John Maguire, Edward G. Cannon and Charles McDonald.
St. John’s Ward.— Messrs. William McKay, Henry Martin, John Carr, John
Jordan, Patrick McGarvey and George Alien.
St. Roch’s Ward.— Messrs. Michael Cullen, Francis O’Rourke, Matthew
Plunkett, James Kelly, Hugh O’Donnell and David Shortel.
Beauport and Dorchester Bridge.–Messrs. John Lane and James Fox.
Little River Road.— Messrs. James O’Brien and Michael Condon.
Charlesbourg.–Mr. William Horan.
Messrs. C. Sharples, J. Sharples and M. Connolly were requested by the
meeting to wait on Messrs. Henry Pemberton, G. H. Parke, Charles Gethings,
Paul Lepper, J. H. Bradshaw and George Colley to ask leave to have their names
added to the committee. The request was granted, and the committee consisted
of the following persons :–
Reverend P. McMahon, Messrs. G. H. Parke, H. Pemberton, J. H. Bradshaw,
P. Lepper, G.Colley, C. Gethings, Judge Power, Edward Ryan, C. Sharples,
J. Sharples, M. Connolly, J. P. O’Meara, Thaddeus Kelly, J. P. Bradley, H.
Murray, W. Quinn, E. J. Charlton, T. D. Tims, L. Stafford, William Downes, H.
O’Connor, W. Cronin, H. O’Rourke, J. Cantillon, P. Stafford, Maurice O’Leary,
C. Alleyn, J. Maguire, E. G. Cannon, M. Plunkett, J. Green, W. Richardson,
John Daly, James Walsh, John McMahon, C. McDonald, D. Maguire, J. Lane,
Thomas Murphy, P. McGarvey, M. Enright and Denis Cantillon.
It was unanimously agreed that the amounts collected were to be sent to the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Dublin.
In the meantime the Independent Order of Odd Fellows sent home $1,200 as their donation, on the understanding that a portion of this sum was to be transmitted to the Scotch poor, as famine also prevailed in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
QUEBEC DOES HER DUTY
The question of aiding the famishing Irish became general. The citizens, who met on the morning of the 29th May, 1845, and made up among themselves the handsome sum of $28,000 before the evening of that same day, came forward, ready and willing, to contribute their share to the Irish famine fund.
On the 12th February, 1847, a public meeting was held in the City Hall, Quebec, at which the Hon. A. W. Cochrane presided, with Doctor William Kimlin as secretary. Among those present were the Catholic Bishop of Quebec, the Protestant Bishop of Montreal, the Reverend Messrs. P. McMahon, of St. Patrick’s; Doctor John Cook, of St. Andrew’s; and G. Clugston, of the English Cathedral; Sir Henry J. Caldwell, Hons. R. E. Caron and F. W. Primrose, Captain R. I. Alleyn, R.N.; Messrs. A. C. Buchanan, John Sharples and Paul Lepper. It was agreed that a collection be taken up, the same to be divided between the sufferers in Ireland and those in Scotland in the proportion of three-fourths to the former and one-fourth to the latter,–that Ireland’s share was to be sent to the Protestant and Catholic Archbishops of Dublin, and Scotland’s to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
Mr. Charles Gethings was appointed Treasurer and the following persons collectors:–
St. Peter’s Ward.–Messrs. H. Pemberton, Jas. Gibb, J. B. Forsyth, R. Cassets,
C. Langevin, Robt. Shaw, W. D. Dupont, Archibald Campbell, G. H. Parke,
J. H. Bradshaw, C. Sharples, M. Connolly, Hugh Murray, D. Maguire, J. Murphy,
W. Cronin, M. Enright and Peter Clark.
St. Lewis Ward.–Hons. Louis Panet and L. Massue, Messrs. Henry Lemesurier,
Hammond Gowen, A. C. Buchanan, G. B. Faribault, J. P. Bradley, H.
O’Connor, Chas. Alleyn, J. Maguire, E. G. Cannon, Charles McDonald.
Palace Ward.–Messrs. Paul Lepper, H. S. Scott, L.· Tetu, Geo. Hall, J.
McLeod, L. Bilodeau, Jos. Legare, Judge Power, J. P. O’Meara, E. J. Charlton,
James Green, T. D. Tims and Lawrence Stafford.
Champlain Ward.–Messrs. G. Black, jr., P. McQuilkin, Thos. Tweedell,
J. Blais, A. Amiot, J. B. Frechette, Patrick McMahon, John Doran, Patrick Stafford,
Thomas Gahan, Miles Kelly, Michael Power, Edward Duggan and John
Toll-Gate to Pointe-a-Puiseaux.–Messrs. Wm. White, Robt. Galna, Louis
Dorion, Wm. Quinn, R. McGillis, Wm. Richardson, Michael Carroll, John Dodd,
Jas. Dodd, John Lill and Robt. McCord.
Coves above Pointe-a-Puiseaux.–Messrs. Jos. Cantillon, Peter Daly, Michael
Lowry and Michael P. Kenny.
St. Roch’s Ward.–Messrs. Thomas Oliver, J. Tourangeau, Dr. E. Rousseau,
J. B. Rheaume, J. J. Nesbitt, J. Jeffery, jr., W. Brown, W. Venner, Clement
Cazeau, Laurent Lemieux, M. Cullen, F. O’Rourke, M. Plunkett, Jas.
Kelly, H. O’Donnell and David Shortel.
St. John and St. Louis Suburbs.–Messrs. Wm. Philips, John Codville, Abraham
Joseph, C. W. Wurtele, J. Robitaille, Alexis Dorval, Pierre Gauvreau, F.
X. Dion, Jean Paquet, J. B. Gingras, Louis Chevret, Z. Chartre, John Howison,
Remi Malouin, L. Picard, W. McKay, H. Martin, J. Carr, J. Jordan, P. McGarvey
and George Allen.
St. Fay Road.–Messrs. W. Petry, Ed. Prendergast, Richard Charlton and
Little River.–Messrs. D. Bell, J. Bigaouette, J. O’Brien and M. Condon.
Beauport to Dorchester Bridge.–Messrs. W. Walker, jr., G. Colley, Geo.
Sturgeon, W. Brown, John Douglas, J. Lane and J. Fox.
Charlesbourg.–Messrs. Andrew Burke, James Meiklejohn and William
Pointe Levi and New Liverpool.–Messrs. ]os. Bourassa, Ed. Lagueux, Jno.
Walsh, Etienne Dalaire, Jno. Jordan (culler), Thos. Smith, Robert Buchanan,
Jas. Thomson, Jas. Walsh and J. McNaughton.
In accordance with instructions, the collectors handed in their returns on the 19th February, showing $12,000. By the end of March upward~ of $r6,ooo was collected. Of this amount St. Peter’s ward gave $3,600, St. Lewis ward $2,200, Palace ward $1,600, Champlain ward $1,200 and St. Roch’s ward $1,600. Well might the Reverend (later Monsignor) Bernard O’Reilly, exclaim in all the sincerity of his heart, “Quebec is a noble city, and no mistake. Impoverished though she be, with whole districts still in ruins, and after the calls recently made upon her well-known generosity, she is ever the first, and the most liberal in the cause of charity. May the prayers of the millions she is now so effectually endeavoring to snatch from starvation in Scotland and Ireland draw down upon herself new blessings from on high, and may she, in reward for her sympathies to our wretched fellow-countrymen, be what she was, and what she ought to be, the Empire city of British North America!”
THE OLD STANDERS
As many of our readers have seen, the names of those of our race and creed in Quebec, who always took an active interest in all matters relating to religion and nationality, have been given. There are others also who were “to God and Ireland true,” and whose names are worthy of being recorded, namely:–
St. Peter’s Ward.–Messrs. John Quinn, Terence Morgan, Thomas Garde,
Francis Waters, Patrick Shea, Edward Hartigan, Patrick McGauran, John
O’Kane, Edward Byrne, Francis Timmony, Patrick Jennings, Patrick Lynet,
George McDonnell, William Henessy, Jeremiah O’Shea, William Rigney, Philip
McKenna, M. Kirwin, William Delaney, William Cavanagh, E. Carroll, M.
Mahony, Christopher Flanagan, M. O’Flaherty, John Regan, James Coolican,
Denis Cantillon, Maurice Hurly, John Teaffe, Michael Scott, Jas. Crolly, Philip
Quinn, Edward Quinn, James O’Brien, Michael Hawkins, Thomas Forrestal,
Michael Cahill, Michael Hanly, John Flanagan and James Beakey.
St. Lewis Ward.–Messrs. John Mahoney, Thos. Murphy, J. J. Saurin,
John Curtin, Henry S. McPeak, Patrick Henchey, Wm. Deegan, Patrick Brennan,
Michael Harty, John Maguire, Philip Whitty, Richard Clancy, John Colvin,
Patrick Colter, John Timmons, Daniel McGlory, Owen McAnally, Patrick Pigeon,
Jeremiah Madden, Joseph Cavanagh, Thomas Farley, Capt. Alleyn, R.N., Wm.
McGrath and Michael Dunn.
Palace Ward.–Messrs. Thomas Casey, John King, William Downes, WilIiam
Tims, Francis Tims, Thos. Busher, Patrick Weir, James Charlton, John
Lilly, Thaddeus Kelly, John Grace, Michael Green, Patrick Moran, Thomas McGreevy,
Maurice O’Leary and Daniel Coveney.
Champlain Ward.–Messrs. Edward Duggan, Jas. Mangan, Wiliam Quinn,
William McKeghney, Michael Power, John Byrne, Patrick O’Dowd, James McGill, Peter Donaghue, John Tolland, Patrick Shea, Jas. Corrigan, Edward Moss, James Bowen, Patrick Ryan, Daniel Dunn, Jas. Fitzgerald, James Foley, Michael
Keogan, Patrick Kelly, James Sheridan, John O’Malley, Charles Gilbride, Patrick
Hickey, Denis Shehan, Thomas Judge, John Leonard, Bernard McMahon,
Michael Murphy, M. Pender, Thomas Roche, Denis Powell, Michael Foley,
Michael Hayden, Charles Powell, Jas. Reynolds, Timothy Guilfoyle, Luke Brothers,
Patrick Neville, Michael Barrett, Charles Finlay, Michael Tierney, Thomas
Murphy, Jeremiah Connors, Nathaniel Morrow, Edward Doran, James McGoldrick,
Thomas Doran, James O’Neill, Thomas Montgomery, John Connors, Jas. McMahon,
Edward Reynolds, John Moore, Wm. Ellis, Thos. Burns, Richard
Coughlin, Wm. O’Brien, James Trainor, Thomas Connell, Bernard Mahoney,
James O’Brien, Thomas Lane, Thos. O’Brien, Maurice Quilty, James Burns,
Thomas Basset, John McAilister, J. B. Giblin, Jas. Anderson, Patrick O’Brien.
Daniel Trihey, Thos. Morris, John O’Connor, Michael Harrington, Jas. McVey,
J. Trihey, D. Dineen, Francis Christie, John Gregg, Stephen Battis, John Paul,
Anthony Gilmour, Michael Foran, Denis O’Neill, Timothy O’Connell, Patrick
Grogan, John McMahon, Patrick Forrestal, Thos. Fanning, Patrick Lambert,
James Feore, John O’Brien, Maurice Feore, Nicholas Roche, Bartholemew
Walsh, Thomas Berrigan, Thamas Bogue, Bartholemew Trihey, William Bogue,
Frank McLaughlin, E. Foy, Henry Courtney, Jas. Bogue, James Hayden,
Edward O’Brien, Jas. Downes, Thos. McGrath, M.D., Thomas Power, James
Mclnenly, William Leydon, Thos. Griffin, Michael Dalton, Terrence McHugh,
James Roche and Thomas Mcilroy.
Toll-Gate to Pointe-a-Puiseaux.–Messrs. Jas. Dodds, Michael Lynch, Ross
McCabe, William Kenefick, John Kenefick, George Roche, Thos. Baird, Thos.
Cullen, Chas. McKinley, James O’Shea, Edward Quinn, John Lill, John Dodds,
James Lynch, Lawrence Furlong, John Fitzpatrick, Hugh Shannon, Patrick
Nolan, Richard Kenefick, John Phelan, Richard O’Shea, Thomas Walsh, Thos.
Rafferty, Thos. Tierney, Cornelius O’Brien, John Munro, Waiter Furlong,
Michael Fitzgibbon, Robert Brindle, Denis O’Sullivan, Thomas Kenefick, Patrick
McGoldrick, Robt. Galna and Patrick McHugh.
Sillery Section.–Messrs. Stephen Connolly, Denis Bogue, Jas. Lynch, Alex.
McCabe, Jas. Paul, Michael Fortune, Patrick Mclnenly, jr., Thomas Malone, Jas
Kerr, Martin Hrgan, Patrick Malone, Wm. Munro, John Kelly, Michael Hogan,
John Moriarty, Denis Sammon, John French, Jas. Finigan, Thos. Redmond, Wm.
Power, Thos. Egan, Robt. Quinn, Maurice Malone, Jas. Monaghan and Patrick
St. John and St. Lewis Suburbs.–Messrs. Patrick Connolly, Chas. Jordan,
Patrick Kenny, John Hart, John Connolly, Patrick Doherty, John Granary, Jos.
Coveney, Wm. Haug-hey, John Coote, Wm. Kirwin, Wm. Woods, Bernard Reilly
and Wm. McDonagh.
Pages from 76 to 101 have been excluded
The Ocean Plague
From a now very rare old book, published at Boston in 1848 and bearing the title of “The Ocean Plague or a Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel, embracing a Quarantine at Grosse Isle in 1847, with notes illustrative of the Ship Pestilence of that fatal year, by a Cabin Passenger,” we make the following extracts, which are all the more interesting and valuable in that they emanate from one who was an actual eye-witness of the tragic scenes described and who, though anonymous, was evidently an Irish Protestant gentleman of education and position, as well as a man of humane feeling and impartial observation:
Emigration has for a long time been considered by British economists the most effective means of alleviating the grievous ills under which the Irish peasantry labor. It is not our province to inquire into its expediency; but viewing the subject with the single eye of common-sense, it is difficult to see the necessity of expatriating the superfluous population of a country wherein hundreds of thousands of acres of land; susceptible of the highest culture, lie waste,–whose mines teeming with wealth remain unworked,–and which is bordered by more than two thousand miles of sea coast, whose banks swarm with ling, cod, mackerel, &c., while salt-fish is largely imported from Scotland.
Many years previous to legislators taking up the matter, emigration from Ireland existed, and that of a class of persons which could be badly spared from the already impoverished island; consisting as it did of small but substantial farmers, who, perceiving but a gloomy prospect before them, sold off their land, and, turning their capital into cash, availed themselves of the opportunities that existed to find comfort and independence by settling in America.
The majority of these adventurers being successful in their undertakings, they induced their relatives and friends to follow them; and thus a strong tide of emigrants, whose number gradually increased each season, set toward the West.
This progressive and natural system of emigration, however, gave place within the last few years to a violent rush of famished, reckless human beings, flying from their native land, to seek food in a distant and unknown country. The cause of this sudden change is easily ascertained. Every one is familiar with the wretched lot of the Irish peasantry,–obliged to work for a miserable pittance, their chief reliance was upon the crop of potatoes grown by each family in the little patch of ground attached to their hut; a poor dependence, indeed, not only as regards the inferiority of the potato as the sole diet of a people, but from the great uncertainty always attending its propagation. The consequence of even a partial failure–an event of common occurrence-being of the most serious nature.
In the year 1822, the deficiency was so general that the price quadrupled, and the peasantry of the south and west were reduced to actual starvation. To alleviate the distress a committee was formed in London, and sub-committees throughout England; and such was the benevolence of individuals, that large funds were in a short time at their disposal. By the end of the year subscriptions had been raised in Great Britain amounting to £350,000; to which Parliament added a grant of £300,000, while the local collections in Ireland were £150,000; making altogether £800,000,–a large sum, but how inadequate to meet the wants of some three or four millions of starving people?
This serious warning it should be supposed would have opened the eyes of the country to the necessity of having something else as a resource under a similar emergency; but a plentiful season lulled them into forgetfulness of what they had suffered, and apathy concerning the future.
So abundant was the produce of the seasons of 1842 and 1843, that the poorest beggar refused potatoes, and these were commonly used to manure the land. But the blight of the crop of 1845, and the total destruction of that of 1846, brought the country to the lowest ebb, and famine with its attendant, disease, talked through the land.
Charity stretched forth her hand from far and near, America giving liberally of her abundance. But all that could be done fell far short of the wants of the dying sufferers. The Government stepped forward, and advanced funds for the establishment of public works; this was attended with much advantage and mitigated a great deal of distress; but unfortunately all the money had to be returned in the shape of onerous taxation upon the landowners.
The gentry became seriously alarmed, and some of them perceiving that the evil was likely to increase year after year, took into their consideration what would be the surest method of terminating it.
At length it was discovered that the best plan would be to get completely rid of those who were so heavy a burthen upon them, by shipping them to America; at the same time publishing to the world, as an act of brotherly love and kindness, a deed of crafty, calculating selfishness,–for the expense of transporting each individual was less than the cost of one year’s support in a workhouse.
It required but little argument to induce the prostrated people to accede to their landlords’ proposal, by quitting their poverty-stricken country for “a land flowing with milk and honey,”–poor creatures, they thought that any change would be for the better. They had nothing to risk, everything to gain. “Ah! Sir,” said a fellow-passenger to me, after bewailing the folly that tempted him to plunge his family into aggravated misfortune,–“we thought we couldn’t be worse off than we war; but now to our sorrow we know the differ; for sure supposin we were dyin of starvation, or if the sickness overtuk us, we had a chance of a doctor, and if he could do no good for our bodies, sure the priest could for our souls; and then we’d be buried along wid our own people, in the ould church-yard, with the green sod over us; instead of dying like rotten sheep thrown into a pit, or the minit the breath is out of our bodies, flung into the sea to be eaten up by them horrid sharks.”
It cannot excite the least surprise that these wretched beings should carry with them the seeds of that plague from which they were flying; and it was but natural that these seeds should rapidly germinate in the hot-bed holds of ships crammed alinost to suffocation with their distempered bodies. In short, nothing was wanted to encourage the .speedy development of the direst disease aAd misery; but, alas! everything that could check their spread was absent.
My heart sickens when I think upon the fatal scenes of the awfully tragic drama enacted upon the wide stage of the Atlantic ocean, in the floating lazar houses that were wafted upon its bosom during the never-to-be-forgotten year 1847.
Without a precedent in history, may God grant that the account of it may descend to posterity without a parallel! Laws for the regulation of passenger ships were in existence; but whether on account of difficulty arising from the vast augmentation of number, or some other cause, they (if at all put in force) proved quite ineffectual.
What a different picture was presented by the Germans who migrated in large bodies, who,–although the transmission of human beings from Fatherland must always be attended by more or less pain and trouble,–underwent none of those heart-rending trials reserved exclusively for the Irish emigrant.
Never did so many souls tempt all the dangers of the deep, to seek asylums in an adopted country; and, could we draw a veil over the sad story of the ship pestilence, “this. migration of masses, numbering of late years more than 100,000 annually, now nearly 300,000 annually, not in the warlike spirit of the Goths and Vandals who overran the Roman Empire, and destroyed the monuments of art and evidences of civilization, but in the spirit of peace, anxious to provide for themselves and their children the necessaries of life, and apparently ordained by Providence to relieve the countries of the old world, and to serve great purposes of good to mankind,–is one of the most interesting spectacles the world ever saw.”
The reader must not expect to find anything more in these pages than a faithful detail of the occurrences on board an emigrant vessel. The author has no desire to exaggerate, were it possible to do so. And he who wishes to arrive at any conclusion as to the amount of suffering, must calculate, from the aflliction that I have faintly portrayed upon a small scale, what must have been the unutterable “weight of woe” in ships whose holds contained five or six hundred tainted, famished, dying mortals.
The following extract from the London Times newspaper presents a faithful and graphic review of the dire tragedy:
“The great Irish famine and pestilence will have a place in that melancholy series of similar calamities to which historians and poets have contributed so many harrowing details and touching expressions. Did Ireland possess a writer imbued with the laborious truth of Thucydides, the graceful felicity of Virgil or the happy invention of De Foe, the events of this miserable year might be quoted by the scholar for ages to come, together with the sufferings of the pent-up multitudes of Athens, the distempered plains of northern Italy, or the hideous ravages of our own great plague. But time is ever improving on the past. There is one horrible feature of the recent, not to say present, visitation, which is entirely new. The fact of more than a hundred thousand souls flying from the very midst of a calamity across a great ocean to a new world, crowding into insufficient vessels, scrambling for a footing on a deck, or a berth in a hold, committing themselves to these worse than prisons, while their frames were wasted with ill fare and their blood infected with disease, fighting for months of unutterable wretchedness against the elements without and pestilence within, giving almost hourly victims to the deep, landing at length on shores already terrified and diseased, consigned to encampments of the dying and the dead, spreading death wherever they roam, and having no other prospect before them than a long continuance of these horrors in a still farther flight across forests and lakes under a Canadian sun and a Canadian frost-all these are circumstances beyond the experience of the Greek historian or Latin poet, and such as an Irish pestilence alone could produce.
“By the end of the season there is little doubt that the emigration into Canada alone will have amounted to 100,000; nearly all from Ireland. We know the condition in which these poor creatures embarked on their perilous adventure. They were only flying from one form of death. On the authority of the Montreal Board of Health we are enabled to say that they were allowed to ship in numbers two or three times greater than the same vessels would have presumed to carry to an United States port.
“The worse horrors of that slave-trade which it is the boast or the ambition of this empire to suppress, at any cost, have been re-enacted in the sigiht of British subjects from their native shores. In only ten of the vessels that arrived at Montreal in July, four from Cork and six from Liverpool, out of 4,427 passengers, 804 had died on the passage, and 847 were sick on their arrival; that is, 847 were visibly diseased, for the result proves that a far larger number had in them the seeds of disease. The Larch, says the Board of Health, on August 12th, reported this morning from Sligo, sailed with 440 passengers, of whom 108 died on the passage, and 150 were sick.
” ‘The Virginius sailed with 596; 158 died on the passage, 186 were sick, and the remainder landed feeble and tottering; the captain, mates, and crew, were all sick.’
“The Black-Hole of Calcutta was a mercy compared to the holds of these vessels. Yet simultaneously, as if in reproof of those on whom the blame of all this wretchedness must fall, foreigners, Germans from Hamburg and Bremen, are daily arriving, all healthy, robust, and cheerful.
“This vast unmanageable tide of population thus thrown upon Montreal, like the fugitives from some bloody defeat, or devastated country, has been greatly augmented by the prudent, and, we must add, most necessary precautions adopted in time by the United States, where most stringent sanitary regulations, enforced by severe penalties, have been adopted to save the ports of the Union from those very horrors which a paternal government has suffered to fall upon MontreaL Many of these pest ships have been obliged to alter their destination, even while at sea, for the St. Lawrence.
“At Montreal a large proportion of these outcasts have lingered from sheer inability to proceed. The inhabitants of course have been infected.
“A still more horrible sequel is to come. The survivors have to wander forth and find homes. Who can say how many will perish on the way, or the masses of houseless, famished, and half-naked wretches that will be strewed on the inhospitable snow when a Canadian winter sets in?
“Of these awful occurrences some account must be given. Historians and politicians will some day sift and weigh the conflicting narrations and documents of this lamentable year, and pronounce, with or without affectation, how much is due to the inclemency of heaven, and how much to the cruelty, heartlessness or improvidence of man. The boasted institutions and spirit of the empire are on trial. They are weighed in the balance.
“Famine and pestilence are at the gates, and the conscience-stricken nation will almost fear to see the ‘writing on the wall.’
“We are forced to confess that, whether it be the fault of our laws or our men, this new act in the terrible drama has not been met as humanity and common- sense would enjoin. The result was quite within the scope of calculation, and even of care.”
Miscalculation, and want of care, are terms far too mild to apply to such wanton negligence as resulted in the immediate sacrifice of upwards of 25,000 souls, four-fifths of whom fell upon their way to Canada. From the report issued at the end of the season, it appears that, of the 98,105 (of whom 60,000 were Irish) that were shipped for Quebec,
There died at sea …………………5,293
At Grosse Isle and Quebec ………….8,072
In and above Montreal. …………….7,000
besides those who afterwards perished, whose number can never be ascertained. Allowing an average of 300 persons to each, 200 vessels were employed in the transmission to Canada of Irish emigrants alone; and each of these vessels lost one-third of her living cargo ere she again set sail upon her return to Europe.
If we suppose those 60,000 persons to be an army on their way to invade some hostile power, how serious would appear the loss of one-third of their number before a battle was fought? Yet the 40,000 who landed upon the Canadian shores had to fight many a deadly battle before they could find peace or rest. Or, in order to make the matter sensible to those who know the value of money better than of human life, let us multiply 20,000 by 5, the cost in pounds sterling of the passage of each individual, and we perceive a loss of £100,000, or $500,000.
But it may be thought the immolation of so many wretched starvelings was rather a benefit than a loss to the world. It may be so. Yet–untutored, degraded, famished, and plague-stricken, as they were; I assert that there was more true heroism, more faith, more forgiveness of their enemies, and submission to the Divine Will, exemplified in these victims, than could be found in ten times the number of their oppressors.
Saturday, June 12th.
The two women who first became ill on our brig were said to show symptoms of bad fever; and additional cases of illness were reported. The patients begged for an increased allowance of water; which could not be granted, as the supply was very scanty, two casks having leaked.
Sunday, June 13th.
The reports from the hold became very alarming; and the mistress was occupied all day attending the numerous calls upon her. She already regretted having come the voyage; but her kind heart did not allow her to consult her ease. When she appeared upon deck, she was beset by a crowd of poor creatures, each having some request to make; often of a most inconsiderate kind, and few of which it was in her power to comply with. The day was cold and cheerless; and I occupied myself reading in the cabin.
Monday, June 14th.
The Head committee brought a can of water to show it to the captain: it was quite foul, muddy, and bitter from having been in a wine cask. When allowed to settle it became clear, leaving considerable sediment in the bottom of the vessel; but it retained its bad taste. The mate endeavoured to improve it by trying the effect of charcoal, and of alum; but some of the casks were beyond remedy, and the contents, when pumped out, resembled nauseous ditch water. There were now eight cases of serious illness ;–six of them being fever and two dysentery;the former appeared to be of a peculiar character, and very alarming: the latter disease did not seem to be so violent in degree.
Tuesday, June 15th.
The reports this morning were very afflicting, and I felt much, that I was unable to render any assistance to my poor fellow-passengers. The captain desired the mistress to give them everything out of his own stores that she considered would be of service to any of them. He felt much alarmed; nor was it to be wondered at that contagious fever,–which under the most advantageous circumstances, and under the watchful eyes of the most skilful physicians, baffles the highest ability,–should terrify one having the charge of so many human beings, likely to fall a prey to the unchecked progress of the dreadful disease; for once having shown itself in the unventilated hold of a small brig, containing one bun· dred and ten living creatures, how could it possibly be stayed,–without suitable medicines, medical skill, or even pure water to slake the patient’s burning thirst? The prospect before us was indeed an awful one; and there was no hope for us but in the mercy of God.
Wednesday June 16th.
The past night was very rough, and I enjoyed little rest. No additional cases of sickness were reported : but there were apparent signs of insubordination amongst the healthy men, who complained of starvation, and the want of water to make drinks for their sick wives and children. A deputation came aft to acquaint the captain with their grievances, but he ordered them away, and would not listen to a word from them. When he went below, the ringleader threatened that they would break into the provision store.
The mate did not take any notice of the threat, but repeated to me, in their hearing, an anecdote of his own experience when a captain; showing with what determination he suppressed an outbreak in his vessel. He concluded by alluding to cutlasses, and the firearms in the cabin. And in order to make a deeper impression on their minds, he brought up the old blunderbuss, from which he fired a shot, the report of which was equal to that of a small cannon. The deputation slunk away, muttering complaints.
Thursday, June 17th.
Two new cases of fever were announced, and from the representation of the mate,–the poor creatures in the hold were in a shocking state. Our progress was almost imperceptible, and the captain began to grow very uneasy, there being, at the rate of the already miserable allowance of food, bnt provisions for fifty days. 1 It also now became necessary to reduce the complement of water, and to urge the necessity of using sea water in cookery.
A shark followed us all the day, and the mate said it was a certain forerunner of death. The cabin was like an apothecary’s shop, and the mistress a perfect slave. I endeavoured to render her every assistance in my power. The mate also was indefatigable in his exertions to alleviate the miserable lot of our helpless human cargo.
Tuesday, June 22nd.
One of the sailors was unable for duty, and the mate feared he had the fever. The reports from the hold were growing even more alarming, and some of the patients who were mending, had relapsed. One of the women was every moment expected to breathe her last, and her friends,–an aunt and cousins,–were inconsolable about her; as they persuaded her to leave her father and mother, and come with them. The mate said that her feet were swollen to double their natural size, and covered with black putrid spots. I spent a considerable part of the day watching a shark that followed in our wake with great constancy.
Wednesday, June 23rd.
At breakfast I inquired of the mate after the young woman who was so ill yesterday, when he told me that she was dead; and when I remarked that I feared her burial would cause great consternation, I learned that the sad ordeal was over, her remains having been consigned to the deep within an hour after she expired. When I went on deck I heard the moans of her poor aunt, who continued to gaze upon the ocean as if she could mark the spot where the waters opened for their prey. The majority of the wretched passengers, who were not themselves ill, were absorbed in grief for their relatives.
Friday, June 25th.
This morning there was a further accession to the names upon the sick roll. It was awful how suddenly some were stricken. A little child who was playing with its companions, suddenly fell down, and for some time was sunk in a deathlike torpor, from which, when she awoke, she commenced to scream violently, and writhed in convulsive agony. A poor woman who was warming a drink at the fire for her husband, also dropped down quite senseless, and was borne to her berth. I found it very difficult to acquire precise information respecting the progressive symptoms of the disease, the different parties of whom I inquired disagreeing in some particulars; but I inferred that the first symptom was generally a reeling in the head, followed by a swelling pain, as if the head were going to burst. Next came excruciating pains in the bones, and then a swelling of the limbs, commencing with the feet, in some cases ascending the body, and again descending before it reached the head, stopping at the throat. The period of each stage varied in different patients; some of whom were covered with yellow, watery pim· ples, and others with red and purple spots, that turned into putrid sores.
Saturday, June 26th.
Some of those who the other day appeared to bid defiance to the fever, were seized in its relentless grasp; and a few who were on the recovery, relapsed. It seemed miraculous to me that such subjects could struggle with so violent a disease without any effective aid.
Sunday, June 27th.
The moaning and raving of the patients kept me awake nearly all the night; and I could hear the mistress stirring about until a late hour. It made my heart bleed to listen to the cries for “Water, for God’s sake, some water.” Oh! it was horrifying; yet, strange to say, I had no fear of taking the fever, which, perhaps, under the merciful providence of the Almighty, was a preventive cause. The mate, who spent much of his time among the patients, described to me some revolting scenes he witnessed in the hold; but they were too disgusting to be repeated. He became very much frightened, and often looked quite bewildered.
Monday, June 28th.
The number of patients upon the list now amounted to thirty, and the effluvium of the hold was shocking. The passengers suffered much for want of pure water, and the mate tried the quality of all the casks. Fortunately he discovered a few which were better, and this circumstance was rather cheering.
Wednesday, June 30th.
Passing the main hatch, I got a glimpse of one of the most awful sights I ever beheld. A poor female patient was lying in one of the upper berths–dying. Her head and face were swollen to a most unnatural size; the latter being hideously deformed. I recollected remarking the clearness of her complexion when I saw her in health, shortly after we sailed. She then was a picture of good humor and contentment; now, how sadly altered! Her cheeks retained their ruddy hue, but the rest of her distorted countenance was of a leprous whiteness. She had been nearly three weeks ill, and suffered exceedingly until the swelling set in, commencing in her feet, and creeping up the body to her head. Her afflicted husband stood by her holding a “blessed candle” in his hand, and awaiting the departure of her spirit. Death put a period to her existence shortly after I saw her. And as the sun was setting, the bereaved husband. muttered a prayer over her enshrouded corpse, which, as he said “Amen,” was lowered into the ocean.
Thursday, July 1st.
The wind was still unfavorable, but we gained a little by constantly tacking, and were approaching the banks of Newfoundland. Some new cases were announced, making thirty-seven now lying. A convalescent was assisted on deck, and seemed revived by the fresh air. He was a miserable object. His face being yellow and withered, was rendered ghastly by the black streak that encircled his sunken eyes.
Tuesday, July 6th.
Two men (brothers) died of dysentery, and I was awakened by the noise made by the mate, who was searching for an old sail to cover the remains with In about an hour after, they were consigned to the deep, a remaining brother being the solitary mourner. He continued long to gaze upon the ocean, while a tear that dropped from his moistened eye told the grief he did not otherwise express. I learned in the afternoon that he was suffering from the same complaint that carried off his brothers.
Thursday, July 8th.
Another of the crew was taken ill, thereby reducing our hands when they were most required.
Friday, July 9th.
A few convalescents appeared upon deck. The appearance of the poor creatures was miserable in the extreme. We now had fifty sick, being nearly one-half the whole number of passengers. Some entire families being prostrated, were dependent on the charity of their neighbors, many of whom were very kind. The brother of the two men who died on the sixth instant, followed them to-day. He was seized with dismay from the time of their death, which, no doubt, hurried on the malady to its fatal termination. The old sails being all used up, his remains were placed in two meal-sacks, and a weight being fastened at the foot, the body was placed upon one of the hatch battens, from which, when raised over the bulwark, it fell into the deep, and was no more seen. He left two little orphans, one of whom, a boy seven years of age, I noticed in the evening, wearing his deceased father’s coat. Poor little fellow! he seemed quite unconscious of his loss, and proud of the accession to his scanty covering.
Wednesday, July 14th.
The reports of the sufferings in the hold were heartrending. Simon and Jack were both taken ill.
Thursday, July 15th.
There was a birth on board this morning, and two or three deaths were momentarily expected. The mate’s account of the state of the hold was harrowing. It required the greatest coercion to enforce anything like cleanliness or decency.
Monday, July 19th.
Another death and burial. A few who had been ill, again appeared on deck, weak, and weary. The want of pure water was sensibly felt by the afflicted creatures, and we were yet a long way from where the river loses its saltness. In the morning there came alongside of us a beautiful little schooner, from which we took a pilot on board. When he found that we had emigrants, and so much sickness, he seemed to be frightened and disappeared; as he had avoided a large ship, thinking we had not passengers. However, he could not nor dare he retreat. The first thing he did was to open his huge trunk, and take from it a pamphlet, which proved to be the quarantine regulations; he handed it to the captain, who spent a long time poring over it. When he had read it I got a look at it–one side was printed in French, the other in English. The rules were very stringent, and the penalties for their infringement exceedingly severe; the sole control being vested in the head physician, the power given to whom was most arbitrary. We feared that we should undergo a long detention in quarantine, and learned that we could hold no communication whatever with the shore until our arrival at Grosse Isle.
Thursday, July 22nd.
A child, one of the orphans, died and was buried in the evening, no friend being by to see the frail body committed to its watery grave. The water could not be used by the wretched emigrants, and but half a cask of that provided for the cabin anJ crew remained; they were, therefore, obliged to use the saline water of the river. ·
Friday, July 23rd.
We remained at anchor all day, a fresh breeze blowing down the river. Some of the recovered patients who were slowly regaining strength, had relapsed into the most violent stages, and three new cases were announced, showing exceedingly virulent symptoms.
Grosse Isle, July 28th.
By 6 a.m. we were settled in our new position before the quarantine station. The passengers that were able to be up were all busy, cleaning and washing, some clearing the hold of filth, others assisting the sailors in swabbing the deck. At 9 o’clock a boat was perceived pulling towards us, with four oars and a steersman with a broad leafed straw hat and leather coat, who the pilot told us was the inspecting physician. In a few minutes the boat was alongside, and the doctor on deck. He hastily enquired for the captain, and before he could be answered was down in the cabin where the mistress was finishing her toilet. Having introduced himself, he enquired if we had sickness aboard?–Its nature? –How many deaths?–How many patients at present? These questions being answered, and the replies noted upon his tablet, he snatched up his hat,–ran up the ladder,–along the deck,–and down into the hold. Arrived there, “ha!” said he, sagaciously, “there is fever here.” He stopped beside the first berth in which a patient was lying,–felt his pulse,–examined his tongue,–and ran up the ladder again.
All day long we kept looking out for a message from shore, and in watching the doctor’s boat, going from vessel to vessel; his visit to each occupying about the same time as to us, which was exactly five minutes, but the boat the next moment would be concealed by some large ship; then we were sure we would be the next; but no, the rowers pulled for shore. The day wore away before we gave up hope.
I could not believe it possible, that here within reach of help we should be left as neglected as when upon the ocean ;–that after a voyage of two months’ duration, we were to be left still enveloped by reeking pestilence, the sick without medicine, medical skill, nourishment, or so much as a drop of pure water; for the river, although not saline water, was polluted by the most disgusting objects, thrown overboard from the several vessels. In short, it was a floating mass of filthy straw, the refuse of foul beds, barrels containing the vilest matter, old rags, and tattered clothes, &c., &c.
Thursday, July 29th.
This morning a boat was perceived making towards us, which at first was thought to be the doctor’s; but when it approached near there appeared but two persons in it, both of whom were rowing. In a few minutes more the boat was alongside, and from the cassocks and bands of the two gentlemen we learned that they were Canadian priests. They came on deck, each carrying a large black bag. They inquired for the captain, who received them courteously, and introduced them to the mistress and to me, after which they conversed awhile in French with the pilot, whom they knew; when, having put on their vestments, they des· cended into the hold. They there spent a few minutes with each of the sick, and administered the last rites to the dying woman and an old man, terminating their duties by baptizing the infant. They remained in the hold for about an hour, and when they returned complimented the captain on the cleanliness of the vessel. They stayed a short time talking to us upon deck, and the account they gave of the horrid condition of many of the ships in quarantine was frightful. In the holds of some of them they said, that they were up to their ankles in filth. The wretched emigrants crowded together like cattle, and corpses remaining long unburied, the sailors being ill, and the passengers unwilling to touch them. They also told us of the vast numbers of sick in the hospitals, and in tents, upon the island, and that many nuns, clergymen and doctors, were lying in typhus fever, taken from the patients. They were exceedingly intelligent and gentlemanly men, and telling us that we had great cause of thankfulness in having escaped much better than so many others, they politely bowed, and got into their little boat, amid the blessings of the passengers, who watched them until they arrived beside a distant ship.
We lay at some distance from the island, the distant view of which was exceedingly beautiful. At the far end were rows of white tents and marquees, resembling the encampment of an army; somewhat nearer was the little fort, and residence of the superintendent physician, and nearer still the chapel, seamen’s hospital, and little village, with its wharf and a few sail bo.ats; the most adjacent extremity being rugged rocks, among which grew beautiful fir trees. At high water this portion was detached from the main island, and formed a most picturesque islet. But this scene of natural beauty was sadly deformed by the dismal display of human suffering that it presented ;–helpless creatures being carried by sailors over the rocks,on their way to the hospital,–boats arriving with patients, some of whom died in their transmission from their ships. Another and still more awful sight, was a continuous line of boats, each carrying its freight of dead to the burial-ground, and forming an endless funeral procession. Some had several corpses, so tied up in canvas that the stiff, sharp outline of death was easily traceable; others had rude coffins, constructed by the sailors, from the boards of their berths, or, I should rather say, cribs. In a few, a solitary mourner attended the remains; but the majority contained no living beings save the rowers. I could not remove my eyes until boat after boat was hid by the projecting point of the island, round which they steered their gloomy way. From one ship, a boat proceeded four times during the day; each time laden with a cargo of dead. I ventured to count the number of boats that passed, but had to give up the sickening task.
The inspecting doctor went about from vessel to vessel, six of which came in with each tide, and as many sailed. We expected him to visit us every moment; but he did not come near us.
Friday, July 30th.
This morning, when I came on deck, a sailor was busily employed constructing a coffin for the remains of the Head committee’s wife; and it was afflicting to hear the husband’s groans and sobs accompanying each sound of the saw and hammer, while with his motherless infant in his arms he looked on. About an hour after, the boat was lowered, and the bereaved husband, with four rowers, proceeded to the burial ground to inter the corpse; and they were followed by many a tearful eye, until the boat disappeared behind the rocky point.
At 10 a.m. we descried the doctor making for us, his boatmen pulling lustily through the heavy sea; a few minutes brought him alongside and on board, when be ran down to the cabin and demanded if the papers were filled up with a return of the number of deaths at sea? how many cases of sickness? &c. He was handed them by the captain; when he enquired,–how many patients we then had; he was told there were twelve; when he wrote an order to admit six to hospital; saying that the rest should be admitted when there was room; there being 2,500 at that time upon the island, and hundreds lying in the various vessels before it. The order written, he returned to his boat, and then boarded a ship lying close to us, which lowered her signal when he approached. Several other vessels that arrived in the morning, had their ensigns flying at the peak, until each was visited in turn ,
Immediately after the doctor left us, the captain gave orders to have the patients in readiness. Shortly after, our second boat was launched, and four of the passengers volunteered to row; the sailors that were able to work, being with the other. O God! may I never again witness such a scene as that which followed –the husband,–the only support of an emaciated wife and helpless family,–torn away forcibly from them, in a strange land; the mother dragged from her orphan children, that clung to her until she was lifted over the bulwarks, rending the air with their shrieks; children snatched from their bereaved parents, who were, perhaps, ever to remain ignorant of their recovery, or death. The screams pierced my brain; and the excessive agony so rent my heart, that I was obliged to retire to the cabin, where the mistress sat weeping bitterly.
The captain went in the boat, and returned in about an hour; giving us a frightful account of what he witnessed upon the island. Our boat returned, just at the same time; the men having been away all the day. It appeared that they could not find the burial ground, and consequently dug a grave upon an island, when as they were depositing the remains they were discovered, and obliged to decamp. They were returning to the brig, when they perceived several boats proceeding in another dirction, and having joined them, were conducted to the right place. The wretched husband was a very picture of desperation and misery, that increased the ugliness of his countenance ;–for he was sadly disfigured by the marks of smallpox, and was blind of an eye. He walked moodily along the deck, snatched his child from a woman’s arms, and went down into the hold without speaking a word. Shortly after, one of the sailors who was with the boat told me, that after the grave was filled up, he took the shovels and placing them crosswise upon it, calling heaven to witness said, “By that cross, Mary, I swear to revenge your death; as soon as I earn the price of my passage home, I’ll go back, and shoot the man that murdered you, and that’s the landlord.”
Sunday, August 1st.
The passengers passed a miserable night, huddled up, as they were without room to stretch their weary limbs. I pitied them from my soul, and it was sickening to see them drink the filthy water. I could not refuse to give one or two of them a mouthful from the cask upon the quarter deck, which fortunately was filled lower down the river. They asked for it so pitifully, and were so thankful; but I could not satisfy all and regretted the disappointment of many.
Thursday, 3rd August.
I was charmed with the splendid prospect I enjoyed this morning when I came on deck. The harbour of Quebec was thickly covered with vessels, many of them noble ships of the largest class. · The city upon the side of Cape Diamond, with its tin-covered domes and spires sparkling in the morning sun, and surrounded by its walls and batteries bristling with cannon, was crowned by the impregnable citadel, while a line of villages spread along the northern shore, reaching to Beauport and Montmorenci. The lofty Mount St. Anne bounding the view upon the east. Opposite the city lay Point Levi, with the village of D’Aubigne; crossing the river were steam ferryboats, horse-boats, and canoes; and up the stream,–far as the eye could reach, the banks were lined by wharves, and timber ponds, while the breeze wafted along a fleet of batteaux, with great white sails; and numberless pilot boats were in constant motion. We could not go ashore, neither dare any one come on board, until we were discharged from quarantine by the Harbour Master, and Medical Inspector. These functionaries approached us in a long six-oared boat, with the Union Jack flying in her stern. When they came on board, they demanded the ship’s papers, and clean bills of health, which the captain gave them; in return for which he received a release from quarantine. Soon after they left us, a butcher brought us fresh meat, milk, eggs and vegetables, to which we did ample justice at breakfast; when I went with the captain on shore.
I remained with the brig during her stay in Quebec harbour, and sailed in her for Montreal, on the evening of Thursday, 5th August. We were towed up the river by a steamboat; and by daylight the following morning were passing the mouth of the river Batiscan.
That the system of quarantine pursued at Grosse Isle afforded but a very slight protection to the people of Canada, is too evident from the awful amount of sickness, and the vast number of deaths that occurred amongst them during the navigable season of 1847. From the plan that was adopted, of sending the majority of the emigrants from the island directly up to Montreal, Quebec did not suffer so much as that city. However, during the three days I was there, in the month of August, too many signs of death were visible; and upon a second and more prolonged visit, later in the season, it presented an aspect of universal gloom; the churches being hung in mourning, the citizens clothed in weeds; and the newspapers recording daily deaths by fever contracted from the emigrants. To their honor and praise be it spoken, these alarming consequences did not deter either clergymen or physicians from the most unremitting zeal in performing their duty, and it is to be lamented that so many valuable lives were sacrificed.
Although (as I have already stated) the great body of emigrants were sent on to Montreal by steamers, all of them could not be so transferred, and many were detained in Quebec, where the Marine and Emigrant Hospital contained during the season, several hundreds, the number that remained upon October 2nd. being 443, of whom 93 were admitted during the week previous, and in which time there were discharged 132, and 46 died.
It now only remains for me to say a few words respecting the people that endured and reproduced so much tribulation.
The vast number of persons who quitted Europe, to seek new homes in the western hemisphere, in the year 1847, is without a precedent in history. Of the aggregate I cannot definitely speak, but to be within the limits of truth, they exceeded 350,000.
More than one-half of these emigrants were from Ireland, and to this portion was confined the devouring pestilence. It is a painful task to trace the causes that led to such fatal consequences; some of them may, perhaps, be hidden, but many are too plainly visible. These wretched people were flying from known misery, into unknown and tenfold aggravated misfortune. That famine which compelled so many to emigrate, became itself a cause of the pestilence. But that the principal causes were produced by injustice and neglect, is plainly proved. Many, as I have already stated, were sent out at the expense of their landlords; these were consequently the poorest and most abject of the whole, and suffered the most. No doubt the motives of some landlords were benevolent; but all they did was to pay for the emigrants’ passage–this done, these gentlemen washed their hands of all accountability, transferring them to the shipping agent, whose object was to stow away the greatest possible number betwen the decks of the vessels chartered for the purpose. That unwarrantable inducements were held out to many, I am aware, causing some to leave their homes, who would not otherwise have done so. They were given to understand that they would be abundantly provided for during the voyage, and that they were certain of finding immediate employment upon their arrival, at a dollar per day.
After a detention–often of many days, the vessel at length ready for sea, numbers were shipped that were quite unfit for a long voyage. True, they were inspected, and so were the ships, but from the limited number of officers appointed for the purpose, many oversights occurred. In Liverpool, for instance, if I am rightly informed, there was a staff of but five or six men to inspect the mass of emigrants, and survey the ships, in which there sailed from that port 107,474. An additional heavy infliction was their sufferings on ship-board, from famine, the legal allowance for an adult being one pound of food in twenty-four hours; but perhaps the most cruel wrong was in allowing crowds of already infected beings to be huddled up together in the confined holds, there to propagate the distemper, which there was no physician to stay. The sufferings consequent upon such treatment, I have endeavoured to portray in the previous narrative, which alas! is but a feeble picture of the unmitigated trials endured by these most unhappy beings. Nor were their sufferings ended with the voyage. Oh! no, far from it. Would that I could represent the afflictions I witnesed at Grosse Isle! I would not be supposed to think, that the medical officers situated there did not exercise the greatest humanity in administering their disagreeable duties, which consisted –not in relieving the distress of the emigrants, but in protecting their country from contamination. Still it was most afflicting, that after combatting the dangers of the sea, enduring famine, drought, and sickness, the wretched survivors should still have to lie as uncared for as when in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean.
The inefficacy of the quarantine system is so apparent, that it is needless to particularize its defects, neither need I repeat the details of the grievous aggravations of their trials, heaped by it upon the already tortured emigrants. My heart bleeds when I think of the agony of the poor families who as yet undivided had patiently borne their trials, ministering to each other’s wants–when torn from each other. Painful as it was to behold the bodies of those who died at sea, committed to the deep, yet the separation of families was fraught with much greater misery. And as if to reach the climax of endurance, the relatives and friends of those landed upon the island were at once carried away from them to a distance of 200 miles. On their way to Montreal, many died on board the steamers. There, those who sickened in their progress were received into the hospital, and the survivors of this second sifting were sent on to Kingston,–180 miles further; from thence to Toronto, and so on,–every city and town being anxious to be rid of them.
Monday Afternoon, August 9.
“Since my last, the wind has been blowing fresh from the northeast, and several vessels have arrived in port, the names of which you will find enclosed. Four have just arrived, ‘but are not yet boarded. I make out the names of three, viz:–Bark Covenanter, Bark Royal Adelaide, and Schooner Maria, of Limerick. The Zealous has not yet made her appearance.
“The accounts from Grosse Isle since my last, are not of a favorable nature, and the number of deaths is much the same. The building of the new sheds there is advancing rapidly.
“A letter was received this forenoon, from the mate of the bark Naparima, with passengers, from Dublin, dated off Bic, last Friday, announcing that the Captain, Thomas Brierly, died on the 3rd instant, and was buried on the same day. She was then fifty days out, and short of provisions,–about 20 of the passengers were sick, but were recovering when the mate wrote, and he intended to put into some convenient place for supplies. There was a pilot on board, and every exertion would be made to get her up to the Quarantine Station as soon as possible. “–Quebec Correspondence of the Montreal Herald.
“We are in possession of the latest news from Grosse Isle. The hospital statement yesterday, the 9th, was 2,240. There is a large fleet of vessels at the station, and amongst them some very sickly, as may be seen from the following statement :-
“A full rigged ship just coming in–not yet boarded. “The hospitals have never been so crowded, and the poor creatures in the tents (where the healthy are), are dying by dozens! Eleven died on the night of the 8th, and one on the road to the hospital yesterday morning. “Captain Read, of the Marchioness of Breadalbane, died in hospital on the 7th. The Captain of the Virginius died the day after his arrival at Grosse Isle. “We regret to learn that the Rev. Mr. Paisley is in a critical state. He was dangerously ill this morning.–Quebec Mercury, August 10th, 1847· “Since writing the above we learn that 60 new cases were admitted into hospital, and 300 more, arrived on the 8th and 9th, remain to be admitted!” “The steamer St. George arrived from Grosse Isle yesterday afternoon, but brought nothing of importance. The cool temperature of the last few days has had a favorable effect on the sick in the tents, and fewer cases of fever had ap· peared. “The ship Washington from Liverpool, 9th of July, had arrived at the station yesterday. She has one cabin, and 305 steerage passengers, had 22 deaths and 20 sick. She reports 15 vessels with passengers in the Traverse.
“Deaths at the sheds, where the healthy passengers are landed, during the same period.–10. “There are 1240 cases of fever, and 37 cases of smallpox. Two men died whilst being landed from the Emigrant, and 162 cases were admitted into hospital from the same vessel.”
“About 400 convalescents went up to Montreal in the Canada on Thursday last and 35 came up to Quebec in the Lady Colborne on Friday. “This has enabled the Medical Superintendent to close another hospital; and this day the services of two more medical men, with their staff of orderlies and nurses, will be dispensed with.”
“Hospital statement, 5th October.
“Men, 230–Women, 124-Children, 150–Total, 504.
“There were then three vessels with emigrants at the station.”
“A MELANCHOLY TALE OF WOE.
“On Saturday last, 30th October, the Lord Ashburton, from Liverpool, 13th September, with general cargo and passengers, arrived at Grosse Isle in a most wretched state. “When sailing she had 475 steerage passengers, and before her arrival at the Quarantine Station, she had lost 107 by dysentery and fever; and about 60 of those remaining were then ill of the same complaints. So deplorable was the condition of those on board that five of the passengers had to remain to work the ship up from Grosse Isle.” Reports of the following vessels upon their arrival at Grosse Isle, namely:
“We are glad to learn that the Soeurs Grises, amongst whom sickness and death have made such fearful havoc, during their self-immolating ministrations to the dying emigrants, are again pursuing their: charitable tabors at the sheds at Point St. Charles. We are happy to learn, also, that the sickness in Griffintown is rapidly on the decrease.”–Montreal Pilot.
The following advertisement is a specimen of many of a similar nature, that daily appeared in the newspapers; and requires no comment:
“Information wanted of Abraham Taylor, aged 12 years, Samuel Taylor, 10 years, and George Taylor, 8 years old, from county Leitrim, Ireland, who landed in Quebec. about five weeks ago–their mother having been detained at Grosse Isle. Any information respecting them will be thankfully received by their brother, William Taylor, at this office.”–Montreal Transcript, September 11th, 1847.
Another Mile-Stone of Fourty-Seven
Besides the national monument at Grosse Isle, the only other mile-stone on the shores of the St. Lawrence, marking the flight of the Irish famine-sufferers, as well as one of the saddest and most tragic incidents of 1847, is to be found at Cape des Rosiers, on the coast of Gaspe. God was more merciful to the 187 emigrants from the County Sligo, who had taken pasage for Canada on the ship “Carrick,” of Whitehaven. Death came to them swiftly and they were at least spared much of the terrible suffering and the hideous agony of the last hours of their unhappy kindred at Grosse Isle. In a blinding snowstorm, which swept the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the 23rd May, 1847, the “Carrick” ran in the middle of the night upon the rocks at Cape des Rosiers and was dashed to pieces. Out of the 187 emigrants on board, scarcely half a dozen were saved, all the others perishing. One of the survivors, a Mrs. Fingleton, still resides in Montreal. At the time of the sad event, she was a young girl, coming to this country with her father, mother and several other children. The father and two of the children were drowned. The few rescued from the wreck were well cared for by the good people of the coast. One of the good Samaritans of the occasion was a Rev. Father Dowling, of Douglastown, who happened to arrive on the spot the next morning and who found one of the victims in a most pitiable condition. His feet were lacerated and bleeding from cuts by the rocks. The good Irish priest, taking the shoes from his own feet, put them on the poor man and, walking barefooted himself, led him to a place of refuge.
Eighty-seven bodies of the unfortunate victims of the wreck were washed ashore and received Christian burial on the beach from the good clergy and people of the locality. For fifty-three years, however, their last resting place remained unmarked until the beginning of the present decade, when their sad fate was pressed upon the attention of the late Rev. Father Quinlivan, the beloved pastor of St. Patrick’s, Montreal, by Messrs. J. A. Whelan, postmaster of Cape des Rosiers, Henry Bond, Pierre Guevremont and Eugene Costin, of the same place, with the result that, through his patriotic initiative, a few spirited Irishmen in Montreal contributed and raised the necessary amount to place a suitable monument over their graves. On Sunday, the 19th August, 1900, this monument, which is of red granite and artistic design and which bears suitable inscriptions, was solemnly unveiled and dedicated in the presence of a large gathering of the population of Cape des Rosiers and the different other parishes along the coast, many hundreds of whom from Gaspe Basin, Douglas town and other points were, through the kindness of the present Government at Ottawa, conveyed to the scene, free of charge, on the Government steamer “Aberdeen”. The dedication ceremony was most imposing, The officers of the Marine Department had loaned their flags and a solid platform had been erected and decorated with the green harp of Old Ireland and the flags of all nations. Trees had ben cut from the adjoining mountains, flowers gathered from the neighborhood, garlands strung together by deft fingers, and the monument, draped in artistic fashion, was covered with things of beauty. Captain George D. O’Farrell, of Quebec, Government light-house inspector, was the moving spirit in all this good work and His Honor Judge Curran had come down specially from Montreal, delegated by Father Quinlivan, and the subscribers of the monument fund, to preside at the unveiling, of which the following account was published by the Montreal True Witness in its then next issue:
“At half-past four on Sunday afternon all was in readiness. The “Aberdeen” had brought her hundreds from Gaspe Basin, the people from the neighboring parishes had poured in, driven by their hard-pushed horses. The Cure, Rev. W. Landry, accompanied by Revds. Trois-maisons and Morris, had marched from the church down the hill, headed by the cross and accompanied by thirty choir boys, all dressed in immaculately white surplices, to the platform. Twenty marines from the “Aberdeen” were ranged immediately alongside of the choir boys. On the platform the Mayor, Mr. Anthony Foley, ocupied the chair. On his right was Hon. Mr. Justice Curran, and about twenty seats were occupied by ladies and gentlemen. Now the scene was complete, but its impressiveness was heightened when the gathering, comprising not less than 800 persons, suddenly became silent as Father Landry pronounced the benediction upon the monumental pile. Judge Curran pulled the string, and the flag surrounding the pillar fell amidst the plaintive chant of the “De Profundis,” and the “Miserere.” Then the religious ceremony being over, the Mayor, Mr. Foley, said a few words, and introduced Father Landry, who made an eloquent address, and then introduced Mr. Justice Curran. All are agreed that the Judge’s speech was worthy of the occasion. He spoke of the Irish race, of its glorious as well as of its tragic history. Having sketched the memorable periods, in language vivid and touching, he spoke of the events of the rgth century-Catholic emancipation, the work of the great liberator O’Connell, the tabors of Father Matthew and other events, calculated to inspire hope for Ireland’s future, when the famine of 1847, “black ’47,” as it has been appropriately called, with all its attendant horrors, stalked through the land. Many wept as the speaker dwelt upon the harrowing scenes of which the wreck of the “Carrick” was but a minor detail. Then addressing himself to the proceedings of the day and to the noble inspiration of the Rev. Father Quinlivan, he closed with a peroration, that will long be remembered. The learned Judge was followed by Mr. Pierre Guevremont, a worthy French-Canadian, who first brought the circumstances under the notice of Father Quinlivan, and the next speaker was Captain George D. O’Farrell, whose remarks were well received. He said other monuments, more pretentious, had been spoken of, but this one was an accomplished fact. He hoped it would act as a spur. To Father Quinlivan too much thanks could not be given, as well as to Mr. Guevremont, whilst the people would not forget the honor done them by the delegation of so distinguished a representation, to speak on behalf of St. Patrick’s parish of Montreal. After Captain O’Farrell’s speech, Miss Costin came to the platform, bearing an exquisite bouquet of flowers, which she presented to Mr. Justice Curran, after having read an address of welcome. In his reply, the Judge took occasion to express the warm thanks ol all concerned to the Hon. Mr. Bernier, Minister of Inland Revenue, and then read a beautiful letter from Mr. Rodolphe Lemieux, M.P., for Gaspe County, contain· ing words of sympathy, and a handsome subscript~on towards defraying .expenses. Mr. Lemieux’s letter was loudly applauded. Thrs ended the ceremomes of the erection of the monument, to the Cape des Rosiers victims, fifty-three years after the sad disaster. It is another evidence of the enduring patriotism of the Irish people. Father Quinlivan’s name is cut in the granite of the monument, but it is not less permanently imprinted upon the hearts of a grateful people.”
A Reproch and Its Removal
In the “Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart” for the present month of August, “Vivia Fitz-Grey” writes as follows under the above heading:– The ancient chronicler, Giraldus, once taunted the Archbishop of Cashel because no one in Ireland had received the crown of martyrdom. “Our people may be barbarous,” the prelate answered, “but they have never lifted their hands against God’s saints; but now that a people have come amongst us who know how to make them [it was just after the English invasion], we shall have martyrs presently.”
Did the archbishop, speaking from the depths of a prophetic soul, see the gaunt spectre stalking forth throughout the land? Did visions of leaner kine than ever troubled Pharaoh’s dreams float before him along the Shannon’s banks and over against the shores of Killarney’s loughs? And was it the portentous shapes discerned in the Angevin dawn which became the grim realities of the first decade of the Victorian reign?
The years 1846, 1847′ 1848, witnessed a cataclysm in Ireland, for at that time a famine fell upon the land. The potato crop failed, a failure that meant the extermination of the Irish peasantry, whose dependence on this tuber dated from events well-known in Irish history. Successive high-handed land-deals–Elizabethan, Stuart, Cromwellian–had driven the Irish to the bogs and mountains, where they discovered existence possible only through the cultivation of this esculent, so tenacious of life in conditions hostile to all other species of food-plant.
But a blight came; the crop was ruined. The country soon found itself in the throes of a famine. Who was to provide? who was to act? Ireland had no legislature of her own, nor had she had for seven and forty years. In the Imperial Parliament she had but a delusive semblance of representation; and so totally useless was any action of theirs that the Irish members preferred to stay at home. But the politicians in England probably knew nothing about the condition of the country from which the cries of distress proceeded, or, if they did, they thought the time opportune for the making of political capital out of a disaster. It is a historic fact that the people were dying by thousands of famine and of fever before England as a nation could see her way to move at all in the matter. Even at the famous monster meeting held in Dublin, in 1846, where a formidable array of lords, commoners and landed proprietors raised their voices in protest and appeal, nothing practical resulted. The answer of the Imperial economists to the solemn warning and demand of this august assembly, was simply: “We cannot interfere with the ordinary currents of trade.”
True, the Temporary Relief Act was passed and put into force for a portion of the year 1847, but its application was made with unspeakable humiliation to the Irish race. The Hon. A. M. Sullivan has left himself on record as a witness: “I doubt if the world ever saw so huge a demoralization, so great a degradation, visited upon a once high-spirited and sensitive people … I frequently stood and watched the scene till tears blinded me, and almost choked with grief and passion.”
This Act and a scheme to rid Ireland of its surplus population were really the only means settled on by the Government to cope with the disaster.
But the people, the peasantry, “once the country’s pride,” were dying, and dying by tens of thousands, of famine and of fever. The alternative now became flight. “To the sea! to the sea!” and the great and melancholy exodus began to the sea, away from the dear old home-land, to the wilds and rigors of the Canadian colony.
Who shall depict the tragedy of those scenes? Broken hearts, bitter tears, despairing farewells! The slow-moving ships, whose sails were shrouds, their prows turned westward, and Death in command. Vessels laden with thousands of perishing Irish plowed the Atlantic, and no pen can ever describe the nameless horrors of a voyage in one of those floating sepulchres. Sir Stephen de Vere, who shared the wretchedness of an emigrant ship in the interests of his afflicted countrymen, subsequently addressed a letter on the subject to the Under Secretary of State, “If the emigrants washed,” he wrote, “they could not cook their food from lack of water; they had to stay in bed to feel their hunger less; ardent Sflirits were sold to passengers 0nce or twice a week, lights were prohibited because the ship was freighted with powder for the garrison of Quebec, although there were open fire-grates upon deck, and lucifer matches and lighted pipes used secretly in the sleeping-berths.” And this ship was by exception better than the other emigrant vessels coming to Canada.
Hundreds died on the long voyage out, unshriven and unhouseled, being necessarily cast overboard to mix with the elements of ocean’s depths. Those who survived reached the quarantine stations at Partridge Island, New Brunswick, and at Grosse Isle, below Quebec, enfeebled by long lack of proper nourishment, and infected with disease either from this cause or from the foully unsanitary conditions of transportation. They found no adequate preparations made for their coming, and they were obliged to remain on the ships at anchor, suffering untold misery.
At the end of the month of May, 1847, the chief agent for emigration at Quebec sends a report of the emigrant vessels at Grosse Isle to the Earl of Elgin, then Governor-General of Canada, in which he says: “The number at present detained there is twelve thousand, the greater part of whom are still on board their ships.” He considers the question of feeding this large body of people a great and serious problem, the supplies being low, and the regular ration being too scant anyway properly to support human life. “The mortality,” he adds, “is truly alarming, the number of deaths averaging from forty to fifty a day.” From May 24, 1847, to October 16th of the same year, about one hundred thousand Irish emig rants or, more properly speaking, British subjects, if not indeed, full-fledged citizens, were reported to have been landed in the country, and were “lying helpless in the sea and river ports of Canada.”
It seem that the German and other emigrants to the Western States, at this particular period, found no difficulty in proceeding to their destination; but the Irish who were desirous of joining their relatives in the United States were not permitted to land at the ports along the frontier. The American steamboats on Lake Champlain refused to take them; and the authorities at Ogdensburg invariably sent them back. At Oswego and Sackett’s Harbor, the same course was adopted; at Lewiston, the ferryman was imprisoned for landing Irish immigrants at that place. The United States Government naturally objected to having their country made a dumping-ground for the victims of Great Britain’s “Clearance” policy in Ireland and they had legislated with a view to self-protection. A law was enacted limiting the number of persons which each passenger-vessel was allowed to carry, and raising the passage price so that destitute persons were excluded. A law previously in existence in the State of New York was more strictly enforced, which obliged the owner of a vessel to give bonds that no emigrant brought out by him would become chargeable to the Commonwealth for a period of two years after arrival. The enforcement of these laws helped to augment considerably the number of diseased and destitute persons to Canada.
In the official accounts of the time one meets certain depositions made by the incomers on their arrival at Grosse Isle, which carry awful condemnations of some Irish landlords: the demolition of houses, the separation of families, and other instances of cruelty and treachery that make the Acadian tragedy of 1755 pale into insignificance. Sweeping generalizations are, of course, not to be indulged in. It is a fact that sympathy and assistance were given by many landlords and by hosts of individuals, both in Ireland and England, but, in the main, Government methods had to prevail. The calamity was exploited for the making of political capital, with the dire result that two million people, mostly the peasantry, per· ished in those dreadful famine years.
The nations of the world responded to the cry of distress which went forth from the British Isles in 1847. John Mitchell told the truth, however, when he wrote the words that every son of the Celtic race would endorse : “I solemnly affirm that neither Ireland, nor anybody in Ireland, ever asked alms or favors of any kind, either from England or any other nation or people; it was England herself that sent round the hat.” He wished that the world should know this, even while Ireland was trying to show her eternal gratitude to those nations and individuals who came forward with help:–“to the Czar, the Sultan and the Pope, for their roubles and their pauls; to the Pashas of Egypt, the Shah of Persia, the Emperor of China, the Rajahs of India, and above all to the United States, which did more than all the rest of the world–Philadelphia taking the lead–in conspiring to do for Ireland what her so-styled rulers refused to do–to keep her young and old people living in the land.”
Westward on to America continues to turn the tide of a hopeless, hapless emigration. The quarantine station at Grosse Isle reeks with the squalor and the horrors of deadly disease and enforced degradation. Physicians, clergymen and private individuals, devote themselves heroically, but their efforts to cope with the exigencies are in the proportion of a loaf to a hungry’ army. Suffering and death, fever and panic on all sides. At Grosse Isle alone the total number of deaths is estimated at nearly six thousand.
With the opening of navigation in May, 1847 it was decided to send on to Montreal the convalescents at Grosse Isle and Quebec, as well as the new arrivals who ·were as yet not attacked by the typhus; so that Montreal now becomes the head centre of the trouble. Obedient to the instructions of the encyclical of Pius IX, on the Irish famine calamity of 1847, Bishop Bourget, of Montreal, addressed a circular letter to his parish priests, requesting the immediate assistance and cooperation of all the faithful in the fearful emergency which the colony was facing. The response was prompt and generous, considering the circumstances and the population of the country.
A committee was immediately formed to prepare for the arrival of the unfortunate people who were soon to be cast upon the shores of the Upper St. Lawrence. Temporary hospitals, or sheds, were hastily prepared by the municipal authorities, and by the middle of June six thousand Irish had been landed at Montreal. Of this number thirty-five hundred were at once assigned to “the sheds”; the others being sent up the country to Bytown, to Kingston, to Toronto, and adjacent points. But as was to be expected, before the early days of July, the epidemic was raging in Montreal. The average daily number of deaths went as high as thirty and forty, the disease being no longer confined to the strangers, but having spread among the inhabitants of the city.
The Sulpicians closed their college to allow their staff of professors to give the dying the benefits of their ministry; the Jesuits of New York City sent a contingent of their members to fulfill the pressing duties of the hour. At the request of the emigration authorities, the Grey Nuns of Montreal took up their position at the front, and never flinched during the ordeal, though all, it may be said, contracted the disease, and many laid down their lives in the field. The Sisters of Providence joined their assistance; even the cloisters of the Hotel Dieu were thrown open, by episcopal order, to allow these Religious to serve in this moment of imperious need. Bishop Bourget was there with Bishop Phelan, of Kingston, not only to offer spiritual ministrations, but to alleviate physical suffering as well.
Matters continued thus for several weeks, the pestilence abating at times, only to break out anew, up until the scourge had at last spent itself, and the ordeal was over. In the month of August of this “Black ’47,” whose gloom thus extended to all America, the Bishop of Montreal wrote a second pathetic letter, wherein he invoked the Virgin Mary, under the title “Our Lady of Good Help,” to come to the assistance of her stricken city, promising her the tribute of an ex-voto, and at the same to revive the pilgrimages in her honor to the historic church of Bonsecours, so popular in the early days of the French Colony.
Hundreds of fatherless and motherless Irish children whom this catastrophe had thrown on the charity of the public, were looked after by the ever devoted and kindly disposed French Canadians, who adopted them into their own families, or cared for them until protection could be found elsewhere. The names and the deeds of many another–clergyman, physician, consecrated virgin–should somewhere be blazoned in letters of gold; but data cannot be found. In those strenuous days, in Canada, chronicling was hrgely left to the recording angels.
At Bytown–the Ottawa of to-day–the records of the time show the daily average of typhus patients to have ben two hundred, between the months of June and October of this terrible year 1847–with a total of four hundred deaths. The Oblate Fathers and the Grey Nuns of the Cross bore nobly their share of the heat and burden of the emergency, in no instance shrinking from the dangers and duties of the hour. At Kingston and Toronto the same humanity and heroism were exercised, and edifying traits could be told of if data were not so difficult to obtain. What is authentic, however, is that the Right Rev. Dr. Power, Bishop of Toronto, stricken while attending to his unhappy countrymen, laid down his life in the performance of his priestly functions. This Christian self-sacrifice was shared also by other denominations, the Rev. Mr. Durie, a Presbyterian minis · ter, succumbing to the disease at Bytown.
The official report of the Montreal Emigrant Society for 1847, embodies this pathetic paragaph: “From Grosse Island, the great charnel-house of victimized humanity, up to Port Sarnia, and along the borders of our magnificent river, upon the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie, wherever the tide of emigration has extended, are to be found the final resting-places of the sons and daughters of Erin; one unbroken chain of graves, where repose fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, in one commingled heap, without a tear bedewing the soil nor a stone marking the spot. Twenty thousand, and upwards, have thus gone to their graves.”
Twelve years later, a portion of this reproach was removed by the erection of a monument at Point St. Charles, Montreal. A huge boulder, elemental in composition and form, taken from the central span of the Victoria Bridge, when the men were building the piers, was set up and inscribed thus :
PRESERVE FROM DESECRATION
THE REMAINS OF 6,000 IMMIGRANTS
WHO DIED OF SHIP FEVER
A. D. 1847-8
IS ERECTED BY THE WORKMEN
MESSRS. PETO, BRASSEY & BETTS
EMPLOYED IN THE CONSTRUCTION
A. D. 1859.
For some utilitarian purpose, this monument has been, in recent years, removed to its present position in St. Patrick’s Square, which seems to be a case of making it a monument standing wide of the mark.
And now happily the remaining portion of the reproach must go. At the annual banquet of the St. Patrick’s Society, Montreal, in March last, the Hon. Charles Murphy, Secretary of State in the Dominion Cabinet, made the important announcement that the Canadian Government was prepared to furnish a free site on Telegraph Hill, facing the St. Lawrence River, for the monument which the Ancient Order of Hibernians propose to erect, “to mark the spot where many hundreds of patriotic Irishmen lie buried on Grosse Isle.” The honorable gentleman explained the triple meaning which the sight of this monument is to convey:
“Primarily the monument will commemorate the heroism of those who left their native land rather than abjure that which they prized more dearly than life itself. In the next place it will commemorate the kindness of the French Canadians who ministered to our unfortunate countrymen and countrywomen, and when the end had come not only laid them tenderly in their graves, but adopted their little ones and cared for them as if these Irish orphans were their own children. But the monument will serve another and a more important purpose. We are told that the statue of Liberty, standing in majestic watch and ward over New York harbor, was designed to impress the incoming stranger that he is arriving in a land of freedom. At best, that statue is an abstract symbol, whose import is grasped by very few individuals among the teeming thousands who enter New York for the first time. Not so with the Celtic cross that is to surmount Telegraph Hill on the St. Lawrence. As the incoming stranger sails up that noble and historic river, his gaze will rest on that monument, and no sooner will he hear its story than his mind will receive an indelible impression that this is not only a land of freedom, but that it is a land of brotherly love, a land where the races live in harmony, and where each vies with the other in promoting the great work of national unity.”
With this project carried out, forgetfulness yields to remembrance; neglect melts away in the warmth of genuine sympathy, even if it brings its tribute a trifle late. Let the Celtic cross arise, then, to the memory of a veople who have so clearly proven their right to the title, “Lovers of the Cross;” a people whom earthly dereliction sends unfailingly to the arms of Christ even as extended on the wood of the Cross. In what other form could their endless ignominies be more appropriately commemorated?
The highest form of suffering is endurance. Ireland has borne much and loved much withal. Is not this the test of martyrdom? Are the wild beasts in the arena, the wheel; the boiling bath, the bed of steel, more expressive of man’s, inhumanity to man and more frightful as means of execution, than the prolonged agonies of slow starvation and of neglected disease? With an approximate two millions of men, women and children, subjected to these long-drawn-out tortures, till death cut the Gordian knot of their trial; with uncomputed thousands awaiting their resurrection on American soil–with these totallings, the martyr-roll of Ireland sems sufficiently full, and the reproach of Giraldus quite amply removed. VIVIA FITZ-GREY.
Several days after the monument celebration at Grosse Isle, a Montreal paper published the following under the heading of “Memorial Stone to be Restored–Hibernians Confident that Point St. Charles Fever Relic will be Replaced”:–“A question much bruited amongst Hibernians during the past few years in this city, and one which was a topic of considerable discussion during the Grosse Isle celebration, even being referred to by the National President, Matthew Cummings, in his speech, is the removal of the memorial stone erected in 1859 by the workmen of Peto, Brassey & Betts, from the grave of the many fever victims, at Point St. Charles. This stone, which was taken out of its former resting place by the G.T.R., and thrown by the roadside on Wellington street, remaining there for months until finally placed in its present position on St. Patrick’s Square, was understood to have been erected as a perpetual memorial–or as local tradition has it, “as long as water flows and grass grows.” Hence its secret removal, in the dead of night, the dishonor cast upon it by being left out on the side of the public highway, the apparent lethargy into which some Hibernians had fallen concerning this insult offered to their revered dead, was condemned in no uncertain terms. “A visiting Hibernian, high up in the order, commenting upon the success of the celebration, which demonstrated the great strength of the order in the province of Quebec, expressed the hope that local members wou1d rally to the call of the National President, whilst leading Montreal officers were unanimous in their assurance that, under present favorable circumstances, and relying upon the known good will of His Lordship, the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, who holds the title deeds of the property, they would not be tardy in seeing that such a sacred relic be restored to its former place of honor in the community.”
A Survivor’s Story Recalled
In 1847, the year of the Irish famine, and the death and burial at Grosse Isle of the Irish immigrants who died from the fever plague, Nicholas Piton, a Jersey man, and his girl wife of 19, lived on the island. Piton was then manager for Martin Ray, of Quebec, who furnished the provisions on the island and was known as the sutler. Mrs. Marceau, of Quebec, who is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Piton, both of whom are now dead, tells as she heard them from her mother’s lips the horrors of that eventful year. She spoke of one ship which left Ireland laden with emigrants and which, on reaching Grosse Isle, was flying a white flag, only the captain and mate being alive on board. Both were taken to hospital, where they died several days later. Hundreds were buried daily and owing to dread of the disease it was almost impossible to secure nurses. The women inmates of the Quebec gaol were liberated conditionally that they should nurse the plague-stricken people at Grosse Isle. Most of those nurses became victims of the disease and died. Scarcely any who were attacked by the fever survived. It was only in exceptional cases that those who contracted the disease lived to relate the story of the terrible ordeal.
The work of Fathers McGuirk and McGauran was saintly. Day and night these devoted priests were to be seen hovering to and fro from pallet to pallet giving spiritual relief to the sufferers. Regardless of themselves, they toiled on with out rest and with improper nourishment, sparing nothing to accomplish their holy mission. As an example of their spirit of Catholicity and magnanimity, Mrs. Marceau tells the following story which was often related to her by her mother : Wishing to relieve a sick man, Father McGuirk approached Mrs. Piton and asked her for a glass of wine. On receiving it he turned about to give it to the patient, when to his surprise he saw Father McGauran at the man’s side. “What are you doing there, McGauran?” he asked. “I’m giving the poor man absolution,” was the reply. “Sure, man, he’s a Protestant,” returned Father McGuirk . “Never mind,” said McGauran, “if it won’t do him any good, it won’t do him any harm.” Among the Protestant clergy who did good work was Bishop Mountain. Most of the children who survived the quarantine were left orphans and were shipped to Quebec and Montreal. Mr. Piton was stricken down with the disease, but was nursed through it by his young wife who caught it also, but only late in the autumn, when she had gone to Quebec to spend the winter. Mrs. Piton only died four years ago and on the occasion of the excursion to Grosse Isle in ’97 to celebrate the 50th anniversary, she made the trip with her son, but did not let anybody know how closely connected she had been with the place and its gruesome story. When on the island, however, she enquired to find out if there was anybody else present who had gone through the terrors of ’47, and discovered that there was only one old boatman who was still on the island and who had been there during the plague. Nicholas Piton afterwards became one of the leading building contractors of Quebec and Levis, taking an active part in the construction of the forts at the latter place for the Imperial Government and, as a member of the contracting firm of Cimon & Piton, erecting the Parliament Buildings in Quebec for the Provincial Government.
The Slaughter Denounced
Hardly any newwspaper, hardly any book, Irish, English, French, American or Canadian, dealing with the subject of the awful slaughter of the fever and famine years in Ireland, can be taken up that does not severely denounce it and those who were largely and criminally responsible for it. The Imperial Census Commission declared that more than a million and a half of persons in Ireland were stricken down by the epidemic during and immediately after 1846, adding: “There are no statistics to establish the number of the starving peasantry, who died on the roads and among the hedges.” Sir Robert Peel said: “I do not believe that the annals of any civilized or even barbarous country have ever presented such a picture of horrors.” Right Hon. John Bright said: “There are parts of Ireland which cannot be traversed even yet (1854) without realizing that an enormous crime was committed by the Government of this country.” Even the London Times said : “The name of Irish landlord stinks in the nostrils of the whole civilized world.”
The Irish Potato Crop
None of his historical works, John Mitchell has justly remarked that the greatest conquest in England ever made was to gain the ear of the world. In the case of Ireland especially, she has for centuries possessed not only its soil, but the advantage of telling the story of its oppressed people from her own view point, while prevtenting them from making themselves heard in their own behalf. Down almost to within the memory of living men, education, even in its most rudimentary form, was a felony in Ireland, on the correct enough principle that the most effective method of subjugating and despoiling a people is to keep them in enforced ignorance. And for centuries the English press and English public men and writers have systematically misrepresented and sneered at the Irish people as an ignorant, thriftless, lazy, filthy, drunken, seditious lot, eternally possessed of a grievance and always giving trouble through their turbulence, their levity of character and, what our American friends would call, their general cussedness. Even the machinery of the stage has been used to mercilessly caricature them and to so associate all these supposed characteristics, together with pigs, potatoes, caubeens, dudeens and landlord shooting with the Irish name, that the outside world has come to largely believe in these cruel slanders and to regard the sober, decent, peaceful, industrious Irishman as a rara avis, an exception to his race, who should be excused for being so different from the rest. Yet, in proportion to population, Ireland’s drink bill is far below that of England, Scotland, the United States or Canada, its people are as industrious and thrifty as any other in Europe, if not vastly more so, considering the additional rent and other oppressive burthens which they have had to bear, and though they belong to “the fighting race” par excellence of the world, they are not more quarrelsome or turbulent than other peoples similarly situated; they are not going about inviting others to tread on the tail of their coats, but when they do enter the fighting ranks, they invariably give a good account of themselves. The Kellys, the Burkes and the Sheas have ever been to the front on many a hard fought field. and British arms have more than once owed their rescue or their success to their dauntless, dashing bravery. As it was to an Irishman, the Duke of Wellington, that England was indebted for the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, so also was it the military genius and energetic qualities of two others, Lord Roherts and General French, that she may thank for her eventual triumph in the Boer war. As for the assassinations of landlords in Ireland in past years, it may be said, without seeking to justify them, that they were the natural outcome of the grievous wrongs persistently inflicted on an ignorant, but high-spirited people driven to desperation and left without redress in any other way.
As for the charge of want of thrift, energy, industry and organizing power, so frequently hurled at the Irish, the reply is that it is disproved by the remarkable success of Irishmen and men of Irish blood in every land but their own. Irish names stand high on the roll ot fame all over the world, in the industries,· in the arts and sciences, in literature, in the medical and other liberal professions, in the Church-in fine, in every calling and walk of life. In Canada, an Irishman, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, fills at this moment the highest position next to the Governor- General, and Canadian annals fairly bristle with illustrious Irish. names. Among our American neighbors, no less than nine of the signers of their famous Declaration of Independence were Irish or of Irish descent. As captains of industry, capitalists, bankers, merchants, journalists, statesmen, orators, literary men, poets, novelists, politicians, military and naval leaders, churchmen, explorers, miners, etc., few races have distinguished themselves as much as the Irish in the United States, and the same may be said of the representatives of the race in Australia and the other British possessions, as well as in other parts of the world.
But one of the most cruel and gratuitously insulting charges of all levelled against that much maligned race and believed in by many, is that they brought the terrible calamity and suffering of 1846-47 upon themselves by their own fault, through their improvidence and through placing their entire dependence upon one crop–the potato. But the ever increasing exactions of their spendthrift landlords left them nothing to be provident or saving with. They simply lived poorly from hand to mouth and as for placing their dependence upon a single crop, the potato was the only one usually abundant enough to support them and their families. Everythfng else they 1aised from the land went to pay rent and tithes and that more than enough other food than the potato was raised in Ireland to have supported its people during the failure of the potato crop, is proved by the large exports of provisions to England during that period.
The charge referred to, especially in the mouths of Englishmen, sounds very much like the old saying about knocking a man down and then kicking him for falling. And when the ignorant or the thoughtless ask why Irishmen did not turn their attention to doing something else for their living but potato-growing and hog-raising, we are reminded of the titled English lady who, when told that the poor of a certain place were suffering from want of bread, innocently enquired why they did not eat cake. The fact is that for upwards of two hundred and fifty years, all that English law and tyranny could do, all that perverted human ingenuity and rapacious greed could devise, to kill Ireland’s trade and industries, to leave to the Irish people nothing else but the land and agriculture to subsist upon chiefly for landlord benefit and the supplying of the English market, was resorted to. Consequently there is no reason to blame the Irish people for placing their chief dependence upon the potato crop, for they had nothing or little else left to depend upon. No less weighty an authority than the late Lord Dufferin, Canada’s former popular Governor-General, has placed this question beyond doubt by his writings and utterances, showing how Ireland’s trade and industries were ruthlessly destroyed to build up England’s commercial and industrial supremacy. To-day, good women like Lady Aberdeen and others are trying to lock the stable door after the steed has been stolen. They are attempting to revive certain petty Irish industries, but their work is more or less an up-hill one, for the peasantry, who were formerly expert in them, are gone. Their mouldering remains fill the famine and fever pits of 1846-47.
As showing the great economic importance and value of the Irish potato crop, as well as the leading part it still plays in the subsistence of the Irish people at home, the following extract from a recent Irish paper will be found of interest when recalling how they suffered from its failure in 1846-47:
“In potatoes we are supreme; here we beat England and leave Wales and Scotland nowhere. Last year was a great year for potatoes, for on a less acreage we raised a very increased yield. It is strange that in this matter of potatoes. where we beat all the rest, our average yield per acre is less than all the rest. We suppose the habit and the fact that potatoes are raised largely for consumption on the premises, as distinct from realization in the market, have much to say to this. In 1908 we raised 3,199,678 tons of potatoes; England raised 2,719,569, Scotland 1,048,559, and Wales only 151,700. We have a very small importation of potatoes, whilst in 1907 we exported over 100,000 tons, valued at £394,937. Evidently £3 a ton is under the mark as a price for potatoes, but if we take it at that our potato yield in 1908 was £9,499,104, and we ate nearly all of them ourselves.”
The Ship Fever at Montreal (By the Late ALFRED PERRY)
“In the year 1846 there was a famine in Ireland and Scotland which led to a general movement of all who could scrape together enough money to pay their passage to America. Canada was not at that time in a good position to receive or absorb a large and sudden influx of poor people unaccustomed to its ways and its climate. This country was largely a wilderness at that time; communication with distant and often isolated settlements was difficult. The Canadian harvest of 1846 was poor and there was but little surplus products in the country. With the authorities in the Old Country the sole idea was to get rid of the surplus population, and dumping it on the colonies was the cheapest, easiest, most effectual means for doing so. To meet the incoming flood of destitute humanity, Canada had no efficient police, no poor laws, no local opulence, no public charitable institutions. Prices of provisions were high and supplies inadequate. There were no extensive public works requiring laborers. There was, indeed, nothing but land, and no man could go on a Canadian bush farm, fresh from a country where conditions were altogether different, with nothing but his hands. Nevertheless, it is a fact that many who had already settled in Canada sent home money to enable relatives to join them. Speaking in reply to Mr. Smith O’Brien, in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell said that emigrants settled in the United States and Canada had within a short period sent home no less a sum than £600,000 stg., to enable their friends to emigrate. An idea of the extent of the tide of emigration at that time may be formed by the fact that in 1846, no less than 125,678 persons had sailed for North America.
“Towards the latter end of May the tide had fairly set in, and on June 1 there were 35 vessels in quarantine at Grosse Isle. At that date the physicians reported five cases of typhus fever; deaths during the voyage and after arrival were set down to dysentery superinduced by want and lack of change of provisions on the voyage. A correspondent wrote: ‘In Quebec immigrants of every description crowd the streets. Germans, thickly bearded and wearing large moustaches, are met with in abundance; Irishmen, gaunt, and troops of children swarm everywhere. The larger proportion are perfectly destitute.’
“On June 7 there were 40 ships in quarantine at Grosse Isle and 20,000 immigrants afloat and on shore. A virulent form of typhus had broken out and a few cases were reported at Quebec. The disease had also broken out on the steamers plying between Quebec and Montreal, and many persons died on the way.
“By June 14, according to the reports in the Montreal papers, there were a multitude of destitute and diseased persons landed on the wharves from the steamboats.’ The emigrant sheds were much overcrowded and deaths numerous. The Gazette stated that ‘the prevailing disease seems to be low typhoid fever, and the fatal cases are mostly those on whom the peculiar local influences, either of air or water, cause when in a state of debility dysentery to supervene.’
“The number of deaths from the ‘ship fever,’ as it was called, rose to about 250 a week in the latter half of the month of June. After that date the death rate decreased. The ravages of the disease were almost entirely confined to the immigrants. Mr. Yarwood, chief emigrant agent, died of the fever, which he contracted while in discharge of his duty. During the first week in July the fever claimed many victims, among them several Roman Catholic priests, who had gone to Grosse Isle to minister to the spiritual wants of the immigrants.
“A Montreal newspaper of July 4th said: ‘Nothing which can be done to alleviate the sufferings of the emigrants, and guard the city from contagion has been omitted.’ The same paper described the emigrant sheds as ‘really comfortable, well-covered wooden framed structures,’ with convenient places for cooking, and abundance of wholesome bread and meat for all those in want, provided by the Government.
“By the 8th the weather had become extremely sultry. Steamboats con· tinued to land emigrants by hundreds, and it was found that the contagion had spread to the regular residents of the city. A newspaper editorially observed: ‘Notwithstanding the efforts of the Government to meet the unexampled pressure of the flood of misery and disease from immigration, it is daily accumulating beyond the means yet available to meet it. The condition of the poor people at the sheds is described as most deplorable, and one by one even their medical attend· ants are sinking beneath the weight of fatigue and contagion, the latter aggravated by difficult accommodation, and its consequent filth and misery.’
“While this was the condition of things at the ‘sheds,’ the General Hospital and Infirmary were crowded to repletion with fever cases from among the people of the city. They are so numerous as to embarrass the physicians, and almost to make proper means of cure out of the question–isolation is impossible.”
“The Pilot of July 8 contained the following appalling statement: ‘There are at the present moment forty-eight nuns sick from exposure, fatigue and the attacks of the disease. All the Grey Nuns in attendance, two of the Sisters of Charity, five physicians and eight students, now lie sick; to which gloomy and sickening record we must add the number of 1586 persons of all ages and sexes lingering on beds of wretchedness and corruption, in many cases without an attendant to afford a drop of water or even attend to those decent formalities which the sad solemnities of death require. The living and the dead are mingled in groups together, and presented a spectacle where Death reigned in his most terrible inflictions, and where oppressed humanity had assembled to pay him tribute.’
“On the same day that this report appeared the heat was terrific and several cases of sunstroke were recorded in the papers. “July 10th the Press roundly denounced the Emigrant Commissioners for not moving the immigrants to Boucherville Island, instead of keeping them at Windmill Point, where 1800 wretched creatures are huddled together, and without proper care of any kind, dying in spaces of about 5 feet by 4.” The same paper also alluded to the “horrible fact that the citizens of Montreal must drink the river water, passing down, impregnated with all the foul effluvia and excrements of disease. In addition to these horrors, thieves, bidding defiance to contagion, were continually prowling about the sheds plundering the dying and the dead.
“On July 16th the number of sick at the sheds was 1500; deaths, 23. “July 17th, La Minerve stated that all the priests of the Seminary who were in attendance on the immigrants had been prostrated by the epidemic. One of them, Rev. P. Richard, had died. Rev. Mr. Connolly was the only Englishspeaking priest able to visit the sheds. The same paper tells of severe sickness among the nuns, and the death of Sister Primeau. At this time 400 orphan immigrant children were being cared for by Les Dames du Bon Pasteur, and other religious institutions of the city.
“During the week ending July 2oth, the mortality reached 240. “A great number of cases of concealment of money came to light so as to lead to great doubts that the poverty of immigrants was so great as pretended. It was declared, there is no getting them to labor for reasonable wages; they seem determined, if possible, to get fed, and forwarded at the expense of the Government to the West. One person died in the sheds, on pauper’s allowance, and suffering all the miseries of the place, on whose person £345 were found. Cases of 10, 20 and 30 sovereigns were found on bodies of deceased immigrants, who, when almost in the agonies of death, beseeched for charity in the most piteous accents and protested they were destitute.
“Among the horrors of the time many noble and touching instances were witnessed. How to provide for the hundreds of destitute orphans became a question of leading importance. Several parish priests took an active interest in it. Among others it is related that Rev. Mr. Harper, cure of St. Gregoire, went to Grosse Isle, from which place he took thirty Irish orphan children, dressed them neatly, and distributed them among his parishioners for adoption. Three times this worthy priest made the trip, taking thirty orphans away each time, and providing them all with homes.
“A paper of July 24th contained the following editorial: ‘It is our painful duty to announce the death of the Rev. Mr. Richard, an aged and respected priest of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the eighth gentleman of the Seminary who has fallen a victim to his pious zeal from contagion caught in administering the rites of their religion to the destitute emigrants in the sheds. The whole of the Sisters of the Grey Nunnery are laid up with illness contracted in the same mission. Nevertheless, the exertions of the Roman Catholic clergy are unwearied by fatigue and undeterred by danger. The Right Rev. the Bishop of the Diocese and his Vicar-General spend alternate nights in watching in that pestilential atmosphere, over the sick and dying. There never surely was any Church, which in the times of the most fiery persecution proved, at the sacrifice of comfort and life, its devotion to religious duty, and what it believed to be religious truth, more signally than does now the Roman Catholic clergy of Montreal.”
“During the first week in August the deaths among citizens were 149, among immigrants, 65. “During the month of July the deaths averaged 30 per day. In August the pestilence showed marked decline. Between the 1st and the 6th of August 600 fever convalescents were discharged from the hospitals. “On August 13th Very Rev. Mr. Hudon, Vicar-General to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal, died of typhus fever, contracted while administering the last rites to dying immigrants at the sheds. The Bishop, himself, and Rev. Mr. de Charbonnel, afterwards Bishop of Toronto, were stricken down with the disease, but recovered after much suffering. They, too, had been in daily attendance on the immigrants. “Every few days the papers published alleged cures for the fever, supplied by correspondents who vouched for the efficacy thereof. At last this cure was promulgated: “Temperance, cleanliness and pure air.” The disease, however, continued virulent, the deaths for August averaging 24 daily.
“By the middle of September the fever had abated considerably, the number of sick had decreased from near 2,000 to less than 1,000, and the deaths to 16 per day. About this time, the Grey Nuns, who had survived the pestilence, returned to their charitable labors at Point St. Charles. About 20 of them had died of it. “At the beginning of October, the sick numbered 835, and the deaths 7. There was an increase, however, further on in the month, and news came from Toronto of the death by typhus, caught while attending the emigrants, of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Power, Roman Catholic Bishop of Toronto, who was well known at Montreal. “The first snow fell October 15. Cold weather followed, and the newspapers ceased to publish daily bulletins of the progress of the pestilence.
“Mr. J. E. Mills, Mayor of Montreal, and chief of the Emigrant Commission, died on the 14th November, a victim to the prevalent disease. He had devoted himself with untiring energy to the care of the perishing immigrants. He was in daily attendance at the sheds, where he stayed for hours at a time, ministering with his own hands to the wants of the sick and dying. The whole city, headed by the Governor-General, attended his funeral and all the papers contained eloquent tributes to his memory.”
A Scotchman’s Narrative
Until death carried him off not very many years ago at a remarkably advanced age, no citizen of Quebec was better known or more respected than the late Mr. John Wilson, the veteran steamboat man. Among his valuable writings on Grosse Isle, Mr. J. M. O’Leary cites as follows Mr. Wilson’s evidence, which is most interesting:
“I am in receipt of two letters from a Scotch Presbyterian gentleman in Quebec, John Wilson, Esq., who, I may add, is hale and hearty at eighty-one years of age. He is one of the few living witnesses of what took place in and about Grosse Isle, and between Grosse Isle and Montreal in 1847, and his letters are, therefore, interesting. The first letter was addressed to Francis Gunn, Esq., a leading Irish Catholic importer of Quebec, and (the present consul for Norway at that port), who kindly forwarded it to me; and the second was sent to me direct.
“In his letter to Mr. Gunn, dated 13th April, he says: “I return the Record you kindly left for me at Mr. Borland’s. I am fully acquainted with all the details of the Irish emigration of 1847, having been the principal agent in forwarding some eighty thousand suffering people from Grosse Isle to Point St. Charles, Montreal. “The thirty-five vessels mentioned in the paper were all anchored near the island on the 1st of June. Some of them had been there for two or three weeks, our Government doing nothing to remove the horrid scenes being enacted there. At last Doctor Campbell, of Montreal, was sent to confer with Mr. Buchanan, Emigrant Agent, on the subject. They sent for me, and took my advice, to send three large steamers, the “Quebec,” “Queen” and “Alliance.” I went with them to Grosse Isle, and broke the blockade by taking out of the ships all of the people who were fit to travel. In a week those vessels were cleaned up and came to Quebec. All the vessels that arrived afterwards were easily managed, as the steamers could readily carry from one thousand to fourteen hundred people, as there was no baggage of any account. Being fast steamers, in twelve to fourteen hours they reached Montreal. Not being allowed to carry either freight or passengers, they returned at once to Quebec to coal up, and started without delay for Grosse Isle. “Dr. Douglas and Mr. Buchanan being laid up with the fever, I was left pretty much to my own resources, in handling such a mass of sick humanity. “You may imagine to what straits we were put when we ran those large steamers with only five or six men, when eighteen or twenty was the usual complement. “Five thousand eight hundred were buried on the island that year, and I can never forget the awful scenes enacted there. Doctors were of no use. Bread, meat, clothes and cleanliness were what was wanted, and we cured more of them on the boats than the Government gang put together.
“I was never sick, and had no fear in walking among and handling the dead and dying, while nearly all the fat office-holders, who should have been helping, were absent. “Tenders asked for, were for a small boat to make a trip once a week from Quebec to the island; but those kind of boats were of no use in ’47. “As you are a good Irishman, I have given you here the first written account of my experience in that awful year, which may add to your knowledge of the terrible sufferings of your countrymen.”
In his letter to me, dated the 20th inst., Mr. Wilson says: “Eighteen hundred and forty-seven was one of the most cruel years I ever passed. The sufferings of the poor people, and the day and night work, without adequate help, caused by the sickness of some and the cowardice of others, left me no rest.
“The miserable Government in 1847 had a fit of economy as soon as the bulk of the emigrants was disposed of. They then employed small boats to carry the emigrants from Grosse Isle direct to Kingston, without stopping at Montreal. The result was, as I told Mr. Buchanan it would be, a heavy loss of life, owing to the emigrants being confined for days in passing through the canals, whereas changing them into clean boats and at short intervals was their very life. I do not remember losing any in my boats between Grosse Isle and Montreal, as we gave them all the conveniences for cooking, washing and cleaning up that large passenger steamers afforded, and a wonderful improvement showed itself on the run from the island. But at Point St. Charles, as at quarantine, no suitable preparation had been made for the reception of so many people, and numbers of deaths occurred that were a disgrace to the Government.
“Grosse Isle is a pretty place in summer, and Dr. Douglas kept everything in fine order, but there was no accommodation or attendance for one-tenth of the emigrants. The removal of all those fit to travel became a dire necessity; and many, many deaths were occasioned by the long delay of the Government in giving the necessary orders to leave. As Dr. Douglas was worn out trying to do impossibilities, he was compelled to instruct me and the captains of the steamers to pass the emigrants by the color of their tongues, but in spite of every precaution many rushed aboard, leaving the dying and the dead behind them, all ties of relationship being completely lost in their determination to get out of the ship.
“I had no time to be much on the island, but a few devoted clergymen and others were doing everything possible for the sick. As for the dead, they were piled like cordwood until such time as they could be carried away and buried. I have no doubt but some disorders took place among the class of persons who were hired, but I never saw a quieter and more resigned people than the emigrants. “Dr Douglas, who had long been superintendent on the island, kept, as I have said, everything in fine order. He made a nice little farm at the east end of the island; had some fine cows, and sold milk to the sick. For this good work, jealous people got up a cry against him, and persecuted him to death. I am sorry that all the boats’ books were lost, or I might give you a good many details I now forget.
“I have read your narrative in the two numbers of the Catholic Record you were kind enough to send me, and I see nothing but what is a true description of what happened. The emigrants were simply starved to death, as the barrels of meal I saw on the ships were unfit for human food.”
Source: Internet Archive