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When the Black Vomit
arrived in Malaga, around 50,000 people fled the town in a panic; of the
remainder some 14,000 died in the space of a few weeks. Since the days
of the Black Death, plagues
and similar pestilences had occurred from time to time and the understanding
of such calamities was still limited.
In the 19th century,
it was not understood that the disease was spread by mosquitoes. The Black
Vomit, Yellow Jack or Yellow Fever is an acute viral infection transmitted
by female mosquitoes of the genus Aëdes. There is an incubation period
of between 3 and 14 days, after which the poor sufferer develops a fever
with aching muscles. The virus affects the liver and causes jaundice -
thus the "yellow". The patient also vomits, which explains the
"black". The kidneys and heart are also affected and liver or
heart failure can result.
Back then it was regarded
as some sort of pestilence, perhaps a punishment inflicted upon sinful
people. In any event, its progress through Malaga's population was swift.
Various theories circulated as to its origin, but no one knew for sure.
Ship and ports had ample supplies of standing water in barrels and so
forth, thus proving to be especially suitable as breeding grounds for
Charles Waterton survived
the fever and he and his uncles retired to their country house. One of
his uncles, the eldest, returned to Malaga to attend to business. On arrival
at his house in Malaga, he received a message that Father Bustamante was
ill. The priest was an old man and had been especially kind to the uncle
on his first arrival in Malaga.
After visiting his
old friend, the uncle returned to his own house, very unwell and soon
to die "a martyr to his charity". Father Bustamante died before
daybreak, the uncle lingered for another five days. Although they put
the uncle in a coffin, such was the state of things that there was no
room to spare in the communal grave, and he was removed from the coffin
and tossed in to land upon the corpse of a Spanish marquis.
To add to the horror,
the city was shaken by earthquakes. After two violent shocks in the evening
and the early morning, the danger subsided. "It
pleased Heaven, in its mercy, to spare us". (1)
Waterton decided that it was time to flee the city, and he arranged passage on a brig captained
by a Swedish captain of his acquaintance. Captain Bolin was keen to escape
from the harbour. The Spaniards had quarantined the city, but Waterton
managed to get a clearance certificate from the British Consul, who, nevertheless,
expected him to be shot or imprisoned whilst attempting to sail away.
Charles tried to get
his remaining uncle to leave with him, but he declined. He died of the
fever in the following spring. The captain had taken out false papers
- Britain and France were then at war (the Napoleonic Wars) - Charles
was listed as a Swedish carpenter, and his brother as a passenger. Great
secrecy was observed and the ship slipped out from its moorings amongst
forty sail of merchantmen.
At 1pm, after the harbour-master had left to
take an airing in his carriage, part of his daily routine, and the officers
of two Spanish brigs of war had gone ashore, Captain Bolin set sail in
a "cloud of canvas". Long before the Spanish officers had returned
to their vessels to begin their pursuit, the Swedish brig had made good
its escape, passing Gibraltar at a speed of around 11 knots an hour.
After fleeing Malaga,
the Swedish brig with Charles Waterton on board, endured
thirty days of cold and stormy weather. Not having the services of a pilot,
they followed a fishing boat and anchored off the coast at Brownsea Island
near Poole in Dorset. Adverse wind kept them from continuing up the Channel.
They sent their papers, including the clearance certificate from the British
Consul in Spain, to London. Against Waterton's expectations, they were
given permission to proceed. He had had his doubts, but the cool-headed
Captain Bolin had stayed steady and had always believed that they would
Charles brought back
with him a "superbly mounted Spanish gun" (1)
and an ivory crucifix - presents from the Duchess of Alva to his deceased
uncle in Malaga.
The gun had been intended for the late Sir Richard Bedingfield
of Oxburgh in Norfolk, and it was to Oxburgh that Charles sent it. The
crucifix was a present to Waterton's mother and was taken to Walton Hall.
Surviving a severe
cold, Waterton regained his health and resumed life in Walton. He hunted
with Lord Darlington. The
Squire writes about the fox and fox hunting (click here).
However, he was not settled and he 'longed to bask
in a warmer sun' (1). Demerara was beckoning.
of the Writer of the Following Essays", by himself. Charles Waterton
writing in the First Series of his Essays on Natural History, Chiefly
2."Wanderings in South America", Charles Waterton, ed. Rev. JG
Wood, Macmillan & Co., London, 1880.
3. "Essays on Natural History", Charles Waterton, ed. Norman Moore,
Frederick Warne & Co., Covent Garden, London.
*** OOO ***
The yellow jack (yellow
flag) is a quarantine flag hoisted by all ships on entering a harbour
from distant waters to indicate that there is no contagious or infectious
disease aboard, and requesting pratique*. It is also represents the letter
My vessel is healthy and I request free pratique.
QQ - I require health clearance.
the single yellow jack indicates that the ship is free from disease, a
second flag is flown if the vessel is not free of disease.
pratique - a licence to have dealings with a port after quarantine or
on showing a clean bill of health.
Definition: The Concise Oxford English Dictionary]
countenance, which was very manly, exhibited a portrait of cool intrepidity
rarely seen: had I possessed the power, I would have made him an admiral
on the spot". (1)
voyage to England there was a risk that the ship would run into trouble
with the French because of the Napoleonic Wars involving Britain and
brig or brigantine.
During the building of the Panama Canal, the Black Vomit struck again and Yellow Fever was a serious problem. Eventually, in the 1900s, when the Americans had taken on the job that had defeated the French in the 19th century, the problem was overcome thanks to the efforts of the American Chief Engineer John Frank Stevens and Colonel William Crawford Gorgas, Chief Sanitary Officer.