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Accounts From Miramichi
The Miramichi Natural History Museum
New Brunswick - Miramichi & Chatham - Middle Island
A collection of reminiscences, notes and stories of 1847, and some pictures of the quarantine island, Middle Island, in 1950 and as it looks today.
Dr. Baxter's Journal
Dr. James McG. Baxter, was a physician in Chatham. He was appointed "Quarantine Physician" in 1907, and held that post until his death in 1921 at the age of 76. He began a journal on January 28th 1909, and wrote: This day by order from the Agriculture Department, Ottawa, I commence this journal and first I think it advisable to put down all previous history in reference to the Quarantine Station here at Middle Island that it is possible to get, and then if anything of interest is found out afterwards, it can be added as addenda. All events that will be likely to be of future interest will be put down here and the manner in which it should be put down being very particular that that it is true as to circumstances, names, dates &c. indexing carefully at the back so that it may be a reliable book of ready reference at any time.--signed: J. Baxter - Quarantine Officer, Middle Island.
Letter to Dr. Montizambert, Ottawa, dated January 26th 1909
Sir, I enclose herewith a statement give me by Jas. Desmond Esq. Of Chatham who was a passenger on the Richard White that was in quarantine here at the same time as the bark Loostock [sic]. I have been searching for information on this subject ever since I wrote you last. I got this only yesterday. According to his statement there was no contagious disease aboard except one case of measles, so why she was kept so long in quarantine I cannot tell but I think he must have been mistaken in this. These were the passengers that were spoken of in Mrs. Hawbolt's report (qv), as quartered on the West Side of the Island in tents near hers.:- Yours truly, J. Baxter ps. If I can find out anything definite about the bark Bollivar I will send it in. J.B.
Ship Fever in 1847 by Dr. J. McG. Baxter. 1911
Nearly 64 years ago there was a great deal of immigration to Canada, and either from some European focus, or spontaneously from the crowded ships during long passages, typhus, or ship fever broke out simultaneously in several ports, such as St. John, N.B., Chatham. N.B. and Quebec. Sixty-four years is a long time ago, and those that were in adult years at that time have mostly passed over to the majority, and if one wishes to get information about circumstances that occurred at that time, from those that were there, he should not waste time but carpe diem, for these old gentlemen will soon go on the lonesome voyage and will not wait to be interviewed. These notes are what I've been able to pick up in this locality.
Rev. Hugh McGuirk was 87 years of age the 18th of December last, yet is straight as an arrow, quick in his movements, has a wonderful memory, and converses with equal readiness in Latin, French and English. He was born in St. John, N.B., was ordained a priest in Quebec by Bishop Turgeon the 13th May 1847, and four days later, viz. May 17th, was sent to attend the ship fever patients at Grosse Isle, where he stayed five weeks till he took the fever himself. He says: "When I went there, Father McGauvern had been there ten days and left when I arrived. I was then left alone to attend all those people, and had to work night and day, and never had any time to go to bed, but remained dressed to answer calls at any minute. People were afraid, and would not come near the poor people. I kept this up for five weeks, till I suppose the disease, making its appearance, or from an overstrained nervous system, I had to be carried around to the bedsides in a chair. As nearly as I can recollect there were twenty-five or thirty ships lying there. At last they got another priest to take my place, and I was taken to the Marine Hospital at Charles River. During the last five days of my stay at Grosse Isle, there were 300 deaths a day. I do not know the total number of deaths. I was then taken to the Marine Hospital, and was sick for six weeks and very nearly died. After I recovered I attended the rest of the sick there all summer till the autumn. These were ship fever cases, and the General Hospital was full, and a number (I do not know how many) military tents were set up in the grounds." - This statement, although not connected with the object of this paper, viz., Ship Fever at Middle Island, I thought I might as well put it here, and it will be a note for the man that writes up Ship Fever at Grosse Isle.
Statement of James Desmond, Esq. Chatham
I came out to this country in the brig Richard White. We sailed from the city of Cork, Ireland, and were about six or seven weeks at sea, and arrived here about one week before the bark Loostock [sic], viz. About May 27th or 28th in the year 1847. There were about 45 or 50 passengers besides the crew. Many were sick on the way out, but principally from sea sickness. I don't think there was any ship fever on board. A sister of my own died on the way out with measles. We were all landed on the Island, and put in quarantine. I was sick myself after being put on the Island, but think it was only exhaustion from the long voyage. Dr. Vondy (qv) attended the sick on the Island. There was one woman died on the Island, but I do not know what was the matter with her. We lay in quarantine about five weeks, and there were about twenty sick altogether. We were in tents on the west end of the Island. Dr. Vondy died after we left the Island. Rev. Jno. Sweeney was the clergyman who visited us, he was afterwards Bishop of St. John, N.B.
Statement of Michael Dee, Chatham
[Michael Dee statement continued]
I was at that time about 20 years of age. We were seven weeks and four days on the voyage, but as sickness broke out among the passengers the captain considered it advisable to make for the nearest port, which was the Miramichi. There were 800 passengers, [sic] of whom about one-half died, either at sea or after they arrived here. The mate, whose name was McCully, was exceedingly kind to the passengers in their distress. He stood at the gangway and handed them down one after another into the scow that brought them ashore, and after they got ashore gave them personally all the attention he possibly could. He caught the fever himself then and died, and was buried on Middle Island. The captain, whose name I don't remember, but who was a native of St. John, N.B. was sick himself before we arrived here. A pilot spoke us in the Straits, but when he found there were fourteen or fifteen lying dead on deck, and a lot more sick, he made off. The captain then sent all the bodies below, and said the next pilot would know nothing about it till he was on board. The pilot that brought us in was a man by the name of Petterson, whose son now lives at Bushville, but he himself is dead. Petterson then asked the captain where his sailors were. He [the captain] said they were at the bottom of the ocean. The pilot said [that] somebody must go aloft and loosen sail. The captain then, although sick himself, with a handkerchief tied around his head, went aloft and let go the sails. We then came up to Middle Island and lay there in quarantine for about one month. Then the bark was fumigated and proceeded to St. John, but most of the passengers had had enough of her and proceeded to St. John in schooners. [statement cont. below]
[Michael Dee statement continued]
The captain of the Loostock [sic] recovered. I think there were about 200 or 250 passengers died and were buried either at sea or on Middle Island. Drs. Key, Thompson and Vondy attended the sick on the Island. Dr. Vondy who was exceedingly kind to the sick, feeding and moving them into comfortable positions, &c., took the disease himself and died. His body was taken up the river at night in a boat and was buried at St. Paul's graveyard, three miles above Chatham. The Bollivar and the Richard White were lying in quarantine with us at the same time, but with different diseases. A man by the name of Ryan, and also the steward of the ship, jumped the quarantine and swam ashore, and I heard that Ryan died and his body was found in the woods. I was sick all the passage, and all the month on the Island. They had old sheds like barns for the sick, and you could see outdoors through the cracks, so that they were little protection. The date was June, 1847, and the disease ship fever or typhus.--Michael Dee
In regard to Dr. Vondy's death, I have the following letter from Judge Wilkinson: dated Bushville 10th May 1908
Dear Doctor, I am afraid the within enclosed pencillings will hardly give you the information you want. I copied them from the tablet in the porch of the church and from the memorial stone in the graveyard this afternoon. In the blank before the words ________ Ship Loostock, [sic] the stone is all crumbled and broken, so that I cannot tell what was there. I think, however, it was the name of the country to which the ship belonged--as Norwegian or German ship. My father-in-law's (Rev. Mr. Bacon's) diary says the funeral was 2nd July, 1847. The records of the sessions of that date I should think would give you the other particulars. :- Yours truly, Wm. Wilkinson
Tablet erected in the porch of St. Paul's Church, Chatham, N.B. "In memory of J. Vondy Esq., of this place, who in the faithful discharge of his professional duties fell victim to a malignant fever which prevailed on Middle Island among the passengers of the Looshtaulk." From the memorial stone in St. Paul's churchyard. "This monument was erected as a public testimonial of respect to the memory of John Vondy, Esq., surgeon of this place, who in the faithful discharge of his professinal duties fell victim to a malignant fever which prevailed on Middle Island among the passengers of the ________ Ship Looshtauk. His remains were interred in this burial ground, July 2nd, 1847." :- W. Wilkinson.
The above name Looshtauk is probably spelled as it is on the monument. - The following statement is from Dr. Vondy's sister, Mrs. Chas. Hawbolt, who went to the Island to nurse her brother. Her statement I think may be entirely depended upon as she is bright and clear, mentally and more especially as, strange to say, she had a small memorandum made at the time. I enclose it in lines. It justifies my doubt of the correctness of the 800, as it seems there were little over half that number on board, and it corroborates the large number of deaths. After going on the Island she was quarantined for twenty-one days. Her brother, Dr. Vondy, was unconscious when she arrived, and did not last long, but died and was buried as in Dee's statement. She speaks of a good many abuses that were complained of such as appropriation of the passenger's money, &c., which need not be mentioned now, as no good would be gained thereby.
Mrs. Charles Hawbolt's statement
I went to the Island to nurse my brother, Dr. Vondy, who was ill with the fever. He was unconscious when I arrived. We were at the southwest part of the Island. I still have a memorandum made at the time in my possession. It is this:
I do not know how many died afterwards. The captain's name was Thayne, of St. John, N.B. The Loostock's [sic] passengers were in fish sheds on the northeast corner of the Island. The vessel was overcrowded, and the passengers were crowded down in the hold like cattle. There was not one person entirely well in all that number when they landed. I was not allowed to leave the Island for 21 days. The passengers of the Richard White (barquentine I think) were put in tents over near ours on the southwest part of the Island. I do not know what disease they had. Drs. Key and Thompson attended the sick. There was much mismanagement and dishonesty charged against those in attendance. The patients were cheated and badly fed and cared for. They were a superior class of persons, and had considerable money on them, all in gold. When they sent to town for the smallest article, they got no change back.
Thomas Vondy Jr., brother of Dr. John Vondy and Elizabeth Vondy, wrote to Joseph Cunard to ask assistance for the release of his sister from Middle Island, following the death of Dr, John.:-
Mr. Thos. Vondy Jr.
These are the authorization notes from Dr. Key, to allow the landing of the ship Looshtaulk and the brig Richard White on Middle Island.
I then heard that there were one or two old men at Barnaby's River that might know something about the matter, and I wrote to Rev. E.J. Bannon, parish priest, and the following is his reply:
Information obtained from Rev. E.J. Bannon, P.P. Barnaby River, North'ld Co. - Nov. 8th 1908
I do not know any person here who was in the Loostock [sic]. The father of John Shea was a passenger in the vessel, but is dead. However, I consulted Michael Meagher, who is 80 years of age. He had some interesting items that indirectly might be of interest, and I put them down in about the manner he related them. He came to this place in a cutter (fast sailer) called the John Hawkes. He sailed from Limerick and arrived at the Island (Middle Island) 7th June 1847. They had 147 passengers aboard and several cases of fever. They had no doctor aboard, and the captain did the best he could. He heard no complaints of want of water or food. A child was born on the way out and twenty persons died. One was his own brother. When they arrived at Middle Island the Loostock [sic] was there in quarantine, with another brigantine from Cork. This last has small-pox and fever aboard also. The passengers heard that they would be examined by the doctors and probably sent to the Island. A thing they dreaded. With three others he swam ashore at 12 o'clock at night. They landed at Cunard's mill and brewery. [Ed. Joseph Cunard] They thought that Chatham was a large town or city, and they were surprised the next morning to find out--1st. That they had passed through Chatham; 2nd. To see the good ship, the John Hawkes, coming up the river with all flags flying &c. The first people he met were Johnston Barnet, Ephraim (Abrum) Lacey, Michael Quilty (Bartibogue), John Cain and John Lahey. He was surprised to see the number of coffins sent down to the Island.
There was one more ship to account for, viz., the Bollivar. She was a barque that traded here regularly in lumber and timber for the Gilmour & Rankin concern. I had the name of the captain, but have mislaid it and cannot find it now. The following is:
John Brown's statement
I remember the bark Bolliver. She came in here about the middle of June 1847, with ship fever aboard. She had I should say about 250 passengers. I do not know how many died. I was a boy working for Hon. Joseph Cunard (qv) at the time, and he used to send me down with several large tin cans of milk for them every morning. I used to drive down opposite the Island, and they came over in a boat to get the milk. Sometimes I used to go back with the boat to the Island to see the people that were sick. The Bolliver's passengers were not allowed to mix with those of the Loostock [sic]. The Bolliver was three weeks or more in quarantine, then fumigated and towed away. Five of us went down one night to steal Miss Vondy (now Mrs. Hawbolt) out of quarantine, but the guard took us and we had to stay there. I helped to make the beds for the Loostock's passengers. These were just planks laid on the ground, with one plank on edge between each bed and the next. I saw fifteen of the Loostock's passengers buried in one square hole. They had canvas wrapped around them up to the neck, and were then laid in the grave. Five years after Cunard's horses were pasturing on the Island, and I went down to bring them up. One ofthem in galloping across the Island, put his foot down in one of the graves, and in pulling it out brought up a Glengarry cap full of human hair. So the graves were not deep.--Jno. Brown
In digging for the sewer pipe for one of the hospitals the men came on a pile of human bones, which were put together and re-buried. Thus only by accident will we ever know where these unfortunates were buried. [Dr. Baxter 1908]
Thomas Currie's recollections
I am 85 years of age on the 26th May, 1911. Peabody used to fish gaspereau in Half Moon cove or what is now Mill cove at Mill Bank where the pulp mill now is and other places along the shore where nets could be conveniently hauled up. He had his shipyard where Snowball's mill now stands and built his ships there. He afterwards sold this shipyard to Joseph Russell the father of George Russell of Blinkbonnie. This Joseph Russell taught the ship building craft to Wm. Sinclair, Thomas Stevenson, John Harvey, Andrew Mason, John Cochran, Donald McQuarry &c. His wife kept a boarding house for the men on the shipyard grounds in a long double house that stood near the line of what was afterwards Cunard's Mill grounds. Robert Brown was ships' blacksmith. He that afterwards lived in Lower Newcastle. This boarding house was afterwards moved down and stood until lately in Englands Hollow.
I was a boy at this time and went to school to one James Henderson, an uncle of my own, who kept school in the little schoolhouse that is still standing on the brow of the hill below Donald Frasers. Joseph Russell afterwards sold this shipyard to Joseph Cunard and himself moved to Beaubairs Island buying a shipyard from Fraser & Thom there. He died and is buried there on the Island. Cunard carried on ship building on a large scale in this Russell Shipyard in Chatham until his failure in 1848.
Donald McLachlan and his uncle, Jno. McLachlan built boats in the yard for his ships until he failed and then they went to Pictou, but Donald returned afterwards and did business in Chatham until his death. After Cunard's failure, Mason built ships here for Johnson & Mackie for some time. Then Jacob C. Gough MPP built there until 1872 when J.B. Snowball built his mill which now stands there. After Cunard's failure, Mason and myself built a schooner together and we took 18 passengers in her to Boston. They were glad to get away from here as there was nothing doing here at that time-everything was flat.
 Francis Peabody, of the Massachusetts Peabody family is considered the "Founder of Chatham, N.B."
Middle Island 2000
The Hon. Joseph Cunard and his brothers
Joseph Cunard's grandfather was the Loyalist Robert Cunard, who arrived in Saint John N.B. in 1783. Robert's son Abraham moved to Halifax, N.S. and founded the firm A. Cunard & Co. with his eldest son, Samuel, as partner. Samuel was a financial genius, and later after his father's death organized the firm Samuel Cunard & Company-The Cunard Line. His brother's Joseph and Henry had moved to the Miramichi in the early 1820's. Joseph involved himself in local affairs, and opened Stores in Chatham, Newcastle and later Bathurst. Joseph Cunard was noted for his generosity and was very popular for all the jobs he created. The Cunard steam sawmill commenced business in 1835, and in 1839 he purchased a shipyard from Joseph Russell and built many ships. Samuel appears to have initially been a partner in this venture, but withdrew in 1846 when Joseph's business was struggling after economic depression in the area in 1842. Joseph Cunard's business failed in late 1847 early 1848 probably a result of over extension, and the local depression. The failure of Joseph's business nearly wrecked Samuel too, as he was a large creditor in Joseph's business.
Joseph left the Miramichi in 1850 and after moving to Liverpool, England, partnered in the business Cunard, Munn and Company [Commission Merchants]. By1855 the company was called Cunard, Wilson and Company. The well-loved Joseph Cunard died at Liverpool in 1865.
[Dr. Baxter's notes continued]
After this time we had no ship fever till 1899, when the bark Lilly, Capt. Olsen, from Para, Brazil, came in. The following is what I have gleaned in reference to her:
Statement of Henry Brobecker, nurse, who attended the men on Middle Island who were landed from bark Lilly.
I was sent for to go to Middle Island to nurse the men that were sick and placed on the Island in quarantine. There were three of them. Two recovered and one died. I do not remember the year, but I think the month was June. The captain's name was Olsen. I understand they had yellow fever. When I got there one man was dead. The others remained on the Island, one of them for two weeks and the other for a long time. I think until fall. Then he was removed to the Marine Hospital and from there went to the Hotel Dieu. Rev. D. Forsyth came on the Island and held the funeral services, and the captain and crew attended. He was buried on the Island. The bark remained twenty-one days and then she was fumigated and proceeded to Newcastle and Nelson to take on cargo.--H. Brobecker
The above is not exactly correct as to dates, as will be seen from the following certificates. The bark Lilly evidently arrived some time about the 1st of July, because the certificate of burial dates July 4th, and she did not remain twenty-one days in quarantine, as she entered in the customs July 11th.
Letter from Rev. D. Forsyth
My dear Dr. Baxter: I have enclosed extract from the Register of Burials in the Parish of St. Paul's, Chatham. It will, I hope, answer your purpose. The word "Drummen" in the extract indicates the name of the locality in Norway where the sailor's home was. I do not know whether or not the name is written correctly, as it was a little difficult to understand the broken English of the seamen of whom I made the enquiry as to particular locality of the sailor's nativity. I am, with all good wishes, Very sincerely yours, D. Forsyth.
Certificate of Burial
I certify that the above is a correct extract from the Register of Burials in the Parish of S. Paul's, Chatham, N.B., in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine.--D. Forsyth, Rector of S. Pauls', Chatham, N.B. -- St. Paul's Rectory, Chatham, N.B., Nov. 12th, 1908
[Dr. Baxter's notes cont.]
On searching through the books of entries in the customs I find the following:
Bark Lilly, 499 tons. Entered July 11th, 1899, Captain Olsen, Para, Brazil, ballast. G.J.Vaughan.
I can find no mention anywhere of what the disease was for which she was quarantined. The sailor hailed from Drammen, Norway. I applied to Mother Kane, at the Hotel Dieu, in reference to the seaman spoken of as having gone there after leaving the Marine Hospital, and the following is what she gave me: "His name was Wm. Dean, and he was born at Penarth, Wales. England [sic]. His father's name was Frederic Dean. His mother's name was Elizabeth Dean. He entered the hospital here Oct. 4th 1899, and left Jan. 26th 1900, but worked for us under wages for one year and three months after. We never had a better nurse nor a more honest man about the place. He used to hear from his mother frequently, and, judging from her letters, she was a well-educated woman. His father I think, was dead. He attended the English Church regularly, and sang in the choir. We have nothing but good to say for him. He seemed an exemplary young man. He had ship fever and malaria, and was crippled from lying in a short bunk on board Lilly." -- Chatham, Jan. 26th, 1909
Mother Kane says that Dr. McDonald pronounced the disease ship fever, and that is all the evidence I can find here to tell what it was.--J. Baxter, Quarantine Physician.
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