Surges of Scarlet Fever outbreaks occurred in Brisbane during the 1800’s, similar to what we are experiencing today. In 1874, 10 deaths was attributed to Scarlet Fever, which by the next year had rocketed to 51 deaths in 1875 alone. Despite the isolation of St Helena Island’s inhabitants from diseases on the mainland, the disease broke out amongst the warder’s families. Striking the young children most of all, 2 year old Andrew Craigie succumbed to the illness in December 1875 whilst on St Helena Island. Dr Challinor stated he died from ‘Scarlet Fever and Convulsions’ lasting one day.
Scarlet Fever is easily spread, by breathing in bacteria from an infected person’s cough and sneezes, touching them or sharing contaminated linen. On St Helena Island in the mid 1870’s, in the small, closed community of around 7 families, the disease spread to the Maitland family. Daughter Mary succumbed to Scarlet Fever in January of 1876, aged two, making her one of the 28 cases reported in Brisbane that year.
Scarlet Fever is known to follow a “natural cyclical pattern” every four to six years. In the table above, we see another small rise in 1883/1884, and a larger outbreak in 1890 and 1891. It was this outbreak that tolled the death knell for warder’s families to be living on the island. Scarlet Fever was actually the trigger responsible for the Government mandating that warder’s families would be removed to the mainland permanently. Once again, isolation should have prevented an outbreak:
Some time ago, when it became known that there was so much Scarlet Fever in Brisbane, a regulation was made forbidding the women and children going to town without permission. Early in December last, a Mrs Hore, the schoolmaster’s wife and a Mrs Howard got permission to go to town … 5 members of the Hore family developed symptoms of sore throat and high fever and her newborn baby was very ill… (3)
Eventually 18 people from 5 different families were brought to Brisbane Hospital in two furniture vans. The rest of the warders with families were sent to Peel Island to be isolated, and then told they would not be returning to St Helena:
Mr. Gunning gave a brief account of the out-break of the fever on the island… had received instructions from the Colonial Secretary that their wives and families were no longer to be allowed to reside at St. Helena. They considered this was a great hardship, as they had been resident there from eight to thirteen years. They did not like the idea of their wives and families being in Brisbane unprotected…
Nothing had occurred on the island for the past twenty years to warrant the sending away of their wives and families from the island, and the warders affected felt they were being dealt with very harshly. He had a wife and three children, and he would feel it very keenly if compelled to live apart from them, and only see them once every four and a-half months. (4)
Scarlet Fever certainly changed the course of St Helena Island’s history forever. And on the island are two headstones in the small children’s cemetery that are the reminders of the long legacy left by Scarlet Fever.
Tune in next week to see more details and my new discoveries in the Warders’ Children’s Cemetery eBook!
Scarlet Fever and measles table: Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 29 August 1893
The Brisbane courier, 30th January 1891
The Brisbane Courier 3rd February 1891