‘The obstinately dirty character of the people’: Origins, children, and epidemics at sea

  • Robin Haines


In spite of the contemporary conviction that people from the Celtic peripheries suffered from sickness and death at higher rates than their compeers from England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, it is difficult to gauge whether the origins of the emigrants made much difference to the mortality on ships that suffered a high death toll. For emigrants lacking immunity to the ubiquitous infections of urban life, the ports of London, Southampton, Plymouth or Liverpool, were dangerous places. Having travelled from the remote rural regions of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, contact with water-borne cholera in epidemic years (including infected water brought on board in casks), was inevitably disastrous. Contact with louse-borne typhus, or with endemic measles, whooping cough, or scarlatina, as they assembled at the pre-embarkation point, was equally devastating. Their experience highlights the epidemiological hazards faced by all rural migrants who were absorbed from the countryside into the disease zones of large towns and urban areas.


Diarrhoeal Disease Whooping Cough Scarlet Fever Miliary Tuberculosis Airborne Infection 
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© Robin Haines 2005

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  • Robin Haines

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