CARNARVON TRADERS

The Repository of all Things Historical for the Ancient Welsh Town of Carnarvon

  Castle Square, Carnarvon. Published by Williams & Hughes, Bridge Steet, 1850


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SMALLPOX 1814


In 1808 the poor inhabitants of Bangor were hastily vaccinated, maybe without their knowledge or even against their will?, suggesting that Smallpox was suspected of being in the area. Although there is no direct mention of the disease having hit the town during 1808, a browse through the Llanbeblig burial register reveals that deaths spiked alarmingly; up to 137 over the twelve months, when the average deaths over the previous ten years was 59. There does not seem to have been another outbreak in North Wales until 1813 when the town of Denbigh was badly hit; the previous year a scheme similar to Bangor's had received negligible success with only 46 of the town's inhabitants being vaccinated,1 with the result that resistance to the disease was low.

There was a serious outbreak in Carnarvon in late 1814, which resulted in a large number of deaths, both adult and infant. Unfortunately, there is no recording of the smallpox deaths in the Llanbeblig Burial Register, and the only apparent reference to this outbreak readily available is the following report, from the North Wales Gazette of the 8th. of September:

We learn, with infinite regret, that the Small-Pox is now extremely prevalent at Carnarvon and its vicinity, and has already proved fatal, in several instances, both to adults as well as children. As the discovery of Vaccination, emanating from the fountain of mercy, has, under divine influence, extended itself from this favoured Island to all parts of the known world, in the short period of about twelve years, since its general adoption, it is painful to reflect, that either from obstinacy or indifference, we meet with parents in this country, who, apparently, regardless of the lives of their offspring, the loss of sight, the contortion of limbs, &c. the too frequent ravages of Small-Pox, still neglect the means afforded them of having their children innoculated with the Cow-pock - an operation so mild, that an infant may be vaccinated at nine days old. Actuated by sympathy, and also by an interest for the public weal, we entreat the serious attention of our readers to the Report of the National Vaccine Establishment, inserted in our last page; and we have to regret the legislature has not passed a law, to compel every person to have their children vaccinated within, at furthest, a month of their birth, or in pain of non compliance, the infliction of a heavy penalty, and also condign punishment. Such a law, would, in the course of a few years, extirpate the still-devouring embers of the Small-Pox; and the laudable example would, no doubt, be immediately followed by similar restrictions in other countries, by which means, in time, that fatal contagion would cease to exist. We conclude our observations on this national desideratum, by elucidating an instance, to shew how simply the operation may be performed; and we put it to the breast of every master of a family: whether he does not stand accused by his conscience of a dereliction of parental care, who neglects the ample means which Providence has thus afforded him? A nurse-tender, resident near Bangor, took a common stocking needle, which she forced into the pustule on a child's arm, then under vaccination; on her return home, she innoculated two of her grand-children with the stocking needle, so charged with the vaccine lymph, and the operation fully succeeded.

This report clearly shows that resistance still remained against the "new-fangled" vaccination, about twelve years after its discovery was publicised, with parents resolutely unconvinved that their offspring would be so much safer after having the treatment. Of course in those days North Wales was a remote corner of the Kingdom, and in such rural communities as these suspicion would still win the day over common sense in such cases. One must not forget that the country was still ruled by religion, with the Church considered by many to be more powerful than the Government of the day. Most of the superstitious members of these scattered communities would only too readily believe that these epidemics were really "Visitations from God," sent to cleanse their souls for a multitude of sins, real or imagined, which today would seem mere trifles. To all intents and purposes this state of affairs would have suited the Church tremendously as it would have substantiated their "brimstone and fire" doctrines and kept the general populace under God's collective thumb.

According to Gwyn Penrhyn Jones, Hirael, a suburb of Bangor, was particularly badly hit by the disease in 1823, and the following year another serious outbreak occurred at Carnarvon, although I have not been able to discover any evidence of this epidemic. A perusal of the Llanbeblig burial register reveals no sign of an unusually high death rate amongst the infant population.


1 "Newyn a Haint Yng Nghymru" - Gwyn Penrhyn Jones; Carnarvon 1962.

SOURCES

North Wales Gazette - 1814
Newyn a Haint Yng Nghymru" - Gwyn Penrhyn Jones; Carnarvon 1962.


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