Cholera Deaths 1854 

Whenever the black 1933 Chevrolet hearse of Thad Stevens was seen on the road, the question of “Who died?” was sure to be asked by either Mum or Gram. Both knew the surrounding neighbourhood very well and the passing of the hearse meant not only that a neighbour might need some help, but also there was some news that had not yet reached them.

Anyway, the conversation would always continue with “When was the last time the hearse was out this way?”, to “Do you remember the family that lost three little children to diphtheria?”, and then on to the world wide influenza epidemic in 1919. Next Gram would tell of the terrible Cholera epidemic that struck the then small city of Saint John in 1854.

All these stories came back to me in a rush when I first looked at Graeme Somerville’s Cholera Deaths in Saint John and Portland NB 1854 which has just come off the press. The Board of Health of the City of Saint John, and the Board of Health of the neighbouring Parish of Portland both kept lists of the cholera deaths in their respective communities in the summer of 1854. Regrettably these lists give scant details - just the name, a date, perhaps an age and maybe a street address. These lists are available on microfilm at the Saint John Free Public Library.

What makes Graeme’s book stand out is he has combined the Board of Health information with the records of the six cemeteries then operating in Saint John. Again, some of the cemetery data is also brief but by combining the two sources of information a clearer picture of many of the victims of the plague can be seen. Graeme found more than 300 entries from the Board of Health lists that were also in Cemetery lists, thus often leading to family connections in burial  plots.

The death of Robert Maxwell of Portland was reported to the Board of Health on August 6th and seventeen year old Margaret Jane Maxwell’s death was reported on September 13th. Both are buried in lot 437 at Fernhill Cemetery - thus suggesting a possible family connection.

The information on residence, age and occupation could also open a door for the researcher. Twelve year old Catharine Casey resided near Mill Bridge; Mrs. Corkery was 80 years old and resided near Black Spring: the Widow Dwyer was 30 years old and resided on Straight Shore; thirty year old John Irvin lived on Acadia Street and was buried in the Church of England Cemetery; John McGinagall lived at Long Wharf; 40 year old Catharine McGowan’s address was Petries Mill; Wm. Pallan of the Indian Town Road was 39 years old.

Names are cross referenced in the book. For example #178 Catharine Carrin of North Street is cross referenced with #305 which is the widow Curren who is buried in the Church of England Cemetery. Eliza Humphrey # 645 age 35, is cross referenced with # 1472 Eliza Umphreys, age 30, July 23 at the Church of England Cemetery lot NW 322.

Undoubtedly, the immensity and gravity of the cholera epidemic overwhelmed the two Boards of Health so that they might not have recorded all cholera deaths, or even recorded the same death twice. Furthermore cemetery staffs might not have been able to cope with the tasks they faced thus record keeping might have been low on their list of priorities during the months of June to September of 1854.

The alphabetized index, “Cholera Deaths in Saint John and Portland, NB, 1854", edited by Graeme F. Somerville, provides us with an insight into the frightening time for the citizens of the City of Saint John and the adjacent Parish of Portland when cholera struck the area.

Graeme’s tables show that 1,100 persons perished in a space of ten weeks in a population of about 40,000.

This useful book can be purchased from Graeme F. Somerville at 84 Beach Crescent, Saint John, NB, Canada, E2K 2E4 at $20.00 per copy plus $3.00 for postage and packaging.

By the way, maybe Gram even knew that the hearse used in Saint John to transport countless bodies to Donovan’s farm in Coldbrook, there to await burial in a cemetery, finished up its days forty years later behind a barn in Woodstock, New Brunswick.

Query 1110
Harrison - London - Finn: Frank Harrison and Mary London came from Ireland to Saint John, New Brunswick, where their son Francis was born about 1872. He worked as a stevedore in Boston and died there on 24 May 1922. He was married to Hannah Finn, the daughter of Patrick Finn and Hannah Coleman, born about 1872 and died 22 June 1947 in Boston. They were the parents of eight boys. Any information would be appreciated.

48 Old Washington St.,
Pembroke, Mass, 02359.

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