THE GLOUCESTER EPIDEMIC by Dr Hadwen MD

From "Truth," January 3, 1923.

The advocates of vaccination are never tired of quoting the smallpox epidemic which occurred in Gloucester in1895-6. A picture of Gloucester Cemetery is often presented, apparently with the idea of impressing an ex parte statement upon the memory. Where the picture itself cannot be given, the statement alone is made—viz., that 279 unvaccinated children lie buried in that cemetery (the picturesque detail is never by any chance omitted), together with only one out of some 8,000 children said to he vaccinated before or during the epidemic. The latter figure may be correct officially, but it is incorrect actually, for I worked in Gloucester at the time and came into personal contact with the cases, and I have the names and addresses of 116 vaccinated children up to ten years of age attacked by the disease, of whom 27 died.

The truth is that the whole child population of Gloucester was practically an unvaccinated population, the vaccinated numbering only 4 per cent.; hence the greater number of unvaccinated attacked is easily explained. Ten thousand unvaccinated children passed through that epidemic unscathed. The severity of the scourge was due to sanitary defects, which were afterwards remedied at great cost, to the fact that the disease broke out and spread like wildfire in a large unsanitary elementary school, where the vaccinated teacher was the first to succumb, and to the utterly disgraceful hospital conditions to which these little patients were removed. Out of the 1,979 total cases; about 1,750 occurred in the southern half of Gloucester, where the sanitary defects above mentioned existed, the unvaccinated children of time northern half escaping practically unscathed. Nearly two-thirds of those attacked—viz., 1,211 out of 1,979—were vaccinated, in spite of the fact that Gloucester was an "unvaccinated city."

From "Truth," January 17, 1923.

I remember, too, the epidemic in Gloucester in 1895-6. I was in and out of the smallpox houses throughout that visitation of nearly 2,000 cases. The echo of it is still heard among time ranks of Jennerian followers, and always with time tragic whisper, "Gloucester was an unvaccinated city!" Never in all time history of professional scaremongering was such a determined effort made to boost vaccination, and never a word was uttered as to the shocking insanitary conditions which produced the tragedy. In fact, those conditions were persistently denied by time officials who were responsible for them.

The smallpox was practically confined to the southern half of the city, where there was no fall for the sewage. The pipes had been hurriedly laid in this new district without concrete base or cemented joints. There was a drought that lasted months; time water supply ran short; flushing of the sewers had to be discontinued, and time sewerage pipes became choked. When, after time epidemic was over, investigation was made, the pipes were found to be broken in all directions; in fact, the whole district of—for the most part—crowded houses, many of them back-to-back with no through ventilation, lay over what was nothing more nor less than a huge cesspit. The outlets for the sewer-gas consisted of street manholes, which belched their poison into time atmosphere. I traced the first case of smallpox in every street to the house nearest to a manhole. Wooden stoppers were made to close them down, but they had to be used sparingly lest the sewer-gas should be driven into the houses. Hundreds of the houses were drawing their water supply from shallow wells, liable to contamination by constant leakage into them from house drains; and the sewage-pipes in numerous instances ran under the floors of the houses from the closets at the back to the street in front. Some of the houses had their w.c.s in the back kitchen. In one street of 114 houses the latter were supplied with water declared by the city surveyor to be contaminated with sewage from its source to its delivery, and as it had not force enough to fill the flushing tanks, the w.c.s were never flushed and always choked, the contents being emptied periodically on to the small garden ground attached.

In some of these tiny houses there were seven, nine, and even twelve cases of smallpox. A sixth part of the whole epidemic occurred in three streets. In one street the sewage entered the cellars of the houses, and the choked-up street sewer had to be opened up in the midst of the epidemic. Nearly half the houses in this street had smallpox cases. Then the epidemic caught on in two disgracefully insanitary and overcrowded, ill-ventilated elementary schools. Forty-five children were struck down suddenly in one of them and 31 in the other. The patients were removed to what was called an isolation hospital. It was congregation, not isolation. A woman employed in the early part of the epidemic as solitary night nurse told me that time sight and screaming of these poor children at night as they ran about the wards in delirium so completely unnerved her that she was obliged to leave. They were allowed no water for their fevered skins, time baths were choked with dirty linen, and never used. The little ones were packed three, four, and even five in a bed; vermin was crawling everywhere; no oil was used for the faces, and the poor children scratched themselves till they bled. Of every two taken in to the Stroud Road Hospital one was carried out a corpse; when the mortuary became choked with dead bodies, the bathroom was utilised for this purpose. One child lay for two weeks and two days with her eyes scabbed and not a single drop of water was given to relieve her. When one hospital became full, another one was opened which had been used as a cholera hospital many years before. It was built on stakes in a rough, boggy field; it had no sewerage connections, nor any drainage whatever, and water had to be carried in water-carts over a quarter of a mile of bog to reach it.

The panic became fearful, and a wild, despairing cry went up from the plague-stricken city as the destroying angel sped from house to house in these awful slums. And what was the answer the terror-stricken inhabitants received from the Guardians of Public Health? Still the same mad reply: "These be thy gods, O Israel!" as they pointed to the vaccine lancets, dripping with their filthy venom; in helplessness and fear they implored the people, in a unanimously signed medical manifesto, to bow down and worship at the shrine.

At last the rain came. It washed time atmosphere, it flushed the sewers and drains; it filled the vacuoles of sewer gas in the sandy soil, and the epidemic died down. The councillors who put up at the next municipal contest were one and all indignantly swept away at the polls by the enraged voters, and anti-vaccinationists took their place; a new sewerage system was laid throughout the whole smallpox district at a cost of some 30,000; 20,000 sanitary defects in the houses were rectified, and no smallpox has occurred since, although nearly 90 per cent, of the population is unvaccinated. But even in that awful epidemic, smallpox picked out the vaccinated for attack; two-thirds of the sufferers had been "protected" by time filthy superstitious rite.

[Hadwen]