The first reported victim of the 1804 Gibraltar yellow fever epidemic had recently returned from a trip to one of the Spanish port cities afflicted with yellow fever.
Medical authorities reported, “a shopkeeper, named Santo (a resident of Gibraltar) arrived from Cadiz on the 28th of August, 1804, and was taken ill on the 29th; he had lodged in a house at Cadiz, where some persons died of the then prevailing fever.” Santo was probably bitten by a mosquito carrying the yellow fever virus while in Spain and imported the virus into Gibraltar via his infected blood.
Timing is crucial since the outbreak of yellow fever in nearby Malaga had already prompted the enactment of a Gibraltarian government proclamation, dated 27th August, which ordered that “commencing with tomorrow and until further orders all communications with Spain both by Land and Sea shall be cut off. The impulse to close the open border was wise, though unfortunately too late, as Santo had just made his way back into Gibraltar. Under the threat of yellow fever, Santo appears to be one of the last to travel between the two countries.
Following Santos arrival in Gibraltar, it appears that many of his immediate neighbours in the Boyd’s Buildings patio, located in the centre of the town, were the first to be struck by yellow fever. Medical reports indicate that, Mrs. Fenton [wife to Bombardier Fenton of the Royal Artillery] was the second person attacked; she was taken ill on the 3rd of September, her
husband and a child of the name of Roland, were taken ill on the 8th, and died on the 12th. Mrs. Boyd, who had visited Mrs. Fenton, was taken ill on the 13th, and died on the 19th; her husband was taken ill on the 14th, and died on the 16th: all those families were neighbours.
By the end of September, the fever raged with such violence that it was necessary to force civilians to help remove the dead.
‘Mrs Baynes was obliged to put both Mr Frome and his wife in their coffins, not having any creature near her, nor could she get them buried till the Governor ordered some men who were then in the street to be pressed for that purpose. How the town is to be cleansed we can scarcely tell, we fear dead bodies are at this moment shut up, our men at the sick lines need to be forever running to the main guard to beg them to remove the dead from our street, there being six persons lying there, and there was no other chance of getting their dead buried but by doing so. Mrs Fletcher who is now a very pretty young woman, was seen throwing her father out of the chamber window‘.
After four months epidemic had run its course, leaving more than 5000 dead and many more incapacitated. It was reported that some 4864 civilians and 869 military perished during the course of the epidemic.
While yellow fever visited Gibraltar in 1810, 1813, 1814, and 1828, mortality in those epidemics was never as great as in 1804. The reduction in the mortality rate beginning with the 1810 epidemic was likely attributable to some degree of immunity built up among the inhabitants since 1804.
Source: Gibraltar’s 1804 Yellow Fever Scourge: The Search for Scapegoats
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