Transcript of the evidence given by the

Transcript of the evidence given by the ‘Scimitar’s Surgeon, Dr. William Henry Hosking,
during the Commission of Enquiry into the number of deaths aboard.

William Henry Hosking being duly sworn saith:–
I am a member of the College of Surgeons, England. I was appointed Surgeon Superintendent of the ship ‘Scimitar’ by the Agent General Dr. Featherstone at London, England. I saw the Scimitar’ in dock at London. I inspected the ship there and found that the medical stores were in good condition as also the stores generally for the emigrants. I was accompanied in the inspection of the ship by an Imperial Emigration Officer and the despatching officer of the New Zealand Shipping Company. This took place a little before the 18th day of December 1873. I received a telegram from the Agent Generals office on the 17th December 1873 to proceed to Plymouth to the Depot to take charge of the emigrants amongst whom were several cases of sickness. I went there on the 18th December. I had never been at the Depot before that. It was too late to see the people that day. I called at the Depot the next morning (the 19th December). I saw all the ‘‘Scimitar’’ emigrants, the Depot Master told me there was above seven hundred people there. The whole of the emigrants by the ‘Mongol’ and the ‘Scimitar’ were at the Depot. The Depot is situated a little out of the town, it is a large stone building built on a rocky foundation. It is very damp. The emigrants complained of their bedding being damp. Colds and Catarrhs were prevalent amongst them. There are three separate buildings, two of two storeys and one of three storeys about fifty feet apart. The ground occupied altogether at the Depot comprises about one acre. The yards are paved and gravelled. The yards looked damp, it was raining the greater part of the time we were there, the climate of Plymouth is damp and relaxing. The Depot grounds are bounded by the sea on two sides, one of which at low tide leaves a muddy bank which sends forth a very bad smell. The larger building is of three storeys. It contained on the ground floor, wash-house, large kitchen, an apartment I was not in, storeroom, disinfecting room, hall and stairs. On the first storey there were two dormitories filled up with a great many bunks or beds, there was a double row down the centre and a row on each side. The rooms were thoroughly ventilated by ventilators in the windows. The upper storey was fitted in a similar manner to the first storey. The Hospitals being on the first and second floors were separate from the apartments before mentioned the first flat of which was reached by stairs leading from the courtyard. The Hospitals were filled with German emigrants who had been placed there for want of room otherwise. These rooms were well ventilated. The next largest building, the ground floor of which was a day room was occupied by emigrants who were set apart for the ship ‘Mongol’ but many of them left by the ‘Scimitar’. Their dormitory was immediately above this room, the divisions were higher to secure privacy for the married people. It was well ventilated and very clean. There was always a dank smell chiefly arising from the damp clothes of the people who were continually going out into the rain and getting wet. I think it rained every day during the time I was there. The third building contained ground floor in which was contained the Masters house and a large room for passengers luggage. The room above was occupied as a day room for the ‘Scimitar’ passengers. Some of the passengers complained of the bedding being damp and one of them told me that the rust from the iron had got into his bedding. Some of the ‘Mongol’ passengers left the Depot on the 21st December 1873. On the 19th December I found no infectious fever in the Depot. I had been informed that several cases of Scarlet fever and Measles had been sent outside previous to my arrival for treatment. Dr. Eccles the Imperial Government Inspector was in charge of the Depot. He attended daily about nine o’clock and inspected the emigrants. A case of Scarlet fever broke out on the 21st December – a man named Tanner about 20 years of age. I reported it to Dr. Eccles and Davidson who ordered the case be sent outside for treatment. This more been the third case I believe in the Tanner family since they had been in the Depot. He was to have gone on board the ‘Mongol’ on the day he was attacked with the fever. There were several members of the Tanner family complaining of sore threats, headaches and other suspicious symptoms of Scarlet fever. Dr. Davidson the Surgeon of the ‘Mongol’ came down on the evening of the 20th December, he took the place of a surgeon who had been dismissed in London for drunkenness. On the 21st December I advised that the Tanners should be left behind as the disease might break out amongst them. They were not left behind but went aboard the ‘Mongol’ with the exception of those of the family who had been sent out of the Depot as previously mentioned. Two of the German children had Bronchitis; they went by the ‘Scimitar’. The Mongol passengers went aboard the 21st December and were inspected on the 22nd December by Dr. Eccles and Mr. Smith and I think Captain Smail RN on behalf of the Imperial Government. One family was sent ashore from the ‘Mongol’ on account of showing symptoms of Scarlet fever. They did not go back to the Depot or join the ‘Scimitar’ passengers. The ‘Scimitar’ passengers were inspected by me before going on board. I passed them all, there were several cases amongst the children I was suspicious of sickening from Measles. The symptoms however were not sufficiently developed to justify me rejecting them. There were no cases of Measles in the Depot at the time. There may have been several cases of Measles kept concealed as the parents withheld all information lest they should lose their passage. The ‘Scimitar’ took in no passengers which had been rejected by the Mongol. Previous to embarkation there were a number of cases of Catarrh but nothing serious, on the whole the health of the emigrants was good. No other person but myself inspected the Emigrants before they went on board. This inspection was of a cursory kind to see as to vaccination and freedom from personal blemish. They went on board the ‘Scimitar’ on 22nd December 1873. The same inspectors came on board the ‘Scimitar’ on the 23rd December and inspected the emigrants. They came on board about midday and were occupied several hours in examining the passengers. The whole of the 430 emigrants were collected on the poop and passed one by one. The examination was very careful by the Medical Inspector. I stood alongside him. In every case he looked at the tongue and whenever he saw a case of the slightest suspicion he examined the throat and skin of the chest. All the emigrants were found in apparently good condition with the exception of a family named Smith. The whole family were sent ashore as showing symptoms of Scarlet fever and I understand the suspicions of Dr. Eccles were afterwards confirmed. We left that family behind. Next morning, the 24th December on my rounds my attention was called to a sick child, the parents of which were keeping it out of sight. I immediately examined it and found the child (about two years old) named Wolfrey, flushed in face and upon further inspection found her covered with Scarlet fever rash. I immediately sent the whole family ashore a few minutes before sailing for New Zealand. The members of this family came from Jersey and I have reason to believe from information I received from Wm. Morgan one of the emigrants that other members of the family had suffered from Scarlet fever from three to five weeks before entering the Depot. They remained in the Depot a fortnight before embarkation. I was informed by the parents that they had obtained medicine and advice from a Chemist outside the Depot for their youngest child, who had told them it was nothing but a little rash. I am satisfied that the infection was brought into the Depot by this family and by the Tanner family. We sailed on the 24th December.

After the inspection by Dr. Eccles I had a long conversation with him respecting the propriety of sending away so many infected people, and also my opinion that they should have been detained if practicable for isolation and treatment ashore until the epidemic had passed. But this was deemed by him and Mr. Smith as impracticable and it was further urged that the mortality afloat would be no worse than if they remained ashore. Dr. Eccles promised to send me some fever medicines asked for by me and which he thought would be useful to me, and which I received before leaving.

The evening of the day on which we sailed several of the children were still suffering from Catarrhal affections. Next day the same. On the 26th December there were several cases of Catarrh and Diarrhoea amongst the children. On the 28th December I found a child named William Brown covered with Scarletina rash, this was the first case on board. I removed the child to the Hospital and freely used disinfectants. This case of Scarletina was undoubtedly caused by infection received at the Depot in Plymouth, the family had been in the same rooms there with Wolfrey and Smith. No examination prior to our sailing could have detected disease in this case. This child afterwards took Measles while in the Hospital and died on the 5th January 1874. This child must have been sickening for Measles previous to becoming infected with Scarlet fever, the period of incubation being longer for Measles than for Scarlet fever. The child must have been infected with Measles before embarkation.

On the 7th January 1874 the second death occurred from Bronchitis, in the case of a child named Smith, 5 months old. The child was delicate and had been previously troubled with Bronchitis before we left Plymouth.

On the 31st December found Jordan’s children ill with Measles, sent them to the Hospital. The 1st January 1874 found a case of Measles amongst the single girls. The girl was named Emily Tombs, she was also suffering from Scarlet fever. She died on the 14th January 1874 aged 17 years.

On the 1st January a girl named Hastings was seized with Measles and was sent to the Hospital. This was the fifth case of Measles. From the 28th December when the first case of Scarlet fever broke out to the date of arrival at Port Chalmers on 5th March 1874 fifty cases of Scarletina and about one hundred cases of Measles appeared on board the ‘Scimitar’. The last case of Measles occurred about a month before the termination of the voyage. The Scarletina continuing until after our arrival.

The following is a list of the other deaths which occurred on board:-
Prudence Bennett aged three years from Measles and Scarlet fever
Mary Kelly Carey aged three and a half years from Measles and Diarrhoea
Lydia Jordan aged eighteen months from the same (this child was very delicate when brought aboard)
James Carey at five years the same
Eunice Tombs at eight months Measles and Bronchitis
Celia Castle at eighteen months the same
Edith Mary Ellens ten months the same
Amy Townsend at two years from Convulsions, Measles and Diarrhoea
John Carey at seven years Measles and Diarrhoea
Frank Townsend ten months Measles and Diarrhoea and Sloughing of the scalp
Eliza Wilby fourteen months Measles, Diarrhoea and Bronchitis
Edith Lynn thirteen months Scarletina
Harriet Florence Newson three years ten months Scarletina (the father of this child on board had been previously attending the Brompton Hospital for consumption for five years)
George Baughan fourteen months Hydrocephalus, Measles and Diarrhoea
John Walter Wale three and a half years Measles and Diarrhoea
Matilda Styles seven months dentition, Convulsions and Diarrhoea
Ruth Ashton seven months the same
William Denton thirteen months Measles and Bronchitis
Mary A Moulin three and a half years Scarletina
Francis Newson seven years Scarletina
Matilda Dewe two years Scarletina Measles and Sloughing of the scalp
Jane Jeffrey three years Measles and Diarrhoea
Louis William Gubbins ten months Measles and Scarletina

Examination continued on the 21st March 1874:-
The only particular defect noticed by me in the arrangements of the Depot at Plymouth was the insufficiency of fireplaces, in as much as there was only one small stove in a room sixty to seventy feet long and which room was used as a sitting and day room for the emigrants by the ‘Scimitar’. At the railing around the stove there were constantly a number of articles of wearing apparel, inclusive of children’s napkins being dried. The yard space was in my opinion too small for the number of people. The drainage and water closet accommodation at the Depot was very good. The master and matron of the Depot are very efficient and attentive persons and well up to their business. The place was kept very clean and the emigrants were kept well under control. As to the arrangements on board the ship ‘Scimitar’ I am of the opinion that the ventilation was defective. Our ‘tween decks were really very fine and exceptional as regards space being 8 feet 6 inches in height, but the methods in use for ventilation I considered very imperfect. Chest and throat affections and Diarrhoea were extremely prevalent. I feel sure that the present system of top drafts is to be blamed for this. There is no proper modern system of ventilation whereby the circulation of air was steadily maintained. I would recommend that air pipes with bell mouths should bring the air from above the remoter parts of each compartment under the bunks and to within a foot or less of the tween deck where it would imperceptibly diffuse itself and would drive the impure air out at the open hatch, or other trumpet mouthed ventilators turned from the wind. This plan would tend to create a constant circulation free from severe draughts and would work well at all times. On the ‘Scimitar’ when the lights and hatches had to be shut down the foul stink below was positively sickening. I am of the opinion that the present system of hanging large sail cloth curtains on either side of the main hatch, is not only of no use, but interferes much with the regular diffusion of the air. The supply of water on the ‘Scimitar’ was very good and abundant. There was a good condenser and the regulation quantity of London water in the tanks. The arrangements as to baths was insufficient. I would recommend that a larger number of baths be supplied and that it be a part of the regime that they be more frequently used, as tending in a great degree to keep down sickness as well as being useful for cleaners. The Surgeon Superintendents authority should in this respect be independent of other control. In fact a separate tank of a small size with a key tap should be attached to the condenser and under the special control of the Surgeon.

It was impossible to separate properly the infected from the healthy when the hospital became full. Patients with different infectious diseases had to be treated in their bunks. Every precaution was however taken in this state of things to prevent the spread of disease by the free use of disinfectants and cleanliness. The supply of medicines to the ship was perfect. The supply of medical comforts was liberal and very good. There was a full regulation supply of food for children, but in my opinion the food supplied was not proper for children. Instead of Navy biscuit as mentioned in the regulation dietary scale, soft bread in larger quantities should be substituted. No salt meat should be used for young children. Instead of preserved milk cows should be provided for the use of younger children. The preserved milk is not suitable for all children. The eggs supplied to the ship went bad after the first two or three weeks; they were packed in salt. I would recommend a better way of preserving them. In reference to the food of children I would suggest if practicable messing the children together by themselves under the care of a competent nurse at times before the adult mealtimes and supplying them with suitable food, principally farinaceous.

The arrangement of the bunks on board the ‘Scimitar’ was good, ample space being allowed. The bunks were all fore and aft excepting in two instances where fixed to fill-up a corner.

Examination continued 25th March 1874:-
Looking at the physique generally of the people under my charge I am of the opinion that they were healthy and desirable as immigrants.

I cannot say whether a careful medical examination had been made in every case before the applicant had been accepted as a free passage emigrant in as much as the preliminary examination of the emigrants did not come under my notice.

I am not aware of my own knowledge whether there was any such medical examination before admission to the Depot. I know of nothing to prevent a thorough medical examination of each applicant as in the case of life assurance.

I have tabulated the principal diseases we had on board other than Measles and Scarletina. There were 120 severe cases of Diarrhoea, 12 cases of Erysiphelas, Carbuncle, Whitlow and Boils, 30 cases of Bronchitis, very numerous cases of Mumps and Colds, Stomatitis, some cases very severe were numerous. Quinseys and Ulcerated sore throats were numerous.

I think the question of school on board ship should be left entirely to the Surgeon. It being in my opinion entirely a medical question especially where epidemic disease prevails, whether large bodies of children should be herded together.

Under the present system the Captain has the power if he pleases to exercise it, to overide the Surgeons wishes in this respect. Captain Fox of the ‘Scimitar’ was in all respects a most suitable man for his post, and did his very best to promote the health and comfort of the emigrants under my charge. We had fresh provisions all the way out for the sick and convalescent. This was owing to the Captain putting in to Tristan da’ Cunha for the express purpose of supplementing our stock.

I am of opinion that before any emigrant is admitted into the Depot he should immediately before such admission under go a medical examination, such a course would tend to diminish the chance of any infectious disease. I would recommend a large supply of sawdust and sand for the purpose of sprinkling on the decks. These substances absorb moisture and dirt and can easily be swept up.

There were three hospitals on board containing, on the aggregate thirteen beds. These hospitals were partitioned off from the Saloon under the poop.

Signed: William Henry Hosking

Surgeon Superintendent
Ship ‘Scimitar’

Given before us at Dunedin, March 1874

John Bathgate