The Fever Sheds at Grosse Isle

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (3) start of chapter

The authorities were taken by surprise, owing to the sudden arrival of this plague-smitten fleet, and, save the sheds that remained since 1832, there was no accommodation of any kind on the island.

These sheds were rapidly filled with the miserable people, the sick and the dying, and round their walls lay groups of half-naked men, women, and children, in the same condition—sick or dying.

Hundreds were literally flung on the beach, left amid the mud and stones, to crawl on the dry land how they could.

‘I have seen,’ says the priest who was then chaplain of the quarantine, and who had been but one year on the mission, ‘I have one day seen thirty-seven people lying on the beach, crawling on the mud, and dying like fish out of water.’

Many of these, and many more besides, gasped out their last breath on that fatal shore, not able to drag themselves from the slime in which they lay.

Death was doing its work everywhere—in the sheds, around the sheds, where the victims lay in hundreds under the canopy of heaven, and in the poisonous holds of the plague-ships, all of which were declared to be, and treated as, hospitals.

From ship to ship the young Irish priest carried the consolations of religion to the dying.

Amidst shrieks, and groans, and wild ravings, and heart-rending lamentations,—over prostrate sufferers in every stage of the sickness—from loathsome berth to loathsome berth, he pursued his holy task.

So noxious was the pent-up atmosphere of these floating pest-houses, that he had frequently to rush on deck, to breathe the pure air, or to relieve his overtaxed stomach: then he would again plunge into the foul den, and resume his interrupted labours.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America