Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada

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Excerpt from the diary of Robert Whyte, an Irish emigrant

a cabin passenger, probably on the George, a ship commanded by Captain Sheridan. The ship left the port of Dublin on May 30 and arrived at Grosse Île the evening of July 27, 1847.

This excerpt is taken from the book 1847, Grosse Île: A Record of Daily Events by André Charbonneau and André Sevigny.

(…) At 9 o'clock a boat was perceived pulling toward us, with four oars and a steersman with a broad leafed straw hat and leather coat, who the pilot told us was the inspecting physician. In a few minutes the boat was alongside, and the doctor on deck. He hastily enquired for the captain and before he could be answered was down in the cabin where the mistress was finishing her toilet. Having introduced himself, he enquired if we had sickness aboard? - Its nature? - How many deaths? - How many patients at present? These questions being answered, and the replies noted upon his tablet, he snatched up his hat, - ran up the ladder, - along the deck, - and down into the hold. Arrived there, "ha!" said he, sagaciously, "there is fever here.

He stopped beside the first berth in which a patient was lying, - felt his pulse, - examined his tongue, - and ran up the ladder again. As he passed by me he handed me some papers to be filled up by the captain, and to have ready "tomorrow or the next day". In an instant he was in his boat, from which, while the men were taking up the oars, he shouted out to me that I was not obliged to remain in quarantine, and might go up to Quebec when I pleased.

I brought the papers to the captain, who remained in the cabin, supposing that the doctor would return thither, in order to give directions for our guidance; and when he learned that that gentleman had gone, he was desperately enraged. The mistress endeavoured to pacify him by suggesting that it was likely he would visit us again in the course of the day, or at least that he would send a message to us. When I acquainted the mistress that I was at liberty to leave the brig, she looked at me most pitifully, as if would say, "Are you going to desert us". But I had no such intention, and was determined to remain with them, at all events until they reached Quebec.

The poor passengers expecting that they would all be reviewed, were dressed in their best clothes, and were clean, though haggard and weak. They were greatly disappointed in their expectations, as they were under the impression that the sick would be immediately admitted to the hospital, and the healthy landed upon the island, there to remain until taken to Quebec by a steamer. Indeed, such was the procedure to be inferred from the book or directions given to the captain by the pilot, when he came aboard.

(…)

All day long we kept watching out for a message from shore and in watching the doctor's boat, going from vessel to vessel; his visit to each occupying about the same time as to us, which was exactly five minutes. We sometimes fancied that he was making for us, but the boat the next moment would be concealed by some large ship; then we were sure we would be the next; but no, the rowers pulled for shore. The day wore away before we gave up hope. I could not believe it possible, that here within reach of help we could be left as neglected as when upon the ocean; - that after a voyage of two months' duration we were to be left still envelopped by reeking pestilence, the sick without medicine, medical skill, nourishment, or so much as a drop of pure water; for the river although not saline here, was polluted by the most disgusting objects, thrown overboard from the several vessels. In short, it was a floating mass of filthy straw, the refuse of foul beds, barrels containing the vilest matter, old rags and tattered clothes, (…)." 1


1 Charbonneau, André and André Sévigny. 1847, Grosse Île: A Record of Daily Events. Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada, 1997, 165-166.