Tobago and the cholera pandemic of the 1850s
News day reporter
Dr. Rita Pemberton
Cholera, a scourge of the 19th century, spread from Asia to Europe, afflicted the United Kingdom in 1831 in 1848-49 and again in 1853-54, and entered a Caribbean phase, when it exploded between 1850 and 1867.
The islands of Jamaica and Cuba have recorded the highest number of deaths in the region, but the disease has spread to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Virgin Islands , Nevis, Grenada, Barbados and Trinidad.
The islands that escaped the calamity were: Haiti, the Cayman Islands, Saint-Martin, Saint-Béthelmy, Montserrat, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and Tobago.
Occurring during a time when the cause of the disease was not well understood and there was an inability to distinguish between this disease and others with similar manifestations, cholera is the story of the fear of his mortal danger with his quick and gruesome death. As a disease with no known cure, it posed a serious threat to society and the economy. Under mandate from the Imperial Government, the Governor-in-Chief of Barbados instructed the island legislatures under his responsibility to implement appropriate legislation.
In response, on March 15, 1853, the Tobago House of Assembly passed a Quarantine Act titled An Act to make Sanitary regulation for the towns of Scarborough and Plymouth and the island generally, which superseded the previous 1840 Act and was proclaimed on August 25. , 1853.
The new law was intended to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious or infectious diseases on the island. This reflected the pattern of response to the disease that was evident in the metropolis, where investigations into its causes revealed the impact of squalor and lack of sanitation, which spurred a movement to implement health measures .
The Tobago administration proceeded without such investigation and launched a remediation campaign with specific reference to known problems.
Under the act, the governor was authorized to divide the island into health districts and create a board of health for each city (Scarborough and Plymouth) and its environs and other areas from among resident justices of the peace, medical doctors and others chosen from among key members of the community, to manage the cleanup. Individuals who refused to accept appointment to the council were subject to a fine of up to £10.
Council meetings were normally to be held once a month, but in the event of a contagious or infectious disease outbreak or health emergency, fortnightly, or more frequently as required. His duties included supervising, directing and ordering the cleaning of streets, lanes, squares, alleys, courtyards and vacant lots and the immediate removal of offensive materials such as manure, garbage, weeds and brush. The council was empowered to order the washing, cleaning, stripping, whitewashing and fumigation of houses, outbuildings and other buildings; cleaning, cleaning and purification of drains, gutters, toilets, cesspools and ditches in all parts of the country – villages, estates and bays
. The law, which provided additional responsibilities for members of the police force, was to be enforced by the Superintendent of Police and his men. Council members and police have been given full powers to enter any house, yard or land suspected of being dirty to inspect and order the necessary disinfection.
Owners of unoccupied houses or lots were required to keep them clean, as well as the street facing or adjacent to the property. Failure to do so would result in a penalty of £5 and up to £1 for each day they failed to do so. In the event that the owner is ill, invalid, crippled or destitute, the cleaning of these goods will be done at the expense of the State. The penalty for disposing of rubbish and/or throwing any harmful object onto the street was £5.
The council was also authorized to prohibit anyone from keeping pigs in towns or near dwellings. Permission could be granted if, in the opinion of the council, such activity could be carried out in a manner prescribed and which would not jeopardize the health of the inhabitants. In such cases, pigs should be kept away from towns and homes to keep the environment clean. The council was empowered to remove any material deemed injurious to public health at public expense and to direct where the removed material should be moved.
The law also made provision for providing necessary medicine and treatment by physicians to the poor and infirm in the event that an infectious or contagious disease was introduced to the island.
The threat and actual outbreak of cholera in the region provided an opportunity to take a closer look at social realities and initiate health reform.
However, in the case of Tobago, although the very threat of disease revealed deep-rooted social imbalances, this opportunity was not factored into any long-term planning for institutional change. As one writer puts it, “colonial cholera…reinforced racism.” The generally accepted notion that was cemented in the imperial and ruling-class mindset was that blacks exhibited a “lack of cleanliness” and that their cultural practices led them to indulge in excesses which, coupled with their dirty habits and the heat of the tropics, were pathogenic stimulants.
Despite its occasional reference to plantations, the Tobago Act of 1853 specifically targeted the premises and activities of the black population.
While the administration has frequently expressed gratitude that the island has been spared the scourge of cholera, its health regulations have provided an opportunity to further restrict the self-employment of the liberated African population simply by categorizing the breeding of pigs and other animals as health risks.
In the process, the administration was able to ignore the seriousness of the sanitation problem that resulted from the unplanned post-emancipation resistance settlements and avoid providing the infrastructure necessary for effective sanitation improvement in the communities.
There was therefore no marked clean-up campaign in Tobago, although some members of the free black population were harassed by the police. If cholera was not introduced to the island, it was because of its sequestered state, which was caused by reduced trade following the decline of the sugar industry – not the country’s biased health regulations. ‘administration.