Wednesday, 16 August 2017

1885 - Memories of Cholera

It had been thirty years since the last cholera epidemic had hit the city of Hamilton, but in March 1885, there was still at least one man who remembered it clearly, and who had claimed he had found a cure for the dreaded disease :
 “ ‘It was at the time of the last cholera scourge that the incident I am about to relate took place.’ So spoke a veteran yarn-spinner as he threw himself back in an armchair at the fire station last night, took his pipe from his mouth and prepared for business.
“Half a dozen chairs were pulled up around him and half a dozen faces assumed the appearance of deep interest. “ ‘I was living east, about five miles from the city, at the time, and had a pretty snug place for those days. The cholera had broken out in the city and several deaths had already occurred. I had been through the plague once before and knew too well what it was, but, living in a healthy part of the country and having no close neighbors, I didn’t feel at all afraid. But I had a nephew – a strapping young fellow of 19, and as healthy as a hickory nut. He was awfully afraid of the disease and more than once hinted to me that he would like to come out and live with us – he lived in the city – till it had disappeared, but my house was none too large for my own family, and I didn’t invite him to come out. I was not surprised, however, to see him, one day just after dinner, coming up the walk. I went out to meet him, and we sat down together. He was greatly agitated, and said that he felt he was going to have the cholera. It didn’t take long to persuade me that he was right, for the symptoms soon came upon him. I couldn’t keep him with us. What was I to do? Years before I had seen soon curious cures effected. I told him I couldn’t let him stay with us, but would do what I could for him. I got a glass of liquor – what sort I can’t exactly remember – and put it in a cholera mixture which almost every family kept ready for use. He drank it eagerly enough, and I then told him he must get home the same way as he came, only faster. He wished to stay but I drove him out, and told him he must run every step of the way. He started off on a good run, and I followed on horseback. I urged him on, not allowing him to rest on the way at all. His nerves were strung high with excitement, and he didn’t require much urging, however. He ran almost every step of the way, and when he got home, I directed that he be put to bed and kept warm. These directions were followed, and a doctor was called in. He examined the boy and declared that he certainly had cholera, but was cured. I have always held that the run drove the disease from him in perspiration, and if ever it should come again, and I should become a victim, I will certainly use the same medicine. However, I have seen enough of it and would rather that I shouldn’t have to try the experiment again.”1
1 “A Five-Mile Race : How a Hamilton Boy, Many Years Ago, Ran Away From Cholera.”
Hamilton Spectator.   March 12, 1885.

Monday, 7 August 2017

1885 - Grand Trunk Railway Accident

The route of the original Great Western railway (by 1883, the Grand Trunk railway) proceeding easterly from the Dundas station led down the escarpment towards a junction, where trains were either diverted to Hamilton or directed onto the line to Toronto.
That route of the railway was widely considered to be very dangerous, primarily because of the steep descent, and serious accidents were not unknown in that vicinity.
During the evening of March 6, 1885, the day express left the Dundas station uneventfully, but it soon ran into difficulty :
“In coming down the grade  about a mile this side of town, the driving shafts of the engine broke and were hurled with tremendous force against the cab, smashing it like an egg shell. The boiler was also struck and strained, two of the rivets being knocked out, and all the steam escaped. Wonderful to relate, both the engineer and the fireman were uninjured, though they were soaked through and through by the steam.”1
1 “A Close Call : Accident on the Grand Trunk Railway Near Dundas”
Hamilton Spectator.    March 7, 1885.
The two men in control of the train, Engineer Williams and Fireman Collins, managed to keep control of the locomotive, and were soon able to bring it to a stop:
“The accident occurred on a high embankment, and unless the train had been brought to a standstill as it promptly was, it would certainly have gone over and many lives would have been lost. ‘The engine leaped and swayed so that I could not tell which side she’d go over,’ said Engineer Williams, ‘and I stood prepared to jump either way. ‘1
The train had a full compliment of passengers when the incident happened :
‘Most of the passengers were considerably shaken up mentally and physically, by the sudden stoppage, and, in a second or two, they came pouring out of the train with blanched faces to see what was the matter. An examination of the track was made, and it was discovered that one of the shafts had struck a tie with such violence as to smash the end clean off outside the rail. A relief engine from Dundas speedily arrived, and the train proceeded on its way to Hamilton.”1
For the passengers on that train, they probably never had narrower escape from sudden death than they experienced that evening. It would not be the last serious accident on that stretch of the railway.