While kept in the confinement of Stangate Creek I had a good opportunity of witnessing the practical absurdity of the quarantine laws. Three ships from Smyrna, leaving at the same period, and arriving in the Thames within a day or two of each other - the Scipio, the Mary, and the Hermes - our treacherous companion, which arrived two days after us, with all her efforts to get in before - were now under quarantine ; and from the similarity of the circumstances under which they were all placed, it might have been expected that all would have shared the same fate, especially as there has not been a death or a case of plague or fever in either of them since leaving the Turkish waters. But the Hermes was released in five days ; the Scipio in fourteen ; and the Mary, remained to fulfil the full term of forty days : the loss and injury to the owners by these detentions being just in proportion to the respective periods of their detention. On inquiring afterwards into the cause of these differences, I was informed that the owners of the Hermes had interest at the Treasury, and therefore obtained the speediest release ; that continual importunity and pressing and the precedent of the Hermes, secured our freedom ; but that the great obstacle to the Mary's being let off for a shorter time than the full period was, that instead of her having laid in her stock of brooms for sweeping the decks in England, so as to last out and home, she had renewed her supply of brooms at Smyrna, where they are made of a particular kind of broad-leaved grass or flag, growing by the river-side, and which, with mats of the same material, were classed among the substances deemed highly susceptible of conveying the matter of infection or contagion to all who handle them. It was proved, nevertheless, that the said highly susceptible brooms had been used every day in sweeping the decks, till they were all worn to a stump, without any of the persons using them being affected in any way; and that if there had been any plague matter in them when first brought on board, it must have been scrubbed out of them long ago.
The plea was of no avail ; the officers of the quarantine were bound by a certain official routine, from which they could not depart ; so that this vessel, with a cargo of great value, and a crew as healthy as our own, was compelled, on account of these worn-out brooms, to remain till her cargo, consisting chiefly of Turkey figs and raisins for the Christmas market, was not only lost for the season, but so injured by the delay, that we heard the owners had petitioned the Treasury to be allowed to throw this portion of the cargo overboard in the Channel to avoid payment of the duty, which would be greater in amount than the goods would sell for, but that this favour was denied ; and the loss was consequent)y greatly aggravated by this refusal. To cap this climax of absurdity, it may be added that any ship of war, with a crew of a thousand men, and a voyage of only half the duration, arriving in England from Smyrna, though the plague might be raging when she left, and though several cases of sickness might have occurred on the passage, would have been released from quarantine by an Admiralty order in eight-and-forty-hours after her arrival, which proves that the apprehension of contagion is a mere pretence for keeping up a system by which a number of officials are maintained in the service of the Government, to the great injury of the shipping and commercial interest of the country ; and the sooner this absurd and inefficient practice is abolished the better.- Buckingham's Autobiography.
SG & SGTL Vol 12 ; Page 188 ; 13 Aug 1855
^ back to top ^