I am finding the most interesting, gruesome and strange reports whilst dealing with the House of Lords Parliamentary Papers digital project. This extract is from the “reports of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council and Local Government Board” found in session 1876 vol. 56 and it’s about the PLAGUE!

Part of the report deals with the modern history and recent progress of Levantine Plague and this particular extract is from a report by Surgeon Major Colvill to H.M Consul-General and Political Agent, Bagdad on Plague in Mesopotamia 1874-75.

“Bagdad, June 5, 1875 – I have the honour to report my progress along the Euphrates in search of plague.”

He arrived at a village called Fowar where the plague had been found, however, he could not find out how the plague had been brought there as the first cases were concealed. “A number of deaths had even taken place before the authorities were aware of the existence of the disease; and it was not till the 9th of April, when a southerly wind set in, and 40 people were seized on a Friday and Saturday and almost all died, that the existence of disease was declared.”

He mentions “it is almost impossible to give an idea of the total number of deaths in the whole district because the natives are so given to exaggeration. He goes on to describe the various places he visited and noted that “at Um Nejeris, up to the date of my visit on the 11th of May, 60 people had been seized, out of which 40 died, and the disease still existed in the village; though from an evident dislike to my visiting the patients, the heads of the people declared that women only were attacked, and trusted I would not insist on seeing them.”

The symptoms of the plague are described as “Case II – Mahommed ibn Mustapha, 50 years of age. – He is a coffee man by trade, and desired to open his shop the day before yesterday in the morning, but returned with fever, which has just left him, and he now perspires freely. Yesterday he felt the chain of glands enlarging in his left groin, and to-day they have increased, the largest being the size of a walnut. There is intense pain, and great headache. Tongue furred, swollen, and very white ; sordes about the teeth and gums. Bowels constipated. Urine scanty and high coloured. Pulse 95. Breathing 36 laboured. Eyes clear. Patient is now very weak, but sensible. Yesterday, however, he is described like one drunk. He drinks much water. No petechiae. Has a wife and child, but no one has previously died in his hut.

Surgeon Major Colvill seems to have gone to a lot of trouble in the search of the plague as the maps of the country are very misleading and deficient, towns marked on the map are no longer there, he has been caught in storms but mentions that he “cannot conclude this report without mentioning the exceeding kindness I received from all classes and creeds along the entire route….In fact high and low were most anxious to serve me.”


plague photo a map of the seats of plague