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Sanitary Condition of Emigrants arriving in the Port of Hull

- REPORTS received by the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board relating to the Transit of SCANDINAVIAN EMIGRANTS
This is the 5th of 5 reports dealing with the conditions of Scandinavian emigrants traveling from Scandinavian ports on the Wilson Line ships, to the Port of Hull. This 5th report is written by Hubert Airy, the Medical Officer in Hull. It is a report about the Sanitary Condition of Emigrants arriving in the Port of Hull. The reports was provided by Debbie Beavis

- No. 5. -

The Medical Officer,
17 April 1882

It was among your instructions to me (18th February 1882) on visiting Hull to make inquiry as to the circumstances attending the arrival and temporary stay there of emigrants on their way from foreign ports to the United States.

The information contained in the following notes was gathered from officers of the Urban and Port Sanitary Authority, from officers of Her Majesty's Customs, from the manager of the firm of Messrs Wilson & Sons, whose ships bring the bulk of the emigrants to Hull, and from the agents in Hull of the chief Liverpool shipping companies, who receive the emigrants and transmit them to the United States

The number of emigrants from foreign ports who landed at Hull in the ten months ending 27th February 1882, since the appointment of the present medical officer of health and inspector of nuisances, was 52,948. In that period only two cases of infectious disease among these emigrants have come to the knowledge of the sanitary officers. One was a case of measles, which was made known on arrival in port to the Custom House officer, and by him reported to the sanitary authority on 12th September 1881; the other was also a case of measles, detected at the railway station by the emigration agent on 26th September 1881, the symptoms not having declared themselves before landing. In each case the patient, a child, was, with its mother, promptly removed to the infectious hospital of the sanitary authority, and kept there till it could safely be allowed to continue its journey.

Besides these two cases, a third (also of measles) was stated by one of the emigration agents to have been found and treated privately, without being brought to the knowledge of the sanitary authority. This fact affords evidence of a certain amount of risk to the public health, which might become considerable if infectious diseases were prevalent in the countries whence the emigrants are drawn.

It is principally from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark that emigrants come to Hull. They belong chiefly to the agricultural class, and are as a rule a sturdy, healthy set of people. A smaller number come, via Hamburg, from Germany and other parts of Europe.

I was informed by Messrs. Wilson's manager that at the Scandinavian ports the emigrants have to pass a Government medical inspection before embarking, but that at Hamburg they come on board without any such inspection.

On the voyage to Hull there is no medical examination. Messrs. Wilson's ships do not carry surgeons, the voyage being but a short one, and the need of medical aid rarely arising. It has, however, sometimes happened that a child has been born on this short voyage.

The ship's officers make it their duty to see that there is no case of infectious disease on board; and if any such should be found, the captain makes it known, on arrival in port, to the sanitary authority or to the Custom House officer. The latter would at once communicate with the sanitary authority.

The departure of a vessel with emigrants from a foreign port is signalled to Hull by telegraph, together with the number of emigrants she carries; and preparation is made by the emigration agents accordingly, in the way of food and lodging, and arrangement with the North Eastern Railway Company for trains to convey the emigrants to Liverpool.

The ship is again signalled to Hull when she passes the Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber; and the emigration agents attend her arrival in dock.

Sunday evening is the usual time of arrival. Arrangement is made with the railway company for trains to leave Hull on Monday morning. The intervening time is that in which the emigrants are within the jurisdiction of the Hull (Port and Urban) Sanitary Authority. The authority, however, do not receive any special intimation of their arrival, nor is there any visitation of the vessel nor any examination of the emigrants on the part of the sanitary authority. On arrival many of the male emigrants land at once (without baggage) and stroll arm-in-arm about the streets to view the town. They do not greatly frequent the public-houses. The women and children mostly remain on board the vessel in dock. All spend the night on board. Next morning they disembark, and their baggage is examined by the Custom House officers. The agents of the Liverpool shipping companies now take charge of them, and marshal them by batches to certain lodging-houses in streets near the dock, where a dejeuner of soup, coffee, and bread and butter is served to them, and they are then drafted off, still under the personal escort of the agents or their servants, to the station of the North Eastern Railway Company, where they are first received in a large waiting room specially provided for the purpose, and thence pass to the trains, which are drawn up on a special siding apart from the ordinary traffic. [At the time of my visit the special waiting room was not ready, and the emigrants were thronging the ordinary passengers' departure platform.]

The lodging-houses at which the emigrants take their dejeuner are four in number, and are kept by English-speaking Germans. They are not common lodging-houses, but are appropriated to emigrants under an agreement with the shipping companies' agents. The lodging-house keeper receives on shilling for every emigrant whom he has care of. It is, therefore, to his interest to dispatch them to the railway station with as little delay as possible. "We are glad to see their backs" was the remark of one of the lodging-house keepers. These houses are satisfactorily well kept. On the lower floors are eating rooms, set with tables and benches. On the upper floors are bed-rooms. The bed-rooms are seldom occupied by outgoing emigrants, but those returning form America frequently have to pass a night or two in Hull, waiting for a ship, and they are usually lodged in these same houses. the kitchens, and especially the copper boilers in these establishments, are of notable size and importance. Their privy accommodation is not commensurate with the culinary department. This is explained by the celerity with which successive batches of the emigrants are assisted to the station immediately after their meal. In connection with the large waiting room at the station are extensive arrangements of trough closets and urinals.

It has occasionally happened that the emigrants could not all be dispatched from Hull on the day after arrival, and once or twice the number of those who were thus obliged to spend a night in the town has been greater than the special lodging-house could receive, and the remainder have gone to one of the common lodging-houses. In one such case complaint has arisen of nuisances committed on and around the premises in consequence of an insufficiency (since supplied) of privy accommodation. This occurrence was altogether exceptional.

The common lodging-houses are under strict conditions of license and under careful inspection by day and by night by the inspector of nuisances. Their weak point lies in the uncertainty attending the visits of the night-soil men, and the occasional congestion of the closets. [This matter is now being placed upon a better footing.]

Although no inspection of the emigrants takes place on behalf of the Sanitary Authority, there is a general vigilance on the part of all who are concerned with the emigrants, and a general understanding that any serious case of infectious disease among them shall be reported to the sanitary officials. It is the common interest of all to detect any such case, and to have it separated from the rest with all speed.

I have already stated that the only cases that came to the notice of the Sanitary Authority last year were promptly removed to the infectious hospital This is a wood and brick structure, recently enlarged so as to be capable of receiving between 50 and 60 patients. It stands near the shore in the eastern outskirts of the town, far from any dwelling house. A patient taken from on board a vessel in the port could be conveyed by water and landed opposite the hospital without passing through the town at all; but I believe the two cases of measles among the emigrants last year were conveyed to the hospital by land, through the streets of the town. The hospital, which had previously been in a very unsatisfactory condition, was at the time of my visit about to undergo alteration and further enlargement. At best it will not afford such permanent isolation provision as the port and borough of Hull ought to have at command.

With regard especially to the infection of small-pox, there has been no recent experience of that disease among emigrants arriving at Hull. Judging from the action which has been taken by the sanitary authority in cases of small-pox found on board other vessels, I am satisfied that if the disease were found on an emigrant ship, means would be taken to ensure the disinfection of all articles that had been exposed to the infection, and everything would be done to procure the vaccination or re-vaccination of all persons who had been in contact with the sick.

The following extract from the health officer's report for the fortnight ending 11th February 1882, indicates the sort of action that would be taken:-

S/S Romeo, Wilson Line"On 3rd February the captain of the S.S. "Romeo" (picture) called and reported a case of small-pox on board. A gentleman, aged 40, arrived the night previously from London for Gothenburg, and slept on board. The following morning the captain, finding him unwell, called in a medical adviser, who pronounced him suffering from small-pox. I ordered his removal to the hospital. The cabin he occupied and the forecastle of the ship were stoved, and the bedding removed for disinfection. Most of the passengers and those who had been in contact with him were re-vaccinated. The ship left for Gothenburg the same day."

Disinfection is done by heat with one of Goddard and Massey's patent self-regulating stoves, which was erected last year at the hospital.

On the whole it appears very improbable that any emigrant manifestly suffering from infectious disease should have been forwarded from Hull, at least in recent years, or that any emigrant should have contacted infection in Hull; nor did I hear that any complaint of such an occurrence had been recently made from Liverpool, where any such case would be likely to be first detected. These remarks apply only to recent years, for I have reason to believe that the same vigilance was not exercised formerly.

At the same time it cannot but seem desirable that there should be a regular medical inspection of emigrants on arrival in the port of Hull. I was assured by Messrs. Wilson's manager that from their point of view there would be no objection to it. It would seem fitting that the port medical officer of health should receive notice of the arrival of the vessel off the Spurn Point, and should arrange to go on board on her arrival in port, and should have the emigrants passed before him, with a trustworthy interpreter at hand in case any questioning should be necessary.

This course was adopted during an alarm of cholera some years ago, but had not been continued. Now, with a growing sense of sanitary duty, it might be restored as part of the ordinary routine of this port.

(signed) Hubert Airy

RETURN to an Order of the Honourable The House of Commons dated 14 July 1882;- for,

COPY "of REPORTS received by the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board relating to the Transit of SCANDINAVIAN EMIGRANTS through the Port of Hull, and to the arrangements for Feeding and Lodging them while there".

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