1902 Encyclopedia > Plague > Plague in the 18th Century. Plague in Sicily in 1743.

(Bubonic Plague; Black Death; etc.)
(Part 10)

Plague in the 18th Century. Plague in Sicily in 1743.

Plague in the 18th Century

At beginning of this period plague was very prevalent in Constantinople and along the Danube. In 1703 it caused great destruction in the Ukraine. In 1704 it began to spread through Poland, and later, to Silesia, Lithuania Prussia, and a great part of Germany and Scandinavia. In Prussia and Lithuania 283,000 persons perished; Dantzic [Danzig], Hamburg, and other northern cities suffered severely. Copenhagen was attacked in 1710. In Stockholm there was a mortality of 40,000. Certain places near Brunswick (10° E. long.) marked the western limit of the epidemic; and cholera was arrested at the same spot in later years (Haeser).

At the same time the plague spread westward from the Danube to Transylvania and Styria, and (1713) appeared in Austria and Bohemia, causing great mortality in Vienna. Thence it passed to Prague and Ratisbon -- to the former, possibly to the latter, almost certainly conveyed by human intercourse. This city (12° E. long) was the western limit reached in this year. Haeser states that the plague disappeared everywhere in Europe after the great hurricane of February 27, 1714.

In 1717 plague raged severely in Constantinople; and in 1719 it made a fresh progress westwards into Transylvania, Hungary, Galicia, and Poland, but not farther (about 20°E. long.). It thus appears that each successive invasion had a more easterly western limit, and that the gradual narrowing of the range of plague, which began in the 17th century, was still going on.

This process suffered a temporary interruption by the outbreak of plague of southern France in 1720-22. In 1720 Marseilles became affected with an epidemic plague, the origin which was attributed by some to contagion through the ship of a Captain Chataud which arrived, May 20, 1720, from Syria, where plague at that time prevailed, though not epidemically when he sailed. Six of the crew had died on the voyage on the voyage to Leghorn, but the disease was declared not to be plague. Cases of plague occurred, however, on the ship, and on June 22 among porters unloading the cargo. Hence, according to believers in contagion, the disease passed to families in the "old town," the poorest and unhealthiest quarter. In the meantime other ships had arrived from Syria, which were put in quarantine. According to others the plague arose in Marseilles from local causes; and recently discovered data show that suspicious cases of contagious disease occurred in the town before the arrival of Chataud’s ship. [Footnote 166-1] Opinions were divided, and the evidence appears even now nearly balanced, though the believers in contagion and importation gained the victory in public opinion. The pestilence was fearfully severe. Thousands of unburied corpses filled the streets, and in all 40,000 to 60,000 persons, were carried off. In December 1721 the plague passed away, though isolated cases occurred in 1722. It passed to, or at least broke out in, Arles and Aix in 1720, causing great mortality, but in Toulon not till 1721, when it destroyed two-thirds of the population. The epidemic spread generally over Provence, but not to other parts of France. Notwithstanding that, as confessed by D’ Antrechaus, consul of Toulon, a believer in the exclusive power of contagion, there were abundant opportunities. The disease was in fact, as in other cases, self-limited. In all 87,659 persons are said to have died out of a population of nearly 250,000. [Footnote 166-2]

This great epidemic caused a panic in England, which led to the introduction (under Mead’s advice) of quarantine regulations, never previously enforced, and also led to the publication of many pamphlets, &c., beside Mead’s well-known Discourse on Pestilential Contagion (London, 1720).

Plague in Sicily in 1743

An outbreak of plague at Messina in 1743 is important, not only for its fatality, but as one of the strongest cases in favour of the theory of imported contagion. Messina had been free from plague since 1624, and the Sicilians prided themselves on the rigour of the quarantine laws which were thought of have preserved them. In May 1743 a vessel arrived from Corfu, on board of which had occurred some suspicious deaths. The ship and cargo were burnt, but soon after cases of a suspicious form of disease were observed in the hospital and in the poorest parts of the town ; and in the summer a fearful epidemic of plague developed itself which destroyed 40,000 or 50,000 persons, and then became extinct without spreading to other parts of Sicily.


166-1 Relation historique de la Peste de Marseille, Cologne, 1721, Paris, 1722, &c.; Chicoyneau, Verny, &c., Observations et Reflexions…de la Peste, Marseilles, 1721; Chicoyneau, Traité de la Peste, Paris, 1744; Littré, article "Peste" in Dictionnaire de Médicine, vol. xxiv., Paris, 1841.

166-2 D’Antrechaus, Relation de la Peste de Toulon en 1721, Paris, 1756; G. Lambert, Histoire de la Peste de Toulon en 1721, Toulon, 1861, quoted by Haeser, Gesch. der epidem. Krankh.

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