Quarantined in the Port

The Lazaretto at Livorno, by P. Lapi, 1824.

Snippets 160. In 1817 Henry Matthews went on a “tour in pursuit of health”, and wrote about his experiences in Diary of an Invalid, in 1820. His first port of call was Lisbon, and from there he travelled to Italy, but the journey itself was far from being good for his health:

I begin to suspect, that all I shall gain by my voyage will be the conviction, that a man who travels so far from home, in pursuit of health, travels on a fool’s errand. The crosses he must meet on his road will do him more injury, than he can hope to compensate by any change of climate. I am told that a sea-voyage, to be of any benefit to an invalid, should be made in a frigate, or other vessel of equal size; but of this I doubt; – for all comfort is so entirely out of the question at sea, that I think the difference of as little importance, as the choice of a silken or hempen rope would be to a man at the gallows. I am sure, however, that the fatigue and discomfort of such a little cock-boat as this, is much the same thing, as if one were to be tossed in a blanket during one half of the day, and thrown into a pigsty for the remainder.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as the ship arrived in the port at Livorno (or “Leghorn” – Matthews uses the Anglicisation) it was placed in quarantine for ten days, with the passengers unable to leave the port. As Matthews wrote, “ before we enjoy the delights of an Italian Paradise, we are to be subjected to a purgatory of purification.”

The quarantine laws, like most others, though originally intended for the general good, come at last to be perverted to private purposes. This is the history of all human institutions. Our quarantine has been manifestly a mere matter of form. Whenever there is any apprehension of infection, the suspected ship is obliged to remain in the open roads. But here we are with a multitude of vessels of all nations packed together, — higgledy-piggledy, — as close as sheep in a pen; — a rare precaution against infection. The true cause of these strict regulations, I believe, is the emolument derived from them by the Health-office. A number of men are thus kept in employment at the expense of those whom they are appointed to guard; — for our Captain is obliged to pay his jailers. In the mean time, we poor travellers suffer. These officers prevent all communication between the natives and us, and between the inhabitants of one ship and another, though we absolutely touch our next door neighbour.

As a proof of the rigorous observance of these regulations; — a fowl from our ship flew into the rigging of that alongside us; and it was determined,— after a grave debate, — that the fowl must remain where it was, till the quarantine of our neighbour had expired.

Our captain, who was tolerable as long as we were at sea, now, in a state of idleness, proves a most unmanageable brute.

Matthews survived the ordeal of his “tour in pursuit of health”, but sadly died in 1828, still a young man.  He had managed to fight through ill-health to pursue a successful legal career, and was advocate-fiscal of Ceylon from 1821 to 1827.  His only child was born in Ceylon in 1826, also called Henry Matthews, who became a Conservative MP and was ennobled as the first Viscount Llandaff of Hereford.


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About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Books, History, People, Snippets, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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