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St. John River: Cargo of Misery

Disease and death stalk desperate newcomers

More on the St. John River:
St. John River:
The Good and the Bountiful

Cargo of Misery:
Disease and death stalk desperate newcomers

Company Town:
Boss Gibson's Marysville

Natural delicacy of the river valley

Fir Trade:
Forests are vital to New Brunswick's economy

Fries to Go:
Fast food for the world

Home Children:
Tragic chapter in our immigration history

Big Noise:
Foghorn is invented for Partridge Island

Return Flight:
Bald eagles recover old nesting sites

The Sand and the Fury:
The complex ecology of the Fundy tides

Starting Over:
Loyalists seek refuge from revolution

Vive la République !:
The unique cultural mélange of Madawaska

Bron, bron, mo ron - Sorrow, sorrow, my sorrow

The outbreak of famine in Ireland in 1845 caused thousands of people to desperately flee their homeland. Unfortunately, typhus fever, dysentery, measles, cholera, and smallpox would also be passengers on the vessels that carried the desperate migrants across the Atlantic.

At the entrance to Saint John harbour sits the small, wind-swept Partridge Island. British colonial authorities turned the island into a quarantine station for these impoverished, often sick, immigrants during the early 1800s. The immigrants were held under observation for several weeks in hopes that any infection would be detected. The word "quarantine" was adopted from French and means "40 days".

Not all ships respected immigrants' rights to adequate food, ventilation, space, and medicine. The vessels became filthy during the long voyages. New arrivals were shepherded into tents on the southwestern tip of the island for an observation. The cold, damp, wind, and rain made tent-living almost unbearable. If the newcomers proved to be healthy, they were released to start their lives on the mainland.

During the 1840s, as many as twenty ships bearing several hundred immigrants each were sometimes docked at the same time. The newcomers were so numerous that ship sails were used to make extra tents to protect them from the worst cold, damp, and wind of the island.

Despite the quarantine station, disease managed to spread like wildfire to Saint John and up the river valley.

The toll of immigrant deaths climbed to 2,000. The victims were buried in shallow mass graves on Partridge Island. The only thing that ended this tragedy was an eventual tapering off of immigration by 1850.

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