The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland Community

Infectious Diseases

Nowadays when we hear there was an outbreak of some disease in another country it can be easily carried throughout the world by our fast pace travel.
Back in 1911 the threat of transmission of diseases was just as important to catch as it is today. By the end of World War 1 the global mortality rate from the 1918/1919 pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected died. With about a third of the world population infected, this case fatality ratio means 3% to 6% of the entire global population died. Influenza may have killed as many as 25 million people in its first 25 weeks. Older estimates say it killed 40–50 million people, while current estimates say 50–100 million people worldwide were killed. So it was no surprise that vessels like the Empress of Ireland and the Empress of Britain had to be inspected before allowing passengers or crew to enter into Canada.
The following letters below are from three different doctors Ernest Belisle, M.D., from Rimouski Quarantine Substation, N. E. MacKay M.D., M.R.C.S., from Halifax, Nova Scotia and E. C. Ruddick, M.D., from Saint John, New Brunswick during the year of 1911. These gentlemen with their staff would examine thousands of immigrants and visitors who were entering Canada from ships like the RMS Empress of Britain, RMS Empress of Ireland and many other vessels who sailed to Canadian ports.

​Ernest Belisle, M.D. from the Rimouski Quarantine Substation, April 1, 1911
Sir,—I have the honor to submit to you my annual report for the year ended March 31, 1911.
Thirty-one vessels were inspected at this station during the season. Infectious diseases were reported on the following vessels calling here to land English mails:
SS Virginian, June 3, had to continue to Grosse Isle on account of one case of diphtheria.
SS Victorian, June 16, one case of measles.
SS Empress of Britain, June 23, one case of measles.
SS Virginian, June 30, because a passenger refused to be vaccinated.
SS Virginian, July 28, one case of measles.
SS Laurentic, July 29, one case of measles.
SS Empress of Britain, August 18, one case of varicella.
SS Virginian, September 22, one case of measles.
SS Empress of Ireland, October 28, one case of whooping cough.
SS Victorian, November 3, one case of chickenpox.
Of 31 vessels examined here, 10 had to stop at Grosse Isle to land infectious cases.
Death was also common aboard the great liners of the day but what would you do with the body? It's not like today where we would put the body into a body bag and keep it cool until reaching a port. Back then death was common aboard these great liners and when a person passed away their body was properly buried at sea. Below is a list to show how often this happened.
Deaths occurred on the following vessels :
S.S. Empress of Ireland, from Liverpool, April 14. 1910; cause, acute intestinal obstruction in a child four years old.
S.S. Mongolian, from Liverpool, April 21; cause of death, acute general peritonitis secondary to ruptured duodenal ulcer.
S.S. Brandenburg, from Bremen, April 27; 2 deaths; causes, 1 scarlet fever and 1 diphtheria.
I have the honor to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
Quarantine Officer.
N. E. MacKay, M.D., M.R.C.S from the Halifax, N.S., April 10, 1911
Throughout the year of 1911 the task of making sure that everyone had been checked thoroughly at the station was uneventful during the year that ended in 1911. There had been only one major case of a quarantine diseases at the station hospital, but they had several other minor forms of diseases. They had three deaths at the station from a very virulent type of scarlet fever. One death was due to the intensity of the primary fever (hemorrhagic scarlet fever), and two to intense angina with extensive suppuration of the glands of the neck. The smallpox case was brought to port by the steamer S.S. Uranium from Hamburg on June 17, 1910. The hospital staff detained 289 of the immigrants in quarantine for observation, and released the ship with the crew after disinfection and vaccination. No new case developed amongst those detained in quarantine of observation or amongst those released with the ship.
By the end of 1911, the hospital had inspected 101,594 persons, which were classified as follows: Cabin, 2,695; second-class, 16,837; steerage, 56,233; crew, 25,477; cattlemen, 106; Chinese in bond, 246. This is 20,677 more than was inspected during that year ended March 31, 1910.
They had also inspected 330 vessels during the year which had been 32 more than in the preceding year.
There were 11 cases of scarlet fever, 7 of measles and 1 of smallpox admitted to the hospital during the year, and accompanying these patients there were 7 men. 9 women and 10 children. Total admissions between sick and well, 45.
Quarantine diseases were found in the following vessels:
SS Hesperian, from Glasgow, April 10, 1910, 3 cases of measles, for New York;
SS Campania, from Rotterdam, April 15, 3 cases of measles, for New York;
SS Tunisian, from Liverpool, April 15, 1 case of measles (convalescent);
SS Victorian, from Liverpool, April 22, 1 case of measles (convalescent) ;
SS Brandenburg, from Bremen, April 27, 9 cases of scarlet fever and 1 of measles;
SS Parisian, from Glasgow, May 7, 1 case of scarlet fever;
SS Volturno, from Rotterdam, May 11, 6 cases of measles;
SS Campania, from Rotterdam, May 31, 3 sick with mumps ;
SS Uranium, from Hamburg, June 15, 1 case of smallpox;
SS Empress of Ireland, from Liverpool, November 24, 2 cases of measles, bound to St. John;
SS Tunisian, from Liverpool, November 25. 1 case of measles;
SS Tunisian, from Liverpool, December 23, 1 case of measles (convalescent);
SS Grampian, from Liverpool, December 9, 1 case of whooping cough (convalescent);
SS Corsican, from Liverpool, January 28, 1911, 1 case of varicella (convalescent) ;
SS Megantic, from Liverpool, February 26, 2 cases of measles;
SS Sicilian, from Liverpool, November 9, 2 cases of measles, for Portland (U.S.A.).
Diseases other than quarantine occurred on the voyage or existed on board the following vessels when they arrived in port:
SS Empress of Ireland, from Liverpool, April 14, 1910, acute intestinal obstruction in child four years old (died) ;
SS Mongolian, from Liverpool, April 12, acute peritonitis (from duodenal ulcer—died), pneumonia (2)
SS Brandenburg, from Bremen, April 27, pneumonia (2), erysipelas (1)
SS Pisa, from Hamburg, May 27, pneumonia (1)
SS Mongolian, from Liverpool, August 25, one child with bronchitis (died)
SS Campania, from Rotterdam, November 14, 1 case of erysipelas;
SS Canada, from Liverpool, December 1, 1 case of heart disease (died)
SS Hesperian, from Liverpool, December 16, simple diarrhoea (1)
SS Tunisian, from Liverpool, February 10, 1911, pleuresy (1)
SS Grampian, from Liverpool, February 17, acute bronchitis (1)
E. C. Ruddick, M.D., St. John, N.B., March 31, 1911.
Sir,—I have the honour to submit my report for the year ended March 31, 1911.
There were 1S2 vessels inspected at this station this year; this is an increase of 14 as compared with last year.
At the same time we inspected 34,281 persons, classified as follows: Cabin, 703; intermediate, 4,616; steerage, 18,932; crew, 9,806; cattlemen, 179; stowaways, 18. This is an increase of 14,677 as compared with last year.
Cases of minor quarantine diseases were found on the following vessels:
SS Lake Michigan arrived on April 4, 1910, with 2 cases of measles;
SS Pomeranian, on April 12, 1910, with 2 cases of measles;
SS Victorian, on April 24, 1910, with 1 case of diphtheria;
SS Mount Temple, on November 28, 1910, with 2 cases of measles;
SS Empress of Britain, on January 6, 1911, with 1 case of measles;
SS Montezuma, on January 10, 1911, with 1 case of typhoid;
SS Lake Michigan, March 11, 1911, with 2 cases measles, 2 cases scarlet fever and 1 case typhoid fever;
SS Champlain, on March 13, 1911, with 2 measles of measles;
SS Mount Temple, on March 24, 1911, with 1 case of measles;
SS Cassandra, on March 20, with 1 case measles;
SS Empress of Britain, on March 24, 1911, with 2 cases chicken-pox and 1 case of measles.
We had 13 cases of measles, 2 of chicken-pox, 2 of typhoid, 2 of scarlet fever, 1 of diphtheria and 1 of pneumonia. Also 31 were detained for observation.
All made good recovery, and at the present time we have three cases in our hospital, two of measles and one of chicken-pox.
Information Source: Direct quotes taken from 86 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE 2 GEORGE v., A. 1912 APPENDIX No. 2a., APPENDIX No. 4., APPENDIX No. 3.
Source: Public Domain
Images of various transatlantic liners and ships that traveled to Canada with immigrants and visitors who were subject to medical examination before entering into the country.