Miss Tully: Letters from Tripoli during the plague epidemic 1785-6


In subsequent letters, Miss Tully reports on corsair attacks; cases of the same person enduring repeated bouts of the plague; the Tully family’s friend Hadgi Abderrahman’s 104-day quarantine off Malta, and the doctor who fled with him’s method of treating the plague, learned from a Moorish woman, which “gained him great popularity in Malta.”

October 28th, 1785

The hope the quarantine can be lifted

Several periods have been fixed on to open the consular houses; but a circumstance so desirable would have been most unfortunate at the present moment, as the plague still rages in and out of town, and the cause as yet is undiscovered. A Christian rode out some days ago to the Friday bazaar, which is about two miles from the town, since which his horse has had three swellings resembling the plague, and is expected to die.

In the beginning of this dreadful infection, the cattle appear to be seized before the human species…..

Crime rises as a result of the social dislocation caused by the epidemic, but diplomatic negotiations continue.

October 31st, 1785

On further precautions taken to observe quarantine

Tremendous as it may seem, to be in the same room with one who has just passed through a multitude of martyrs to the plague, many of whom were expiring in his sight, yet with proper care, danger may be avoided. When any person visits us, the greatest precautions are mutually observed. The drawing room has neither linen, silk, nor carpets; no other furniture than tables and matted chairs: the floor is also matted. Every visitor is his own valet; he is not admitted but in the presence of the master of the house; no servant is permitted to attend him or hand him a chair; and he helps himself to refreshments, which are brought to a corridor, or anti-chamber. This is done to prevent a servant, by inattention, going too near his person; and whatever he has handled, or the chair he has occupied, is not touched for hours after his departure. Such purity in quarantines is taught, and only to be found complete in the singular lazarettos at Leghorn, built by the present Grand Duke Leopold, whose protection of the commerce and comforts of the inhabitants of Tuscany is unequalled. The alterations and additions he has made in the lazarettos have been the salvation of Europe.

To return to the dangers of the plague. To be secure in the midst of this dire contagion, requires a thorough knowledge of its effects. Many who have seen its ravages lull themselves into a false security, while many who are strangers to it cannot believe there is in any safety in the country where it exists. It is certainly necessary to become perfectly acquainted with the different articles which will imbibe the particles of this fatal disorder in order to be safe from its effects.

Most of them are well known, as cotton, woollens, linen, hides with the hair on, hemp, hops, etc., while corn, barley, fruit, vegetable, and meat are deemed incapable of taking or communicating the infection. But to these articles there are both additions and exceptions: bread, though perfectly safe having been baked some hours, is fatally dangerous if handled while hot or warm. A peach, or any downy fruit or vegetable, such as unshelled filberts or almonds, have been known to communicate the plague. This disorder has been conveyed from friend to friend in a highly scented bouquet of flowers; and most perfumes are considered as propagators of this infectious disorder. Whenever it is requisite to commence a quarantine, it cannot be secure, whatever precautions may be taken, unless all animals are made away with that can possibly wander unnoticed from the house, and return again, such as pigeons, cats, etc.

Miss Tully, Letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, 1783-1795, Hardinge Simpole, 2009; pp.108 and 111-112

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