Miss Tully: Letters from Tripoli during the plague epidemic of 1785


The effect of climate on the plague

December 8th, 1785

In vain the Christians wish to finish their long quarantine, for notwithstanding their houses have been shut up six months, they are likely to continue so much longer. A short time since, few deaths were heard of, but in the last five days they have increased from four a day to fifteen. Though the plague is so continual at Constantinople, and is frequently carried from thence to the Levant, yet this place has escaped it till now for the last seventy years.

In 1783, the plague raged at Cairo, being communicated to that place from Constantinople, and they daily took out of its gates fifteen hundred corpses. The severity of it so often occasioned people to drop while walking in the streets, that an order was issued, that neither man, woman, or child should attempt to go out of their homes, without their name and place of residence written on paper and sewed to their caps.

A great many of the unfortunate inhabitants to escape death fled to the neighbouring countries; notwithstanding which and although the plague advanced and raged with equal violence at Alexandria, between which and this place there is constant communication, Tripoli remained unassailed by it. We must therefore consider ourselves singularly unfortunate to have witnessed its horrors in the short time (not two years) that we have been here.

The burning deserts which surround this country defend it in general from the plague, which equally disappears under extreme cold, and under the force of burning atmosphere. At Constantinople, on the contrary, the winter is cold enough to repel it in some measure; though it blazes afresh from the damp unwholesome heats collected from the neighbouring woods and mountains during the summer.

December 10th, 1785

A description of the religious ceremonies performed to try and avert the plague.

Miss Tully: Letters written during a ten years, residence at the Court of Tripoli, 1783-1795

Hardinge Simpole, 2009, p.113, 114-5

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