I’ve told you about poor Emma Bailey, my great great grandmother who had an illegitimate son (my great grandfather) in 1860 and then died in 1863. We never knew why she died at the age of 25 until my sister requested a copy of her death certificate, which arrived recently.
I apologize for the poor image. It states under Cause of death: “Smallpox. Confluent. 11 days. Certified.” Her father James was listed as a “Land Measurer” but he signed the death certificate with an X. I wonder if he could write numbers, if not his name, or if he had to remember them all.
If you are wondering what “confluent” means, the blisters have merged together into sheets, forming a confluent rash. It’s a nasty situation.
Smallpox is interesting. I’ve spent a few hours researching it now, as if that were a good use of my time!
Inoculation was practiced in the 1700s in England, when the pus from a victim’s pustule was transferred to a scratch on the skin of a healthy individual who was then quarantined until he recovered (hopefully) from the resulting mild case of smallpox. However, this was a risky procedure. Then in 1796 Edward Jenner proved that a vaccination could be made from cowpox, a milder disease. There’s a BBC clip about his discovery here.
Even through the 1800s, smallpox continued to be a significant disease in Europe, with about 1/3 of victims dying. An epidemic of 1871-72 killed 50,000 people in England and Ireland. There was even an outbreak in 1962 which is documented in a blog named, oddly, Smallpox1962. As you probably know, the disease was declared to be eradicated in 1979.
Emma’s early death added to the aura of mystery about her life. Now that we’ve uncovered some of the unsavoury facts, it leaves me feeling slightly contagious!
- Hundreds of frontline health workers vaccinated against smallpox (telegraph.co.uk)
- All Those With a Smallpox Vaccination Scar Raise Your Hand (dyingbraincells.wordpress.com)