Suffer the children … seeing the consequences of disease

Image: Su Leslie, 2014

Image: Su Leslie, 2014

 Helen Ramsay 1852-1857

While I was trying to decipher the cause of death recorded on the copy of Helen’s Ramsay’s death record, I found myself looking at the other entries on the page to see if they provided any clues to interpreting the handwriting.

What I discovered was really sad, and quite shocking.

There were three entries on the page and all for children who died of ‘Scarlatina’ – or scarlet fever.

The three were:

Christian Robertson aged 1 ¾; died 23 April 1857 at Abernethy. Daughter of David Robertson, salmon fisher and Margaret Robertson (nee Fotheringham).

James Anderson aged 10 ½ years; died 30 April 1857 at Pitcurran. Son of James Anderson, farm servant and Mary Roger.

Helen Ramsay aged 5; died 3 May 1857 at Glenfoot. Daughter of David Ramsay, corn merchant, and Helen Ramsay (nee Low).

Record of the death of Helen Ramsay, aged 5. 3 May 1857. Source: Scotland's People.

Record of the death of Helen Ramsay, aged 5. 3 May 1857. Source: Scotland’s People.

Abernethy, Glenfoot and Pitcurran are all within a few miles of each other and it seemed that there must have been an outbreak of the disease at the time. Naively, I assumed this would be newsworthy (as outbreaks of disease are now), and searched the British Newspaper Archive for more information. Nothing came up, so I rather lazily went back to Google and typed ‘scarlet fever perthshire 1857’.

Glenfoot, Abernethy, Pitcurran - just a few miles apart. Source: Google Maps

Glenfoot, Abernethy, Pitcurran – just a few miles apart. Source: Google Maps

The first hit was a thread in the RootsChat forum. It didn’t initially look interesting, but when I scrolled down I found Christian Robertson mentioned. It seems that baby Christian was not the only child in her family to succumb. Her five year old brother Hugh and sister Mary, aged 3, also died of Scarlet Fever in 1857.

I was already feeling sad to think of my ancestors’ mourning a child and wondering whether my 2x great grandfather John Ramsay – who would have been just three at the time his older sister died – had been ill and recovered or had managed to avoid the infection altogether. Realising that at least four other children had died around the same time – three from one family – has really brought home to me just how precarious life can be.

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9 thoughts on “Suffer the children … seeing the consequences of disease

  1. We tend to treat these childhood diseases so lightly nowadays. We forget our serious they can be. In the mid 1920s my father was put in isolation because he had scarlet fever.

    • That’s true. When I mentioned the post to my partner he said his mother had been really I’ll with scarlet fever, and it reminded me that his aunt had also talked about how serious it was.

  2. And yet there are still so many who, being anti formal medicine, refuse to have their children vaccinated against anything – not only endangering them, but also all the children around them. In the time of which you write, Su, they had no such luxury to be able to spit at …

  3. You know how upset I get when I read about all those poor children and the families that must have mourned them. I always wonder how those losses affected the way parents viewed their children. Someone must have done a study on the effects of child mortality on parents, but I’ve yet to find one.

    • I also get incredibly sad at the thought of mothers in particularly, mourning. I wonder if people did feel differently when there was higher child and infant mortality, and medicine was less able to save people when they became sick or injured. That research would be interesting.

  4. I am also amazed at the grace and strength of the parents who so routinely lost children in infancy. Such a (thankfully) different world we live in now!

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