The History of Leith

September 23, 2011

The Spread of the Plague 1645

19 May 1645.—Upon the 19 of May 1645 the pest brak out in our new hospital called King James his hospital in a woman’s scool yr qrupon sundrie houses were closit up. Also our reader Mr David Aldinstone, was desyred to keip his house becaus he prayed for ane Margt Gilmuir, who was suspect to have died of the pest.
So ye said Mr David was inclosit from ye 16 of May 1645 to 15 of June ye said year during the qlk tyme he could not gait certaine notice what was done in ye sessione qrfor he left yis blanke following.
(Note.—Here follow six blank pages. It is unfortunate that we have no details of Session meetings when the plague began to spread. When Mr Aldinstone, the Session Clerk, was allowed out the plague
was raging everywhere, and his next minutes deal almost wholly with this subject. The details they give are not contained in any published narrative.
In olden times when sanitary methods were neither known nor practised an outbreak of plague was nothing uncommon, and such outbreaks were frequent in Edinburgh and Leith, and in most seaport to%vns. The plague of 1645 was one of the most virulent of which there is record, and the horror of the situation was aggravated by famine. According to a recent author the plague was bubonic, and was characterised by buboes or swellings in the neck, armpits, or groins. When the fever was prevalent death often occurred before any such symptoms were developed. Another authority writes to the following effect:—Little doubt is entertained that the exanthematous disease, called long ago the Pest, and now the Plague, was the consequence of a miasma arising from crowded and filthy living acting on bodies predisposed by deficient aliment and other causes, and that at a certain stage it assumecT a contagious character. The malady generally, though not invariably, followed dearth and famine. This was especially true of the plague of 1645, which was brought into Scotland from Newcastle, after the siege of that city by the Covenanting army under Leslie. Here it met a field highly
cultivated for its diffusion. Th^re had been dearth the preceding year from deficient harvest, and since then, what with the drawing away of men for the army, the grievance of a heavy excise to support it, the extreme anxiety and distress of mind occasioned by the civil war, assisted doubtless by the generally depressing effect of incessant preachings, prayings, fastings, and thanksgivings, by which the whole sunshine of life was as it were squeezed out of the community, these vital-powers which resist and beat off disease must have been reduced to a point much below
the average. It is not surprising, therefore, that the plague took deadly hold of the country and rapidly spread from Edinburgh to Borrowstounness, Kelso, Perth, and other towns, all of which were grievously afflicted by it during the next year. It will be seen that the Session adopted very enlightened measures to check the development of the disease “quhilk be the grace of God and gud
governans may be stanehit.”)

Source-Th South Leith Records

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