The History of Leith

November 8, 2011

The Plague and Leith 1645 (As described in 1911)

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 towns. 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 assumed 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. There 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 stanchit.”)

source-South Leith Records

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