Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Mortality on the Clarence

The voyage of The Clarence from 1864-1865 is an interesting study concerning death on board. The first half of the voyage from London to Madras passed fairly normally for a voyage of such a nature. There were minimal deaths. These deaths were limited to normal casualties of such an endeavor, such as the death described below. It reads, "At 5:30. Mr. Charles Leigh, midshipmen, while pulling in the jolly boat unfortunately fell out of her, and was drowned." While unfortunate, deaths such as these were considered normal every so often as a cost of the job of working on a vessel during this time.
However on the second half of The Clarence's voyage, the ship encountered a cyclone which devastated ships near the Bay of Bengal. The Clarence did not suffer immediate damage from the cyclone but it did suffer in the aftermath from disease that spread because of the devastation of the storm. Similar to the Clarence were other ships that suffered high mortality rates due to the aftermath of the storm such as the Golden South, Athletae, Earl Russel, Ganges, and  the Fusilier.  The extraordinary death on the Clarence raised suspicion with the authorities and was looked into under the belief that something had went wrong on this particular ship. After the other ships started reporting equally grave death tolls, it became clear that the cyclone had caused a surge of disease to spread across the ships in the area. Passengers on The Clarence suffered painful symptoms including "remittent fever," "lassitude," "urine scanty," and loss of strength. 
All of these ships, including The Clarence were transporting  immigrants to British Guiana and Trinidad from Calcutta. These ships suffered so great a death total that the governments of Bengal  and of Britain investigated into its causes. 
The report sent from The President of the Sanitary Commission For Bengal to the Secretary to the government of India details the death totals as follows,
 " The Clarence sailed from Calcutta on the 19th December 1864 with 515 emigrants, and arrived in British Guiana on the 5th March 1865, after a very rapid voyage of 76 days, having lost no fewer than 122 of her passengers. Two more died in harbour after arrival, and 79 were sent to  the Colonial Hospital, of whom 12 died. "

Approximately 26% of emigrants died on this voyage. The death rates of emigrants of the other examined ships are as follows:

The Athletae: 23% 
The Earl Russel:at least 22%, most likely more due to not ascertainable hospital deaths
The Golden South: 31%
The Ganges: 40%
The Fusilier:50%
The Ship Newcastle:9.9%
These death rates show several things. The first of which is that the deaths that The Clarence endured were among the low end of ships considered to have extraordinarily high mortality this season. However it also shows that all of these ships truly suffered disastrous deaths in that the ship at Newcastle was considered a high mortality rate by normal standards. 

The calamity that ensued after the cyclone and the epidemics of disease affected the coolies on the ships to a large extent. Several of them ended up throwing themselves overboard perhaps in an attempt to escape the disease. This was such in the case below. where a coolie woman threw herself overboard with her infant. She was saved by the crew on the ship, but unfortunately her baby was not.  

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