Polperro Postscripts

A blog for anyone with an interest in Polperro, publishing and people... with occasional musings on history and humanity.



Typhoid Fever in Polperro

Typhoid fever in Polperro

Posted on October 11, 2020

An outbreak of typhoid fever in Polperro at the beginning of September 1929 caused considerable alarm among residents and the local authority at the time. The Western Morning News reported that the Ministry of Health had issued instructions for an isolation hospital attached to the Liskeard Workhouse to be used to accommodate 15 infected patients from Polperro, many of whom had been very reluctant to leave their homes, some only agreeing to be taken there after being threatened with a magistrate’s warrant. One young mother suffering from typhoid was reported to have fled to an unknown address with her baby of 20 months.

Such was the fear of infection that the authorities faced further difficulty when the fact that the Liskeard ambulance refused to transport any of the typhoid sufferers. After considerable delay, an ambulance was obtained from Plymouth, making three journeys on two successive days until the Medical Officer of Plymouth intervened and refused to allow it to be used. As there was then no ambulance in the whole of Cornwall available for infectious diseases, a further case of typhoid in Polperro had to be taken to Liskeard in a private car which was subsequently disinfected.  

The local Medical Officer of Health said it was the first outbreak of typhoid in Polperro for over 40 years, in spite of the fact that the river running through the village was used an open sewer. Careful investigations had revealed that the likely cause was the milk supply from a dairy which drew water for washing utensils from a well located within 80 feet of the river. An official report following an inspection by medical officers in Polperro concluded that the pollution of the river ‘renders the water from the stream totally unfit for domestic circumstances or any other purposes, however remotely connected with the preparation of food and drink for human consumption’. The future disinfection of the river at Polperro with chloride of lime was left to the medical officer’s discretion.

A previous outbreak of typhoid fever in Polperro had occurred in 1891 when the then Medical Officer of Health, Dr William Nettle, reported to the Liskeard Rural Sanitary Authority: ‘No hospital being at hand to isolate the case, the patient was kept at home and went through all the stages of the fever in the living-room of the house and infected another member of the family’.


The Mary Barrow

Mary Barrow schooner Polperro

Posted on May 13, 2020

The Mary Barrow was one of the biggest vessels to visit Polperro harbour before the Second World War.

Built by W. K. Lean at Falmouth in October 1891 for South American hide trade, she was a beautiful three-masted topgallant schooner, was 103’ long, 24’ wide and 11’ high. In 1894 two of her crew died of yellow fever. For many years she plied the Newfoundland fish trade and nearly came to grief during the January storms of 1908 when she was stranded on Porthminster beach, St. Ives (alongside another schooner, the Lizzie R. Wilce). Both ships were carrying coal from Swansea when they encountered heavy seas and a strong north-west gale while trying to enter St Ives harbour. She was refloated a week later under a reduced rig and continued to sail on the British coastal trade.

In 1926 she was fitted with an engine and managed by Couch of Fowey. In 1928 she was owned in Newquay but around 1932 she was sold to Captain Peter Mortensen of Truro and converted to auxiliary schooner, finding steady employment in the china clay industry to Scotland.

In September 1938 she was lost in fog off the Isle of Man and came too close inshore and was stranded on the Calf of Man while bound with coal from Truro to Ayr. The crew were saved but the sturdy old schooner was doomed. She was pounded by the storm during the night and when dawn broke she had been reduced to a pile of broken matchwood.


Deck Prism

Posted on February 11, 2020

I was given this ship's prism by an American friend, Roberta Weisberg (see blog January 2016). At first, I wasn’t sure what it was… my first thought was that it was a paperweight of some sort. The smooth, hexagonal face measures three inches between opposing vertices, and three inches between opposing sides. The overall height to the tip is three inches. It is quite heavy for its size, and I'm not sure exactly how old it is.

What I have since found out was that for centuries, sailing ships used deck prisms to provide a safe source of natural sunlight to illuminate areas below decks. Before electricity, light below a vessel's deck was provided by candles, oil and kerosene lamps - all dangerous aboard a wooden ship. The deck prism was a clever solution: laid flush into the deck, the glass prism refracted and dispersed natural light into the space below from a small deck opening without weakening the planks or becoming a fire hazard. Aboard colliers (coal ships), prisms were also used to keep check on the cargo hold: light from a fire would be collected by the prism and be made visible on the deck even in daylight.

In normal usage, the prism hangs below the overhead and disperses the light sideways; the top is flat and installed flush with the deck, becoming part of the deck. A plain flat glass window would just form a single bright spot below - not very useful for general illumination - hence the prismatic shape.