On January 22nd 1832, there was an outbreak of Cholera in Kirkintilloch.
Opinions were divided as to whether the disease was introduced by a cargo of hoofs, horns, and woolen rags from the Baltic, which was for the manufacture of prussiates at the Campsie Alum Company's works at Campsie, or by a sailor suffering from the disease.
The disease was rampant with about 40 deaths occurring in the square formed by Townhead, Freeland Place, Moodie's Land, and the Canal Bank and Luggie Bank Road.
Attempts were made to draw a protective sanitary cordon around Campsie. The roads were watched, and tramps or vagrants were not allowed to enter, in case they introduced infection.
The security was so rigidly carried out that some families residing in Kirkintilloch, but working in Campsie parish, were compelled to flit or be excluded from entering the parish.
Despite all these precautions, Cholera broke out in Lennoxtown in 1833, although it was confined to the east end of the village. John Cameron describes the scene so eloquently when he says "The frightful suddenness of the attack, the celerity with which it ran its course, the helplessness of man in the midst of a pestilence which walked in darkness, and a destruction that wasted at noon day, were sources of terror by day and by night. Neighbours were too frightened to perform the most common offices of humanity. In no country perhaps is there such a strong feeling of respect and reverence for the dead as in Scotland, yet here in Lennoxtown, people living on the same stair-head could not be got to assist in carrying out the coffin of a departed neighbour, or help in any way".
At the first outbreak, a Mrs. Smith took ill on the Sunday and was dead by the Monday morning. Neighbours and acquaintances were in terror and didn't come forward to offer any assistance, so her son got a coffin, and placed the corpse in it himself. Afterwards he got a 2 wheeled barrow, and managed unaided to carry his mother's coffin and place it in the barrow. He wheeled his burden towards the new Parish Church, and proceeded to push it up the brae. He became so exhausted, that he was compelled to stop for a rest. At this time, two brothers who had been watching him and admired his devotion, went forward to help. They were soon joined by a third man, and Mrs. Smith was duly buried by her son and the three volunteers.
For a period of about three months afterwards, fresh cases occurred daily. Dr Wilson, a local doctor said, "The number of cases during that time was, I think, about 120 of genuine Cholera, apart from those of diarrhoea, which were innumerable, and which, being treated in time, were probably prevented from running into the collapsed state." One man nicknamed 'Earl', succumbed to the disease, only eight hours after his first symptoms occurred. He was buried in Lennoxtown graveyard, in the part where all cholera victims were interred; the south east section.
When funerals were being conducted the streets of the village were deserted; no one was to be seen, doors were shut, and blinds, screens and shutters were closed to hide the awe inspiring procession from sight.
Mr. Robert Dalglish, Provost of Glasgow and proprietor of Lennoxmill printfields, sent a German medical man to assist the other medical officers who were trying to cope with the outbreak. He also set an excellent example at a time when people were paralyzed with fear, because he took steps to curb the epidemic by having bedding fumigated in houses where people had died, and encouraged people to disinfection their clothes by steeping them in large Boynes.
The Beadle in the UP church was his right-hand man in carrying out this work. As a precautionary method he took half a glass of whisky in the morning, then he lit his pipe and had a smoke to fortify him for the disagreeable and dangerous tasks ahead. During the weeks that he undertook these duties, he was paid his full wage from Lennoxmill, although he was absent from work.
Among the many preventative measures taken were the application of sticky medicated chest and belly plasters. Again, these were introduced by the Provost. He instructed Mr. Young * (see graves below) the joiner at Lennoxmill to make a number of wooden shapes to suit all sized and ages, templates of a sort, which were then used to cut the plasters as required. Camphor, which was used as a disinfectant, was also hung around the neck in little woollen bags.
The death toll in 1833 was between 20 -30.
When Cholera again broke out in 1849, the Parochial Board took preventative measures. Those affected with the disease were isolated, and, as a result only 5 fatal cases occurred at this time.
The outbreak of 1854 raged with great virulence. Local doctors were overwhelmed with work, and 2 medical men came from Glasgow to assist them, and before the epidemic was over, nurses also had to be brought from Glasgow.
Like before, the first case was very sudden. He was a farmer, William Gilmour of Bencloich Mill. On Fair Saturday he was in Glasgow in perfect health, and he was dead before Monday morning. Again a great depression rested on and oppressed the whole community. However, at the end of July, there were 5 corpses in the village, all Cholera victims, yet the annual holiday trip to Edinburgh by train went ahead as planned!
Four friends bidding each other good night after a walk wondered who would be next? Before morning, Peter McKindlay, one of the 4 would be dead.
In August 1854, at Easter Lodge en route to Lennox Castle, immediately adjoining the Railway Station (demolished in 1964), John McCallum's son and a resident of the house, Leezie Anderson, an elderly lady, had contracted the disease and both lay dead. By the time friends came to bury them, they found that the father and another son also had the disease. It was a very distressed household. Relatives who had come for the funerals of the two dead, hesitated to touch the coffins, even to screw on the lids. Two local men Rab Torrance and Kelly did this. These two men seemed to help all around the village.
When Mrs. McIntyre died at Whitefield, her husband was unable to lift his wife into the coffin which had been left at the door for her, so he appealed for help from the open window. Here again Torrance and Kelly offered their services, but since Mrs. McIntyre had been very stout and heavy, they had difficulty getting her down the narrow winding staircase. There is nothing to say if she was coffined upstairs or downstairs.
In some families there were multiple deaths.
When gloom was resting heavily on the village, and everything was at its blackest, when burning tar barrels were being carried through the streets at night, it was suggested that perhaps if the brass band played outside, it could lift the spirits of the locals, and break the melancholy which had descended over all. The band responded to the suggestions and played through the streets. The music cheered the drooping spirits and roused the community, and although the epidemic was by then a spent force, the band got a share of the credit for having done good work. This meant the villagers were obliged to support them when the appealed for money for instruments
One family fled to Aberfoyle whilst the pestilence raged in Lennoxtown. When it ceased, they returned, but the wife took a violent cramp in her stomach and died very suddenly. When another victim was diagnosed, Mr. Johnston, a health inspector, wished to remove the other residents of the house and put them in an unoccupied building on the Finglen Burn at Haughhead. The building was an old weaving factory which was supposed to have been turned into a temporary hospital. In preparation for the move, bundles of straw, presumably for temporary bedding, or to strewn on the floor, were obtained from Mr. Galbraith, the farmer at Kilwinnet . However, the people of Haughhead, headed by Mrs. Dearie and her 2 sons, rioted in protest against the idea and tore out the straw and scattered it. In the face of such strong objections, the proposed hospital was abandoned.
It is probably as difficult now as it was then during a Cholera outbreak to comprehend the odd feelings excited amongst the more ignorant of people, and the hysterical delusions from which they suffered. Wild fear and unreasoned panic was the order of the day, and in some places, they even accused physicians of poisoning the wells.
Once when a death occurred in the village, a crowd of excited and ill informed people gathered and threatened to obstruct the removal of the body. Dr MacLeod, a local minister, arrived at the scene of the disturbance and tried to help remove the body. After managing to get the coffin on to a cart, he was faced with a line of formidably hostile villagers stretched across the road to obstruct the funeral. He commanded silence and proceeded to address the crowd. He said that this was the body of a poor Irishman; that he himself being a Highlander, was also a stranger, and as such he would defend his poor brother, and he warned them that whoever obstructed them in carrying out the funeral, would have the coffin laid at their door for them to deal with. Needless to say, the funeral was allowed to continue unhindered, and no other mobs ever assembled to interfere again.
Dr Wilson compared the attitudes of Rev Father Gillon, the catholic priest, and Rev Wm Wood the Protestant clergyman during the outbreak in 1833. He commended Father Gillon for his devotion to victims and bereaved relatives. Although he himself was showing early signs of the disease, he disregarded advice to stay in bed, because he had Mass to perform in Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth. He was also advised to have same toast and coffee in the morning before setting off for Mass, but refused because he didn't want to contravene church rules which dictate he must not eat before Mass. He was said to be equally strict and hard working in his attendance on those of his flock who were affected with the disease; he was a good and worthy man.
Dr Wilson said of the Protestant clergy in general, "I am sorry that I cannot say that our Protestant clergymen were equally assiduous in visiting those attacked. Indeed, one of them went to reside at the coast, coming up on Saturday nights for his duties next day, and going away again on the Mondays; and I was very much amused, and, at the same time, sorry at such an exhibition and lack of faith, to observe that if I met him in the village, and held out my hand to shake hands, he carefully avoided seeing it. Indeed, he never once shook hands with me during the epidemic, although I, rather mischievously, always offered to do so when we met."
Cameron thought that Dr Wilson was unfair when contrasting the conduct of Father Gillon with that of parish clergymen, and omits to do justice to the Rev William Wood of the U.P. Church. He states that Mr. Wood performed his pastoral duties in a faithful and dedicated manner, and was not afraid to visit houses where there was Cholera, or where there had been deaths from the disease. Apparently he became so worn out from his efforts to attend victims, especially after having had a slight attack of the Cholera himself, that he was obliged to go away for a few weeks rest after the epidemic was over.
Cholera is an acute infection due to the vibrio camma, a short, curved micro-organism, and is spread by food and water infected with the faeces of patients during an attack or while convalescent. It is predominantly a disease of India and the Far East, although it has spread to other countries. Epidemics occur. Infections vary in severity from mild to fatal. The incubation period is short, 2 - 6 days.
The main symptoms: The illness usually begins with diarrhoea, which may be slight, rapid pulse, dry skin, excessive thirst, lethargy, nausea, vomiting and collapse. There can be muscular cramps because of the fluid loss, and complete suppression of urine can occur.
Life saving treatment mainly consists of intravenous infusion of fluids such as glucose and saline, and anti-biotic drugs.
Prevention and control of the disease is dependent on good sanitation.
There is a vaccine available. This lasts for 6 months, but the degree of protection is poor.
The virus was discovered by German Dr Robert Koch in 1883. It is interesting to note that the discovery was not made until many years after the Lennoxtown outbreaks. Dr Koch was also responsible for isolating the Tubercle Bacillus - the cause of Tuberculosis, which was later to reach epidemic proportions in many areas of Scotland.
There are many stories of the unlawful, but gruesomely exciting antics of body snatchers like Burke and Hare. Snatching happened more in the large cities like Glasgow, but when it became too dangerous there, the snatchers resorted to country graveyards.
People tried to prevent violation of their family burying places by erecting high railings around the graves, or by laying heavy flat gravestones over them.
In addition, householders were sometimes detailed to watch in turn. This was the custom which pertained in Lennoxtown. Lists of watchers who took their turn in the Clachan were regularly made up. These lists began at one end of the Lennoxtown, right through to the other, all householders having to take their turn, and there were no exceptions. each night, 3 neighbours were assigned to watch the graveyard. Firearms, which were kept at the Guard-House in the Clachan, were made available to the watchers if needed.
To keep up their courage and try to dispel the eerie feelings which might creep over some of them as they sat thinking about wandering spirits, and reckless resurrectionists, it was usual to lay in a stock of refreshments, especially whisky. Some of the householders admitted their fear and apprehension and pled exemption on these grounds, but they had to take their turn with the rest or pay for a substitute.
One local man, Robert Brown, who was a poacher and 'hanger-on' at the Clachan, and nicknamed 'Scuffy', made it his business to know the names of the characters on each watch. To keep them from wearying, he kept them company, and of course, partook of any refreshments available. This way he could assess the degree of vigilance of the watch, and inform the resurrectionists accordingly. They could then decide if they wished to make a raid for a fresh corpse. Cameron states, "There can be little doubt that graves were frequently rifled, both in Campsie and Kirkintilloch".
The practice of enclosing graves with wall or iron railings did not always prevent removal of the corpse, because the snatchers sometimes went down obliquely rather then vertically. In this way, they could get at the body without disturbing the surface of the grave.
National Grid Reference NS 628780
Sketch plan indicating position of some stones.
This area of Lennoxtown Churchyard was set aside for internment of the Cholera victims. Many have no headstones, making it difficult to identify them, but two men, buried in plots 69 and 77 can be identified.
Have now unearthed information, which states that, No 1. is the grave of Mrs. Gourlay who died of Cholera on 28th January, 1849.
The first burial in the new graveyard was that of William McLaws, who died 3rd February, 1833, aged 87. His burial-place is in the north-east corner. The grave of Dr MacLeod, who was granted lair No 1 in the cemetery, is in the north-west corner. It is marked with a simple Ionic cross.
Back to: Points of Interest