Newly-opened records: Islanders battle epidemics 100 years ago

    As the world continues to battle the Coronavirus outbreak, newly-opened archive records show the impact that epidemics had on Islanders 100 years ago.

    As the world continues to battle the Coronavirus outbreak, newly-opened archive records show the impact that epidemics had on Islanders 100 years ago.

    The General Hospital’s Admissions Register from 1920, which was closed to the public until 1 January 2021, details the treatment of epidemics in Jersey and the impact these had on families. It adds to the information gleaned from the Medical Officer of Health Report from the same year, which was already open and shows how these epidemics resulted in the closure of schools and disinfecting of schools and houses.

    The register, along with over 400 other documents, had been carefully stored at Jersey Archive but closed to public access under Freedom of Information exemptions for periods of 30, 75 and 100 years. Other newly-opened records include the St Helier Honorary Police Arrests Register for 1918-1920; records of admissions to HM Prison during the Occupation period; and Inquest notes from 1943-1945.

    Linda Romeril, Director of Archives & Collections at Jersey Heritage, said: “It is always fascinating to be able to study these documents and use them to tell the stories of individuals who lived in Jersey up to a century ago. In the case of the General Hospital’s Admissions Register and the Medical Officer’s report, they are a timely reminders that we are not the first to suffer from illnesses that sweep through the community. Even though 100 years separate us from what people went through in 1920, there are direct comparisons to be made with our experiences in 2020, such as the closure of schools.”

    The newly-opened records are the subject of a free online talk by Linda Romeril on Wednesday, 20 January at 7.30pm. To register to listen to the live talk.


    Medical Officer of Health Report 1920

    This report shows there were 741 deaths in Jersey during that year, 50 more than in 1919. It indicates that the number was elevated by epidemics during 1920 and one of the tables in the report shows that this included a significant outbreak of measles in the Island, with 1,123 cases reported and 25 deaths.

    There was also a significant outbreak at the start of the year, with 484 cases being reported in January 1920, before the numbers of cases dropped off over the summer and then went up again from August to the end of the year.

    Tuberculosis was also a major contributor to deaths from epidemics or infectious disease, with 48 individuals dying from the disease during 1920. Other diseases included typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever and influenza.

    The report also gives the number of epidemics or infectious disease treated at the General Hospital which were as follows; two typhoid, 53 diphtheria, eight tuberculosis and 23 cases of measles. Scarlet fever was treated at Overdale and a number of cases of measles at the Dr Barnardo’s Children’s Home.

    The report shows that in January and February 1920, 18 schools in St Helier were closed as a result of the measles epidemic and 17 parish school closed between January and March and then again in August and September for the same reason.

    Disinfection was also an important tool in the fight against the spread of disease, with 21 schools and 185 houses being disinfected during the course of the year.

    General Hospital’s Admission Register 1920

    The newly-opened Register gives further evidence of these epidemics showing the admissions for measles, diphtheria, typhoid and tuberculosis.

    On 13 January 1920, three children of Sydney Hotton, of St John, were admitted to the hospital. Henry, aged nine, Alice, aged eight and Ada, aged five, had all contracted measles. While Alice and Ada were discharged from the hospital on 28 February, Henry remained until 27 May – a stay of over four months.      

    On 14 January, Harold Kinnard, aged 1½, was admitted to the hospital suffering from measles. Just under two weeks later, his siblings, William, aged four, Clifford, aged three and Raymond, aged just two weeks, were all admitted for the same reason and not discharged until 22 April.

    As well as being place for treatment the hospital also still acted as a poor house, with admissions for indigence or poverty. It was also a place for children to be cared for if they could not be looked after at home, possibly while a parent was in hospital receiving treatment.

    On 30 December 1919, five daughters of George Marett aged between three months and eight years old, were admitted to hospital because their mother, Selina Marett, née Holley (or step-mother in some cases) was in the hospital for reasons of poverty. Selina had been admitted to the hospital on the same day and was only 19 at the time.

    Selina was George’s second wife and she had taken on responsibility for his four daughters at the time of their marriage, subsequently having her own daughter, who was three months old when the family were admitted to the hospital. George and Selina had married in December 1918 when George was a 50-year-old widower and Selina was just 17.

    Other stories of interest in the newly-opened records include:

    St Helier’s Honorary Police Register 1918-1920

    On 29 November 1919, Percy Tom Rollings Rendall, aged 45, was arrested for defamation of character and attempted blackmail. He was tried at the Assizes on 5 January 1920 and sentenced to five years penal servitude.

    The Honorary Police Register shows that on 22 October, Rendall was accused of exhorting with menaces a sum of money from Winifred Le Quesne. Then on the 5 November, he was accused of uses menaces to exhort money from Reverend Lawrence Alfred Willson Haffenden. On 27 November, he was accused of saying defamatory and lying words about the conduct of Winifred Le Quesne and Lawrence Haffenden.

    The Jersey Weekly Post of 10 January 1920 sums up the case by writing: “The whole Island concurs most heartily in the finding of the jury.” The Bailiff, in his summing up of the case had indicated that there was “no middle course for the jury”. He told them that “if they believed Rendell’s story and express that belief in their verdict, the reputation of Miss Le Quesne and of Mr Haffenden was utterly ruined, and the good name of two families tarnished. On the other hand, if they believed the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution no punishment was too severe for the blackmailer and slanderer.” The report in the Post shows that all but one juror found Rendell guilty. 

    Rendall also appears in the Jersey Transportation Register, which indicates that he had “been in the habit of prowling about with a view of practicing blackmail for about 10 years”. The register shows that he was sent to HM Prison Dorchester on February 3 1920.

    On 11 September 1920, the Honorary Police Register records the arrest of 14 men, all from England and mainly from Birmingham, who were accused of playing and inciting the public to participate in games of hazard, notably the games of Three Card Trick, Roulette and Banker, around midday on 9 September 1920 at Westmount.

    Two of the men, Andrew Robins and Harry Brown, had, on the morning of the same day, also been playing and incited the public to play the game of hazard called Crown and Anchor.

    One of the men, William Lewis, was also accused of giving Policeman Arthur E L Osmond, five shillings with the intention of corrupting him.

    The Register records that the men were admitted to bail in the sum of £20. The Jersey Weekly Post reported that the “gentlemen in question left the Island next morning”.

    Alien’s Registration Cards

    Mikolai Fiodoruk was born in Poland on 9 September 1920. He came to Jersey in April 1947 and his Alien’s Registration Card records his occupation as an anti-beetle sprayer. Mikolai first worked at the Grand Hotel and then for the Cranwell Construction Company, leaving for England in January 1948.

    He returned to Jersey at the end of 1948 after serving with the Polish Resettlement Corps in Italy and then working at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London. He worked as a bricklayer in Jersey in the 1950s before becoming a naturalised British subject in the Royal Court after taking the Oath of Allegiance in 1963.

    HM Prison Records 1941-1945

    One of the records opened from HM Prison is the Prison Weight Book, which runs from June 1941 to August 1945, covering most of the Occupation period. The book gives a daily record of prisoners entering and leaving the jail with their length of sentence, weight, height and any distinguishing marks, such as tattoos or vaccination scars. The book also shows when the individual is a political prisoner who has passed through the German Courts.

    What is interesting about the weight book is that it shows individuals who went to prison before trial. A number of individuals have the words ‘not tried’ next to their names some of whom are subsequently liberated by the German Forces, prior to a trial taking place.

    On 8 May 1945, the book records the general discharge of 41 political prisoners in advance of Liberation Day on the 9 May that year.