16 March 2011

Health Diseases, Epidemics and Treatments

Blood-letting (breathing a vein) James Gillray 1804

Once reaching the Cape they suffered from contagious diseases; smallpox, dysentery, measles, and infectious diseases. The ship Joanna Cathaerina in 1673 brought 221 slaves and within fourteen months 129 slaves had died. The ship Voorhout brought 257 slaves, mainly children in 1676 and within three and a half months 92 were dead.

Relying solely on the primary data provided in J.G. le Roux’s Hugenote bloed in ons, one can get a partial idea of mortality between 1688 and 1700. In that twelve-year period, a total of 86 refugees died, meaning that as many as 79 may have lived on (48 refugees had no death-dates listed). A cursory gleaning of the wills left by Huguenot men before 1700, indicates that the death-rate among the newer arrivals was high. About ten per cent of them left probated wills and this number gives an indication of deaths in the first decade there. Surely the death-rate was higher. Only those who were able to write a will, or had access to materials on which to write it, with witnesses available, did so.

Yellow Fever epidemics caused considerable loss of life for the refugees. Yellow Fever was one of the many diseases that killed many people in the 1700s. Death from Yellow Fever was common because no cure was available. The symptoms start with headaches, chills, and a general ache in back, arms, and legs. This is followed by a high fever for about 3 days, after which the fever goes away, but only for a couple of hours. The high fever then returns and as red blood cells are destroyed the skin and eyes turn yellow. The patient then begins to vomits black blood because of bleeding in the nose, gums, and intestines. As the person's pulse grows weak they start to become confused and delirious. Also, tiny red bumps may appear on the skin. Death follows shortly after.

Gout troubled the adults and Kolbe believed the condition derived from excessive consumption of alcohol. Another source agreed, noting that gout generally attacked those aged persons who “have spent most of their lives in ease, voluptuousness, high living, and too free use of wine and other spirituous liquors”. “Putrid fevers” (probably typhoid) also afflicted the refugees.

At the Cape, epidemics also took their toll. When smallpox broke out in Cape Town in 1713, the epidemic followed two years of drought. Just as the much-needed rains started falling, the colony had to deal with this epidemic that was introduced via the linens on a ship. Smallpox was especially hard on the Khoi, who had no natural immunity, but it also had a severe impact on the Europeans. The Huguenots were mostly located in the Drakenstein, at Franschhoek, around Stellenbosch, and a few had moved into Wagonmakers Valley by that time. Too many people were dying in the outlying districts and were not able to seek out a notary to make wills. As a result, there is very little data regarding the deaths of Huguenots – both women and men.

Surely Anne Fouché and Elizabeth Joubert succumbed to smallpox as their wills were probated in 1713. The “pokkies” claimed at least 1 585 Europeans that year. J.A. Heese found that of these, 875 were children. One report to the Netherlands in June 1713 noted that there were not “20 healthy people in Drakenstein”.

Interestingly, Marie Grillion makes the point that her husband, Gideon Malherbe, died of natural causes, yet when the distraught widow and mother was forced to make an accounting of their holdings that, in turn, revealed that her husband and three of her children had died due to smallpox.

Other afflictions troubled the Huguenots at the Cape - anxious mothers had to deal with sore eyes – a “distemper” that was worse in summer months. While old people suffered from “a scalding rheum that issued abundantly from the eyes”, the “greatest rate falls on the children”, and thus efforts were made to keep them out of the rays of the sun. One of the Huguenot surgeons treated these eye conditions with drops and “Spanish fly”. Kolbe added soreness of the throat to the list of chronic illnesses.

Worms afflicted them too, especially the children. Intestinal parasites were common in that era. In London, the Spitalfields Project involved the excavation and examination of primarily French Huguenot skeletons that had been buried from 1729 to the mid-nineteenth century. Between eight hundred and a thousand bodies were exhumed, with about half of them examined. Among the findings was a high incidence of infant mortality, which the examiners attributed to intestinal worms. Traveller and physician Anders Sparrman referred to worms as a “troublesome disorder in rural areas”. Another traveller wrote about “dirty scabby children” whose condition he thought was caused by intestinal worms. Certainly intestinal worms contributed to anaemia, but probably were not directly responsible for the deaths that the medical examiners in the Spitalfields Project noted in their study.

Another source of illness was rotten teeth. Dental caries and gum diseases were problems in eighteenth-century Europe, where there were some rudimentary forms of treatment available. At this time it was commonly believed that dental caries were caused by worms in the teeth that had to be dislodged “by compounds of myrrh and aloes”. Periodontal diseases were not being diagnosed at that time and one can only infer that such agonies as infection and abscess had to run their course until the teeth simply fell out.

In discussing epidemics and diseases, treatments and the persons responsible for administering them, have barely been mentioned. Clearly, when a doctor, whatever his limits of training, was available in these first decades on the frontier, the Huguenots availed themselves of him. As has been seen, Gideon le Grand treated the refugees at the Cape. Despite the role of the ruling hand of the patriarch in others areas of their lives, it was primarily the women who treated their own illnesses and those of their children. Men were probably responsible for gleaning knowledge of local herbs, roots and plants from “others” that were long resident in specific areas. The Khoi had their own treatments for various ailments that plagued them – as had been witnessed by observers such as Laguat at the Cape.

At the Cape at least one Huguenot had some background as an apothecary. Isaac Taillefert’s father had been an apothecary in France, as was one of his brothers. While he is often listed as an apothecary, Taillefert’s skills were those of a hat-maker. He was also a farmer, and it is likely that he drew on memories of herbal medications from his father’s pharmacy. In 1698 a French Huguenot traveller remarked on his garden “[It] may very well pass for fine. Nothing, I think, there is wanting”. In fact few medications as we know them, were available. For purposes of treatment, most people made do with herbs, roots, leaves, and even fruits and vegetables.

This period in Early Modern European medical history was influenced by the humoral theory posited by Galen, with medical treatment predicated on balancing the humors. The primary means of achieving this aim were through laxatives, emetics, and bleeding – with the occasional blister applied to relieve “pressure” on an affected area of the body.

At the Cape, they certainly had a copy of Pharmacopoeia Belgica, or the Dutch Dispensary Revised and Confirmed by the College of Physicians in Amsterdam, which was translated into English in 1659. This volume would have been invaluable not only as a medical reference for herbs, roots, plants and various trees, but also to advise gardeners what to plant. In these volumes, one finds references to vegetables ranging from asparagus to artichokes, parsley and radish (used as a diuretic). Felix fern was “good against worms”, while tameric [turmeric] was “good against yellow jaundice” and fennel “good for the eyes”. Rhubarb strengthened the liver; ginger “warms the stomach and expels wind”; pomegranate seeds “dry and bind very much”; while aloes (in abundance at the Cape) “comforts the brain”. Lavender and rosemary were good against colds, and St. John’s wort cured sciatica. Melon “seeds moves urine” and natrutil seeds of cretfes “kills the child in the womb”. Other medications especially useful for women and children were date stones (presumably ground) and sage. Damask plums were used to “loosen the belly” while “sour prunes bind the belly”. Elephant’s teeth and ivory (also in abundance at the Cape) were “good to coat and stop Fluxes of blood”. Leeches were used to “suck away melancholy bloods”. Gideon le Grand employed “cinnamon, terebinth, crocus, ginger, piper and sweet oil...

Usually every household was provided with a “Huis Apotheek”, or a box of Halle Medicines which was in much repute here. So great was the faith in these remedies that only in extreme cases was the aid of a physician sought. Even when his services were required the distance that he lived was so great that the patient would probably have succumbed before his arrival if home remedies were not tried. The wife, or one of the elderly matrons, was generally well acquainted with the use of the medicines and from them help was looked for. This threw the country people upon their own resources, and they learnt not only the use of the homeopathic medicines but also the medicinal properties of many of the indigenous plants and herbs.

Three types of African wood sorrel were employed to treat scurvy, while garden garlic had a multitude of uses. A physician and a European resident both discounted rhinoceros horn. Still, “the fine shavings were taken internally” and were thought by the locals to cure convulsions and spasms in children. Women in the country brewed a local bush tea (Bobonia cordata) as cure for various internal ailments. They learned to do this from the Khoi or San, while the San also taught them to turn to rooibos tea that had medical properties when taken internally or when ground leaves and bark were applied externally.

Several of the first aid remedies used for restoratives were the same as in Holland. Vinegar or lavender water was rubbed on the temples of the patient who was made to inhale the smell of it, and was given to drink hartshorn in a little wine. The colonists had learnt from the Hottentots the use of many of the herbs; these were given as purgatives, emetics, cathartics and diuretics. A plant most commonly used was the buchu. When preserved in brandy it was good for stomachic complaints, and when in vinegar, as an embrocation in rheumatic pains or for sprains and contusions. The Hottentots placed great faith in the use of Buchu Asyn (Buchu Vinegar) as a wash to cleanse and heal a wound. This antiseptic was made by putting the leaves of the buchu into a bottle of cold vinegar and allowing them to steep. The longer they were left to infuse the more efficacious the vinegar became. In sandy tracts of the Colony where the Hottentots fig, Mesembryanthemum Acin Acforme Lin, was found, few other plants were so common in domestic use as this. The juice from the succulent leaves was taken internally to check dysentery and acted as a mild diuretic, it was used as a gargle for malignant sore thr at or in the form of a lotion in burns and scalds. An old Hottentot remedy was the use of the Davidsworteltje which in the form of a decoction acted simultaneously as an emetic, cathartic and diuretic, and the tincture or infusion of the root in wine or brandy was a powerful emetic and purgative. The tops of branches of the rhenosterboschjes, which covered immense tracts of land in the western districts, when infused in wine or brandy gave a good stomachic bitters and was frequently used as a tonic m dyspepsia. The “Boschjes-stroop” made from the sugar bush was considered a good cure for a cough or pulmonary affections.

Some believed in cures from the blood, the urine, the excrement, the fat, the skin and flesh of animals. Though it might seem incredible there are country places today where the people have faith in this. Goat fat was used for chest complaints, the excrement of the goat infused was given to a patient to bring out measles. In case of inflammation the patient was wrapped up in the warm skin of a sheep immediately after it was killed. In various parts of the country there were mineral hot springs which had different healing properties; these were visited by people suffering from a variety of illnesses. Many of these waters are today much sought after.

Image source: 
James Gillray, published by H. Humphrey, St James's Street, London, January 28, 1804.

Health in the early Cape

The French Huguenots who settled at the Cape in 1688 and 1689 were eventually afford to buy slaves or hire the Khoi and the refugee women and their children interacted with the “other” women as household servants, or to assist with births or during emergencies. Without doubt life was extremely difficult for these Huguenot women, beginning with the rigours of sailing across or down the Atlantic.

Respiratory diseases, “fever” (undiagnosed beyond that) and malnutrition were afflictions that passengers and crew alike suffered from during these voyages. The longest voyage (by a few days) on which the refugees departed, took place from March to August 1688 on the Berg China. This ordeal resulted in the deaths of 30 of the refugees, including six women. Interestingly, Pierre Joubert left the Netherlands married to one woman and arrived at the Cape married to another, leaving us with the assumption that his first wife had died en route.

Earlier, the Oosterland, carrying 29 passengers, 107 seamen and 105 soldiers, saw the loss of a woman, but witnessed the birth of a child during the voyage. The child’s mother was fortunate in that her husband was the surgeon, Jean Prieur du Plessis. Another baby was born on one of the ships that were moored in Table Bay. In that case, one may assume that the other women on board assisted with the delivery, aided perhaps by the ship’s doctor (who would have been a barber-surgeon). Jean De Bus was onboard the Oosterland which arrived in the Cape on 25 April 1688.

Records indicate that deaths on t’Wapen van Alkmaar, numbered 37, with 104 survivors placed in the VOC hospital on arrival. It is known that some of the dead as well as some survivors were French Huguenots. As noted earlier, the new arrivals suffered from weakness, if not fevers and malnutrition, as a result of the hardships and deprivations experienced during the months under sail. Add these disabilities to the pre-existing weaknesses that prevailed among the majority of the refugees – they had endured the hardships of hunger and whichever type of temporary lodging they could find, often in woods or, if they were fortunate, in lean-to shelters as they made their way out of France into the New Netherlands or to the western coast, where they hid away on various types of small vessels in order to get to England. Once the majority of the refugees were safe from their French pursuers, they had little money to secure decent lodging or work in their respective places of exile, which is why most of them elected to sail on to the Cape. Thus one may postulate that many of them were not in robust health when they set off on the long voyages to these remote frontier settlements.

After the refugees had survived the rigours of the long voyage and were relocated, they had to adjust to a new and different climate. The climatic changes were dramatic in comparison with what they had experienced in Northern Europe. The disease environment, too, was different. In those days diseases were closely associated with climate, and diagnoses were often made based on the prevailing conditions. At the Cape, the seasons were reversed - rain fell heavily during the winter as a result of westerly winds meeting with a warm front, and also causing piercingly strong, chilly winds. This rain and wind often produced respiratory illnesses. The summers were insufferably hot for the little band of French Huguenots, yet this was the season when the crops had to be gathered, vegetable gardens cleared of produce, canning and preserving done, as well as the demanding labour associated with grapepicking (many of the Huguenots engaged in viticulture).

Typical of the weather, was an entry in the diary of Adam Tas, which reads that in early January 1705, a “north wind blew on the 5th... still raining with no let up on the 8th” and part of a neighbour’s crop – that of a refugee – had been destroyed.

Medical care was inconsistent. Huguenot surgeons were few and the language barriers separated especially the women in terms of seeking treatment from respectively English- or Dutch-speakers. Jean Prieur du Plessis had arrived at the Cape in 1688. He was followed by Paul Lefevre, an employee of the VOC and thus based in Cape Town where very few of the refugees were close enough to avail themselves of his services. Gideon le Grand had arrived at the Cape by 1698 and was based in Stellenbosch. Last among this group was Jean Durand, who settled on a farm by 1690, but seems not have been active in practising medicine, preferring instead to engage in farming and local administration. Le Grand kept a journal regarding his practice. Only partial entries survive, but it is known that he treated French Huguenots, including Maria Jeanne du Pré, plus various children of the refugees. He, Gideon recorded, in January and February 1710, bled “Jeanneton”, a daughter of Jean du Buis. There are, however, no baptism records available for her. Many records where lost early in the 18th century, which could explain why no record was found; alternatively it could be possible that she died while still very young. It’s also possible that the “Jeanneton” to which Gideon referred was Johanna Terrier (Jean’s step daughter) because Gideon also saw “Suzon”, who he documented as the daughter of Jean Du Buis. The “daughter” he referred to was the step daughter Suzanne Terrier. Gideon le Grand lived in Paarl and passed away some time in 1710.

In terms of medical knowledge, almost all of the authorities believe that these men at the Cape and in Carolina were barber-surgeons. By the 1670s, the French Protestants had been virtually shut out of universities. France had a guild of barber-surgeons dating from the thirteenth century. They were broken down into two categories – that of "petit bourgeoisie" or the lesser "barbitonsores". There is no way of knowing into which category these men fell, or if they were divided between the two.

How informed they were regarding modern medical knowledge at the time, is unknown. It would depend to some extent on personal and professional relationships between university-trained physicians who were Roman Catholic, and the dissident barber-surgeons in their respective provinces.

Bachelor Peter Kolbe (an astronomer) judged that the women at the Cape gave birth much more easily than in Europe. Swedish physician Carl Peter Thunberg, who as far as is known, never delivered a baby at the Cape, also made this same assumption. These stereotypes are contradicted in part by a contemporary obstetrician who noted that the more children a woman bore, the more likely a quicker and often easier labour would be. On the whole, the Huguenot women were prolific in childbearing and they tended to produce, on average, a child every two years, with some women bearing eleven to twelve children in total.

It was a French Protestant doctor who first opened a school of midwives in sixteenth-century Europe and it was Ambroise Paré who insisted that women take to the bed to deliver. It is not known if the refugee women delivered on a bed, used a birthing stool, or assumed any of several positions – from kneeling to squatting – to aid the child down the birth canal. At the Cape both Kolbe and Thunberg found that women nursed their own babies, although when the mothers died or were incapacitated, the children would be farmed out to other nursing mothers, including perhaps the “other” in both places.

Records of the number of still births and mortality among infants at either of these frontiers are lacking. Published genealogies at the Cape, which account for less than half of the number of refugee families, bare hints of childhood mortality. Bachelor Kolbe noted that European women at the Cape who breast-fed their children were “most grievously afflicted with sore breasts... their breasts are frequently very cruelly pained and their nipples are almost always the same”. As a result he thought that they weaned their children too fast.

Du Plessis returned to Europe within a few years after his arrival. His first wife died there, and he returned in 1700, married to midwife Maria Buisset. She was the only French-speaking midwife at the Cape. Surely Buisset was kept busy, but most of the births at the Cape were presided over by female members of the family and neighbours (including those who spoke no French).

One may assume that the rigours of successive child-bearing took the life of Ann Retief, who had borne four sons and six daughters at the time of her death in 1710, when she was only thirty-nine. Jacquemine des Prez died at thirty-six leaving behind eleven children. Complications from child-bearing included breech births, haemorrhaging and puerperal fevers. In addition there were holes and tears to the wall and mouth of the vagina. Those who survived the fevers and damage done to their bodies, would have required time to heal, but in most cases women were up and about very quickly – some even on the very day they gave birth. One aid to the pain of childbirth was a bit of brandy, and it was common practice during labour to rub the body with oil, or to provide women with a variety of herbs to consume.

In this era many medical authorities believed that the uterus was the source of conditions such as hysteria among women. No doubt many held this view at the Cape, where it was commonly believed that conception could only take place when a woman achieved orgasm along with her male partner. The dual pleasure theory held that the female egg was released from the uterus at orgasm while the male sperm was sent out to join it through copulation. There is no hyperbole in Peter Kolbe’s statement that women at the Cape were “generally modest, but no flinchers from conjugal delights. They are excellent breeders.

It is unlikely that the devout French Huguenot women resorted to abortion. Deformed babies were thought to result from indecent sexual relations. These included any position for coitus except with the man on top, burrowing into his vagina field as he might otherwise sow his crops from above. At the Cape at least two children were probably crippled at birth. These were Stephen, son of Martha Rousseau and Francois du Toit, and Jacob, the son of Susanne Gardiol and Abraham de Villiers. Babies were taken to breast on demand. At which age solid food was introduced, is not known, but the timing no doubt depended on the inclination of the mother. Weaning in France (and Northern Europe) ranged from twenty-one to twenty-four months in the seventeenth century, to ten months in the eighteenth. Children ate what was served at the table as soon as they were able to chew. Prior to that, in what will seem unhygienic to modern readers, mothers would often partially chew the food and then pass it on to their babies.

14 March 2011

6th South African Armoured Division

A while ago while my parents were still flea marketing they came across an interesting framed map in one of their buys.

It was a framed map of Italy with insignia's of several brigades who had served in Italy during World War 2. Because I was researching my De Buys genealogy and the fact that we had known that my grandfather, Pieter Johannes De Buys (born 21/04/1915, died 05/07/2003), had served in Italy during World War 2 they gave me the picture.

I stored the picture intending to investigate it again at some stage.

Many months later I was going though some of the items I have stored pertaining to the family and I saw the framed map again. By that time I had received documentation from another family member giving Pieter's service records during World War 2. I got goosebumps when I looked at the insigna's and realized that my grandfather had served in the 6th South African Armoured Division which is a the head of the brigades indicated on the map!

The South African 6th Armoured Division was the first armoured division in the South African Army and was formed during World War II.

This division, the first true armoured division in South African military history, was formed in South Africa on 1 February 1943 from new recruits and units that had served in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SA Infantry (and Armoured) Divisions.

It was based on a nucleus of men from the former South African 1st Infantry Division who had returned to South Africa after the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Division was initially transferred to Egypt for training, after which the division landed at Taranto, Italy on 20 April 1944. In Italy, the Division was deployed as part of the British Eighth Army and was then transferred to the United States Fifth Army for the remainder of the Italian Campaign. The Division operated as a strongly reinforced division and was frequently used to spearhead the advance of the Corps and Army to which it was attached.

Despite leading the advance on Rome, the division was denied the honour of "taking" the city (entering the city first) by the United States Army. “However, the division was one of the first allied units to enter Florence two months later. The division's active role in the war ended when the German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2, 1945. Major General WHE (Evered) Poole was the sole divisional commander during its existence.

They returned home after the end of the war in Italy and were disbanded in 1946.


01 March 2011

Jean De Buis's farm: Palmiet Valley

Palmiet Valley's guest house
The Huguenots who arrived at the Cape during the 1680's were given loan farms by the Dutch East India Company who ruled the Cape at the time, as many of the French were farmers by profession.  The land at the Cape was undeveloped and required a lot of work before it yielded any fruit.

In 1694 Jean De Buis received a farm in Klein Drakenstein. It was later called "Palmiet Valleij", then "Palmietvlei" and is now called Palmiet Valley.

In 1712 he was given the farm "Knolle Vallei", this farm is adjacent to Palmietvlei.

On 18 June 1716 he sold both farms to Charl du Plessis. The farm's original building, today's guesthouse, was completed in 1692. Several pieces of other walls which formed part of the building still exist today.

When Fred Uhlendorff bought the Palmiet Valley in 1996, the homestead and its vineyards were in a desolate condition. Fred began restoring the farm, and then began uplifting it into the wonderful boutique hotel.

While the farm has always been a wine farm first, less lofty fruits have their history here too. Bordering the pool area, are nine of the country's very first Guava trees!

Jean, who was born 06 September 1670 in Guines, Calais, France, married Sara Jacob, the widow of Daniel Terrier. She too was born in Guines on 6 October 1677 and was a daughter of Pierre Jacob and Susanna de Vos. Sara Jacob had 4 children by Daniel Terrier and 4 by Jean De Buis.  All of these children would have spent some years on the farms before it was sold.

Jean is the "Stamvader" (progenitor) of the De Buys/Buys surname in South Africa.

Fred kindly let me walk around the farm and discussed its history with me a short while ago.  Fred has modernized the farm, but has kept a lot of the original tradition alive in the orchards, guesthouses and in the hospitality he affords his guests. 

The website for Palmiet Valley Wine Estate is http://www.palmiet.co.za/