The Ships, “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 2

On a Saturday afternoon, Margaret Naughton, newly arrived at the port of New Orleans, found herself in front of Recorder (i.e., a judge and mayor) Genois’ office. She laid down on the flag stones under the portico of the building and died.  She could have laid down anywhere. Perhaps, that was the cleanest spot. Or, perhaps her meager strength simply gave out.

Margaret was from Limerick.  She was one of the passengers of the Blanche, a ship that arrived with over 100 passengers needing care at Charity Hospital. This latest version of Charity Hospital was established in 1834 by the Sisters of Charity.  It served the poor.  When the great Irish famine stated in 1845, Charity Hospital treated many Irish immigrants. [1]

Margaret was not one of those dis-embarking passengers who sought treatment at the hospital. She was one of the survivors, until she wasn’t. The ship arrived on Tuesday, March 25, 1851. Margaret wandered the streets of New Orleans until Friday.  On that day, she and some seven other passengers were stopped by a police officer who sent them to an empty building. There, on Saturday, they received food and passage money to St. Louis, where some relatives lived.  Later that day, about 3:00 p.m.  Margaret, a young woman, felt ill.  She fell down among the flag stones and died. [2}

Margaret’s body was taken to the police office and examined. By 5:00 p.m., Margaret was buried. [3]

The Blanche started with some 550 passengers.  But, ship fever broke out within days of leaving Liverpool.  Men, women and children died during the voyage.  Near the end of the voyage, many passengers were forced to remain on the upper deck to avoid the sick below decks.  These were the poorest of the poor.  They lived amongst filth and dirt below decks. [4]

Fifty More

By April 12, some 50 more Blanche passengers were admitted to Charity Hospital.  Being famine refugees and then having to endure a pestilent voyage, this number is not surprising. That means some 190 passengers required hospitalization within days of arrival. [5]

The owners of the Blanche and Otilla faced legal liability for having too many passengers.  The U.S. law and the British law on how to calculate maximum passengers differed. But, New Orleans was American, not British.  U.S. law applied at the port of New Orleans.  Under U.S. law, if a ship exceeded its maximum passenger load by 20 or more, then the ship would be forfeited to the government.  When even a relatively Anglo-oriented newspaper like the Daily Crescent advocated that the Blanche be seized, then the Captain knew he was in trouble.  So, Capt. Duckitt traveled to what was then known as Washington City to plead his case. [6]

The Blanche and Otilla were in a special class of horror in a time of many such smaller horrors.  Within days of arrival, almost 200 of the 500 Blanche passengers had to seek treatment at Charity Hospital.  Many of the rest were still ill, but not sick enough for the hospital.  New Orleans had seen many such arrivals, although on a lesser scale.  This time, it was just too much. Those Irish problems had found their way to the doorstep of New Orleans.

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 3, col. 1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 12, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

[6] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

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