english east indiamen usually ran between england, casa branca (modern –day casablanca), cape town and india, where their primary destinations were the ports of bombay (mumbai), madras (chennai) and calcutta (kolkata). the typical duration of the voyage was somewhere between 4 and 6 months depending on several factors such as time of year, significant weather events, ship repairs to be undertaken, and the occasional encounter with pirates (either off the barbary coast, or the south-western reaches of the african continent, or even north and east of madagascar). the return voyage sometimes included a stop in jeddah (now a city in the hejaz region of saudi arabia and the commercial heart of the region).
east indiamen carried both passengers and goods and were armed to defend themselves against pirates. initially, the east indiamen were built to carry as much cargo as possible, rather than for speed of sailing.[
life on board was highly ordered and passengers were merely tolerated, their interactions with sailors and other shipboard personnel being very limited unless they were personages of some note. likewise they were relegated to very specific precincts on board and didn’t have free rein to go wherever they wanted. during severe weather events or during encounters with pirates, they were generally commanded to shelter in place in their quarters which were usually rather spartan and confining.
maritime discipline was harsh and sometimes cruel depending on the captain’s nature. a sailor’s misdeeds could affect the success of an entire sailing venture and the captain had a mandate to mete out punishments that would act as a deterrent for sailors who were wont to consider running afoul of the captain’s orders or indeed against the accepted code of behaviour of the royal navy. punishments ran the gamut of missed shore leave, extra duties to perform on the ship, or in more serious situations receiving corporal punishment as from the devilish cat-o-nine tails (which could impose maximum pain but with minimal long-term bodily harm).
piracy on the high seas was a real danger to be faced. the heavier and often unwieldy indiamen were sometimes easy targets for sleeker and more agile craft. they were particularly plum targets on their return voyage to england, their holds filled to the brim with exotic materials, spices, and other valuables sourced from british outposts in india. pirates flying the jolly roger pennant were the most ruthless, and thought nothing of exacting as much damage to a vessel as possible and in killing as many people on board. they would plunder the disabled ship and carry off as much booty as was possible to their well-hidden lairs in some small bay or the other. other pirates, often flying white pennants (such as those from antongil bay on the north and west side of madagascar) would attempt to take hostages or impound a ship’s manifest until they could extract a hefty payment for the release of their prisoners or the valuable goods. what indiamen had going for them in these skirmishes was the number and size of their guns (cannon) placed in effective arrays on both sides of the ship and often on the rear transom. also, officers were chosen to captain the vessels who were not only capable sailors and navigators, but who as junior officers had gained valuable experience in the art of maritime warfare and were sound military tacticians.
In the novel there is a discussion of the role of vaccination in the eradication of small pox. Of course in the timeframe of the novel vaccination hadn't been invented yet; but "engrafting" had - the forerunner to vaccination!
Pandemics — disease outbreaks of global reach — have visited humanity many times. Here are examples.
1889-90: Russian flu Though it was dubbed a flu, some scientists think this pandemic, which emerged in Russia and spread through the world to kill 1 million people, may have been caused by a coronavirus. The virus might have jumped to people from cows; a common-cold coronavirus called OC43 may be its gentler descendant.
1918-20: Spanish flu (H1N1) This severe influenza A pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including — unusually — many aged 20 to 40. Scientists have studied the responsible strain, extracted from frozen graves, to understand its origins and lethality. H1N1 descendants still circulate as a seasonal flu.
1957-58: Asian flu (H2N2) This influenza A virus emerged in East Asia. It was novel to human immune systems due to several new genes that had come from flu strains circulating in birds. The estimated death toll was 1.1 million globally and 116,000 in the US.
1961-present: Seventh cholera pandemic Caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, this diarrheal disease has triggered seven pandemics since 1817. The seventh — which began in Indonesia, reached Africa in the 1970s and the Americas in the 1990s — is still with us today, each year sickening 1.3 million to 4 million and killing 21,000 to 143,000.
1968-70: Hong Kong flu (H3N2) This influenza A virus mixed and matched a new “H” protein from flu strains in birds with the “N” protein of the Asian flu. It killed about 1 million worldwide and 100,000 in the US. The H3N2 virus still circulates seasonally, but has slowly mutated over time.
1981-present: AIDS HIV likely jumped from chimps to humans decades before the deadly immune-deficiency disease emerged with a vengeance in the early 1980s. It has killed more than 30 million people worldwide. Medicines now manage the disease; there is no vaccine.
2003: SARS This coronavirus, which caused respiratory disease, probably originated in bats. It spread to more than two dozen countries, sickening over 8,000 people and killing almost 800 before it was contained.
2012 -present: MERS The respiratory illness is caused by the coronavirus MERS-CoV. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia and has killed more than 850 people since then. It likely originated in bats and jumped to dromedary camels, the source of human infections. Unlike the Covid-19 virus, it does not transmit easily from person to person.
2009-10: Swine flu (H1N1) A version of H1N1 flu with a novel combination of genes, it killed as many as 575,000 people worldwide in its first year. Unusually, most of the victims were under age 65, probably because older people had immunity from earlier exposure to similar viruses. Despite the initial name, the virus did not pass to humans from pigs. It still circulates in the human population today.
2014-16: Ebola The severe disease is transmitted from wild animals such as fruit bats, its natural hosts. Contact with fluids and tissues of infected people spreads it to others. The virus was identified after 1970s outbreaks near rainforests in Central Africa; the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa was the deadliest ever, killing 11,310 people among the 28,616 recorded cases.
2015-16: Zika Spread by mosquitos, the virus was discovered in Ugandan forests in 1947. It usually causes mild illness in those bitten but can lead to rare cases of paralysis and devastating brain defects in fetuses. A large outbreak began in 2015 in Brazil and spread through the Americas; recorded human cases date back to 1952.
2019-20: Covid-19 Like SARS and MERS, this is caused by a coronavirus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2. But this one got away from us, perhaps due to traits such as its ability to spread from people with mild or no symptoms. As of mid-July, 2020, there have been more than 13 million confirmed cases and closing in on 600,000 deaths worldwide.
When I started writing and researching “The Other Side of Morning” several years ago I certainly had never heard of Covid. In the novel, The discussion of “engrafting” as a medical practice to mitigate the proliferation of small pox, championed by the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, which provided some immunity from the smallpox virus (though the scientific/medical underpinnings of this practice and the attendant vocabulary to deal with it were not yet known in the early 1700s) can be seen in a unique light given what is going on in the world today with our global vaccine initiatives and the emergence of “anti-vaxxers” and medical science deniers.
Smallpox is a contagious, disfiguring and often deadly disease that has affected humans for thousands of years. Naturally occurring smallpox was wiped out worldwide by 1980 — the result of an unprecedented global immunization campaign. Samples of smallpox virus have been kept for research purposes.