The Spirit of Pestilence

Government and Gunboats

When the smallpox outbreak appeared, Governor James Douglas was away. The citizens seemed paralyzed without direction from the Governor. Under the colonial government, there was no Board of Health and it fell to the Superintendent of Police, Joseph Pemberton, "to search out and remove persons whose condition is detrimental to the health or morality of the population."1 When asked by Reverend Garrett for help with burying the dead, Pemberton replied that he "had no authority to interfere, and could not order the Police to bury the dead."2 With the lack of government direction, pressure from the press played the dual role of spreading panic and prompting action.

[Douglas] The government did very little to stop the spead smallpox. What can account for this indifference?
[HMS Forward] Reactions to the government's lack of action show how upset some colonists were with the government's response.