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Thursday, October 17, 2013

the death of a baby

Childbirth at sea was harrowing enough, and because of that seafaring wives were usually put on shore to wait for the "happy event" in some strange boarding house.  There was good reason, because pregnancy on board was bad enough -- Bethia Sears of the clipper Wild Ranger died of morning sickness -- and no captain felt capable of coping with complications.  However, being born in a foreign port rather than on board ship did not mean that the infant was bound to survive.

There is a sad little grave on Norfolk Island in the middle of the broad Pacific, unearthed by local historians, and lovingly cleaned.  It is to "Georgie" -- the baby who was born on the island to Lizzie, wife of Captain George Brightman of the California whaleship, aged just three days.

Early in 1849, another whaling wife, Susan Veeder, bore a little girl in the port of Talcahuano, Chile, a charming infant they named Mary Francis.  At eleven months she had "7 teeth, Creeps all about the Ship, and is very cunning. She is now on deck takeing a ride in her Waggon." Nine weeks later, she was dead, killed by a bungling doctor. The ship had called at Tahiti, and Captain Veeder had sent for a local medic, Dr. Johnson, as Mary Francis was a little feverish with teething.  He prescribed two powders, and shortly after taking the second one, the little girl convulsed, and a few hours after that, she passed away.  As Susan bitterly wrote, there was no doubt that Mary Francis had been poisoned.

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