February 7, 2023

FEB 7, a brief saga: Newfoundland potato famine of 1846 - 8









Authors' Note: The Irish potato famine of 1845-1852, had important repercussions in British North America. Initially, we had our own version of the disaster, although it didn't last as long. The food-production aspect was confined to the Atlantic island of Newfoundland ("the Rock"), where potato monoculture had provided backup food for a populace (ironically, one-half of Irish descent) who otherwise fed themselves on marine protein (seals and cod). But in 1846, both these usual sources failed, and the network for regional food distribution was disrupted by a large fire, then a storm, that lashed the key port of St John's. At just this point, the potato blight that had spread northwards through the United States was found to involve the fishing villages (outports) on the island's south shore. In the second year, the blight spread to involve the entire island, and the marine resource situation was no better. The number of deaths due to starvation, likely many thousands, remains unknown.
The British governor of the colony, reasoning that the indolence of the island's underclass had offended the Almighty, invoked a period of fasting to appease heavenly powers. Fortunately, the next year, the marine resources returned, resolving the crisis.

Back in Ireland, landlords took advantage, and bought tickets to encourage resourceless tenants to emigrate; their arrival in Canada was anticipated charitably by the public and by local governments, often despite low potential for contribution to the economy. But in fact, many refugees were sick ("ship's fever" often equated to dysentery or typhus) on arrival or shortly afterward; in the summer of 1847, an estimated 20,000 died in typhus epidemics that ravaged Montreal and Quebec, as well as settlements in New Brunswick and Ontario. The longer term effect on health and other services was devastating for these relatively small recipient towns.
In contrast, the U.S. populace may have felt less charitable towards British disaster-victims, and a punitive tax was levied on shipping companies for each passenger. Although large numbers of Irish refugees did eventually reach the U.S., Canada bore far more than its share, especially in the acute phase of the disaster.
The author acknowledges inspiration by speedysnail's OEDILF verse "Great Famine".

Online Sources: 

Great Famine (Ireland) - Wikipedia

Newfoundland Potato Famine  - Wikipedia

History of Irish immigration to Canada - Irish Post

The Canadian typhus epidemic of 1847 - French-Canadian genealogist

 For the purpose of this blog, a 'brief saga' is defined as a poem, usually narrative, but occasionally expository, that tell its story in at least 15 lines. Most commonly, the format involves three stanzas in limerick form, constituting a single submission to the online humor site 'Omnificent English Dictionary iLimerick Form'. On the OEDILF site, rigorous standards for content and format are involved in a collaborative editing process that may take several weeks to over a year. 

 Generally, OEDILF has not been enormously welcoming of multi-verse submissions, but Giorgio Coniglio has persisted, and there are now over 90 of these multi-verse poems feature in his "Author's Showcase". The  OEDILF number for each accepted multiverse poem is shown here on the slide with its first verse. We have been blog-publishing these poetic adventures here monthly.

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