The Malta Plague of 1675-76 – The deadliest epidemic to hit the island.
When the outbreak started.
The Malta Plague of 1675-76
The Malta Plague of 1675-76 began with Anna Bonnici, an eleven-year-old daughter of a merchant, who had fallen severely ill on 24th December 1675. She developed red petechial hemorrhages and lymph nodes. Her father took her to the doctor, Giacomo Cassia. The girl died four days later and Cassia informed the head physician Domenico Sciberras of the case, however, they didn’t identify the disease as the plague. Oucchhhh
Then, Anna’s 2-year-old brother died on 10 January 1676. The female slave in their household also had fallen ill but recovered. The Agius family had fallen ill and died. Further cases piled. Some fled the island, others went to the countryside, and others went on as business as usual, thus contributing to the spreading of the disease which increased the spread.
By the 2nd March, there were already 100 deaths.
Where did the Plague come from?
It’s uncertain where the source of the plague originated from, some claim that this deadly pesky disease arrived from a squadron of English ships that were fighting Barbary pirates and came to Malta about 16-75/76. It most likely arrived on the island by infected rodents along with the merchandise. Gan Frangisk Bonamico who survived the plague wrote that it came from a cargo of textiles from Tripoli.
The deaths outside Valletta.
On March 8th the first death occurred in Attard, then the disease waltzed its way into three cities started in Senglea (Isla), then to the towns and villages such as Birkirkara, Rabat, Kirkop, Qrendi, Qormi, Siggiewi, Zebbug, Zurrieq. By April, it reached Lija, Tarxien, Luqa, Gharghur, Naxxar and Mqabba and in May it appeared in Gudija, Zejtun and Mosta.
Mdina, Safi and Gozo remained a plague free zone.
The Order of St. John.
There were a lot of disagreements if it was the plague, or maybe another disease. So, some measures were ineffective. The Order of St. John appointed themselves Plague Commissioners. Several public officials were also responsible for dealing with the outbreak and carried orders given to them by the Knights. All cases were transferred to the Lazzaretto at Manuel island. Most of these poor health officials stationed there were infected and also died.
Harsh punishments were given for people caught not reporting the cases to authorities, and three men were hanged as an example. During the epidemic, items were stolen from houses of the victims, those caught were also hanged as an exemplary effect.
Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner and his committee met and concluded they had to increase the measures. Suspected cases were put to isolation. Residents around Valletta were the most infected. Barbers were not allowed to cut the hair of the infected, neither to their relatives. Later the disease spread to the countryside and that’s when the entire island was declared infected and international quarantine measures were taken.
The good doctor Giuseppe De Cosso insisted it was not the plague but some other pickling disease. Many people went on with their lives, which is believed to have resulted the high death rate. Luckily other various physicians from Europe agreed that it was indeed the plague and the good doctor Cosso had some explaining to do, and it was too late. People were forbidden to go to church, hotels, or anywhere outdoors. Barricades and the isolation hospitals were enlarged.
Doctors came from Naples and Marseille, and the Grand Master went to visit the urban infected villages himself and offered support to the ones in need. Mdina had been closed off, but Gozo was discouraged in closing off because the plague never reached there.
When it all ended
By 14th June there were enough medical supplies on the island and the restrictions on the areas of Valletta were lifted 2 days later. The plague lasted till August. In September the end of the epidemic was celebrated by clearing the barricades, guns were fired and bells started to ring.
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