Thursday, 9 January 2014

A Life Cut Short - Frederick O'Toole

Frederick George O'Toole was born in a small house in Cumberland Street, The Rocks, on 13 May, 1865, the fifth child to Laurence and Ann O'Toole. Mrs Strange was the midwife in attendance. Frederick was named for Anne's older brother, Frederick Allen Leonard, and her father, George Valentine Leonard. Frederick, Anne's brother, had died in 1858, leaving a wife and three children.

Some time between little Frederick's birth and May 1867, the O'Tooles had moved to 54 Chippen Street, Redfern. It was on the corner of Chippen and Cleveland Streets (there is a Dog Day Care and Paint Centre there now, in a modern building).

On 22 April, 1867, Frederick became ill with measles. There was an epidemic raging at the time. The Sydney Morning Herald would regularly print mortality rates in the paper, and they make for sombre reading. Infant mortality was high, and in 1867 it was higher still as children succumbed to the measles. As the SMH stated in The Quarter's Births and Deaths in Sydney on page 4 of the 21 May edition “the death-rate [was] above average. The mortality of the city was higher this summer than in any of the previous ten summers indeed than in any quarter, whether summer, winter, autumn, or spring, during the ten years”1. Sydney itself was the worst, which would have encompassed The Rocks, with Redfern and Botany coming in second. Balmain was one of the best suburbs, with only one death from measles in the entire quarter. Each day, from March to May notices appeared about the deaths of children, from measles, from bronchitis following measles, from exhaustion following measles, of dysentery following measles, from diphtheria following measles. Measles was a killer. When Frederick became ill it must have been frightening for the family. I don't know if the other children contracted measles.

Surprisingly, there was a measles vaccine at the time, but it was expensive. The SMH, the Empire and other papers urged the government to make inocculation compulsory and readily available, but nothing was done.

There were community doctors, paid for by the people of an area, but the visits by such doctors were infrequent and were sometimes blamed for the deaths of patients. But if you don't have much money, a visit once every few days seems better than no visit at all. There was a doctor attended Frederick, Dr. Bell, but it is difficult to tell if he was a community doctor.

Frederick's death certificate tells the rest of the story.

Death Certificate of Frederick George O'Toole, 4 May 1867

Frederick became one of the statistics for Redfern, dying just days short of his second birthday.

With vaccinations we have become complacent about such childhood illnesses. We don't view them as life-threatening or even really harmful. But we don't have to look back very far to see the devestation wrought. We are very fortunate with our government-supplied inocculations. I'm sure my great great grandparents would have jumped at the chance to protect their children had it been available and affordable. Those who these days oppose vaccination need to take a quick look at history to see what are the real consequences for non-vaccination.

1 "The Quarter's Births and Deaths in Sydney," The Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales), 21 May 1867, p. 4, col. 4; digital images, Trove ( : accessed 1 Nov 2012)

No comments:

Post a Comment