Report of Rev T.E. Ash

Buenos Aires 1871

Thomas Edward Ash was born at Old Swinford, Worcestershire, baptised 17th October 1839. He was the son of John Hatton Ash, a wine merchant, and his wife Mary. Thomas was educated at Shrewsbury School between 1855 and 1859. He was admitted as a pensioner at St John`s College, Cambridge on 8th October 1859 and was awarded his BA in 1863. He was ordained as Deacon on 1st May 1863 by the Bishop of Chester in his Cathedral and ordained as priest on 22 May 1864 by the Bishop of Lichfield in his Cathedral. He was Curate of St Michael`s, Liverpool from 1868 to 1872, and of St Andrew`s, Hoxton from 1873 to 1874. He does not appear on the clergy list after 1876. It is not known why he was in Buenos Aires during the epidemic. He married, in June 1871, Margaret Dawson Jeffrey of Buenos Aires.

Addressed by permission to H. C. MacDonnell, H.B.M. Chargé d'Affaires in the Argentine Republic

Buenos Ayres
25th May 1871

SIR-

On the 11th March an approximation to the state of the City of Buenos Aires having forced itself upon the minds of the citizens, your worst fears were realised. Under the circumstances the English, Irish, and Scotch Chaplains received a letter from the British Legation, signed by you, stating that you would render assistance to the widows and orphans of those of your countrymen who might fall victims to the fever, and also that you would assist in any way that seemed open to you.

It is my pleasing duty now to thank you for having acted up to the spirit of your letter, for your personal favours and advice, for funds received, and, above all, for securing the services of Dr. C. B. Greenfield. On the 14th March you published in the Standard a notice from the Legation officially announcing your charitable intentions.

"The Committee of the British Hospital being prohibited by the Municipality from receiving yellow fever patients within the buildings, it has been resolved that all cases connected with the British community will be cared for, as far as possible, in their own residences, on application being made to the following gentlemen: Rev. Mr. Smith, Scotch Church; Rev. Mr. Ash, English Church; Rev. Mr. Lett, do.; or to Dr. Conyngham, British Hospital, or at his residence, 35 Calle Reconquista."

The wisdom of this mode of procedure may be questioned, but not the intention.

A well-written article, entitled "The Harvest of Death", appeared in the Standard on the 21st March, and has, no doubt, proved a successful advocate with many, here and at home, for its well-expressed views. The defence is easy. In the first place, no fever hospitals were allowed by the Government, a lazaretto having been erected to meet the wants of the people. In the second place, the present building could accommodate only a small percentage of the fever patients, whilst the debt that would have been incurred might have proved most serious to even the existence of the institution. In the third place, the wants of the community were supplied by the following means: on the 19th March Messrs. H. A. Green and A. M. Bell, British Hospital Committee, received collections from the public to the amount of $32,750 m/c, and a further sum of $19,000 was afterwards sent to Messrs. F. Getting and F. W. Moore. These donations were placed in the hands of the Revs. T. E. Ash, J. Smith, and F. N. Lett to defray the expenses connected with their now missionary character and habits- to relieve all the English-speaking poor, without regard to creed or nationality.

At this time it was necessary to confer with the Rev. J. B. Leahy, Irish pastor, as to whether he would participate in these funds. After due consideration he thought it better to extend a list already before the public, called "The Irish Fever Relief Fund". His call was immediately and liberally responded to, $30,000 being the amount subscribed up to the present.

These funds having been raised, the Irish clergymen, with Rev. J. B. Leahy at their head, together with their devoted band of Sisters of Mercy, threw themselves into the work; and, notwithstanding the overwhelming distress around them, they often found time to visit and relieve others than Irish sufferers.

The Scotch Chaplain, with his accustomed energy and tact, was fully equal to the emergency. The English clergymen secured the services of W. Smith, a man of long experience as hospital nurse, and fourteen other nurses of more or less ability, all of whom, with one exception, gave general satisfaction, both to their patients and medical attendants. I have seen their testimonials, and hold full reports of their cases.

Out of a congregation of 450, the Rev. J. Smith lost 54 by yellow fever. The Irish death roll numbered 56. The deaths among the English amount to 120, making a total of 230, the names of whom have been ascertained.

During this time the number of persons relieved at the English church was 1250, the number of applications being 2550, and the greatest number on a single day being 93.

The amount spent by the English Chaplains up to date is $81,506; by the Scotch Chaplain, $30,270; and by the Irish, $30,000. The number of widows and orphans in need is about 15 and 14 English, 4 and 19 Irish, 10 and 24 Scotch - total, 29 widows and 57 orphans.

Great distress has been experienced by many who, as a rule, live up to their monthly receipts. This class has been assisted as far as the means at disposal permitted. Of applicants of the labouring class, three out of five were of the class who never have certain means of livelihood.

The Southern Railway has lost 26 of its employees, the Northern 20, and the Boca 8. Great credit is due to the managers of these lines under the circumstances, especially when we consider the great increase of traffic.

The Standard did but echo public opinion when it published its eloquent issue of the 30th April. Nor did it state anything very far removed from the truth of the case, as can be testified by all those whose opinion is of any value. I am sure that the editors of the native papers, kind, generous, and withal jealous of their own honour, will view the question in some such light, especially when they reflect that it is not a matter of a few thousand deaths more or less which will deter any from these shores, but merely the fact that the yellow fever has appeared in the River Plate in a virulent form, and that until such measures shall have been taken to secure this city from future ravages of that dire visitant, those of weak nerves and constitutions will seek a home on more congenial shores.

Great credit is due to the Municipal authorities for having been able to produce such suggestive lists of deaths from yellow fever as were supplied to the daily papers, and also to the editors of them for ascertaining during the plague the names and ages of so many of our dead.

On the 12th of March the fever broke out in the wards of the British Hospital, and scarcely any house in the south end of the city was free from the disease. The city was plunged into mourning. On Sunday, 18th, before 7 o' clock A.M. eight deaths occurred among the English, and five more before 3 P.M. This was almost the worst time with our community. I supped that night with the late S. F. Lafone, Esq., who, not an alarmist, and one fully acquainted with the customs of the country, expressed his surprise at the low returns of 13,400, published by the Spanish papers. Yet those returns are, as a rule, higher than those supplied by the Municipality.

The sickness, even now, was so severe that the Rev. F. N. Lett made 203 visits in twenty-four hours, whilst all the nurses were engaged day and night. On the 26th Dr. Parez was buried, on a day that witnessed not less than 400 funerals. After this the visitors to the cemetery reported the coffins as too many to count. On 3rd April the plague began, and during the next nine days 3985 died, according to the return, out of a population of about 70,000. At this time it was very difficult to obtain doctors and nurses, whilst the last rites of religion were in many instances unavoidably left unperformed. Ninety-four English-speaking persons died between the 4th and 19th. On the 11th the Board of Health desired all who were able, to leave the city, 500 deaths having occurred on that day.

On the 1st May there were less than 200 deaths, and on the 2nd less than 150. From this day we may date the decided decline of the epidemic. The population began to return to the city in considerable numbers. Fears were freely expressed that too precipitate a return would occasion a fresh outburst of the pestilence; these anticipations, however, were not realised.

On the 19th the Comision Popular, having fulfilled its noble and heroic task of charity, resigned its well-administered authority into the hands of the public, for whom it had worked so well, having disbursed $3,629,354 in the relief of the sick and suffering.

The origin and accelerating causes of the plague have been so often and satisfactorily explained by the Standard and other papers, that nothing more need be advanced; indeed it will be found a difficult task to throw more light on the subject than that which has already been produced by the press. It will be a bold spirit, indeed, that pretends to an accurate table of deaths resulting from yellow fever in the city of Buenos Aires during the months of January, February, March, April, and May 1871. Yet perhaps I may be permitted to offer you the following figures as being the lowest I can conscientiously state, viz.-

Interred in South Cemetery to 14th April, 15,700, Chacarita to 25th May, 4,000. Total 19,700

To this total must be added the lists from the camp and suburban villages. I feel sure, therefore, that I shall not be conspicuous for either credulity or rashness when I give a total of 23,000 as not being above, perhaps below, the late loss of life from the fever.

The list of poor patients attended by Dr. Greenfield on behalf of the British Legation between 24th March and 15th May was 102, of which 80 were cured and 22 died. Considering the relative ages of the population, the greatest mortality has been amongst those who had passed the prime of life. This mortality has been greatest amongst the males, especially between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty-nine. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that I can only ascertain the names of 221 of our deceased countrymen. I have yet to draw your attention to 86 widows and orphans.

In noticing the treatment received at the hands of various officials I cannot speak too highly. At the cemeteries and the Lazaretto the utmost courtesy was always shown to those who had any business to transact. The management of the cemeteries was, under the circumstances, highly creditable to the administrators, Messrs. Munilla and Costa; whilst the speedy construction of the railroad to the Chacarita and the adaptability of that cemetery for the purpose proposed, together with the mode of transit, call for a meed of praise not often bestowed by an exacting public.

I must not omit to thank the Irish Hospital for the admission and care of some English females attacked by the fever. The sincere and constant gratitude of the British community has been justly earned by Drs. Alston, Ayer, Conyngham, Greenfield, Lausen, M`Donald, Nelson, and Newkirk.

The best thanks are due for their generous and self-denying efforts to F. Parish, Esq.; H.B.M. Consul; H. A. Green, Esq.; F. Getting, Esq.; F. W. Moore, Esq.; P. Hazon, Esq.; W. D. Junor, Esq., and Mr. J. Anderson, all of whom, from their position, were enabled to render timely aid to their suffering fellow-countrymen. Also to the Editors of the Standard for their indefatigable readiness to assist the British community during this time, as on all other occasions.

Hoping that life and health may long be granted you, I beg to subscribe myself, yours very sincerely.

T. E. Ash, B.A.,

St. John`s Coll. Cam.


Quoted in Records of the Scottish Settlers in the River Plate and their Churches, pp 359-364; James Dodd, Buenos Aires 1897.

Note: The $ sign denotes pesos, not dollars.


Both Dr Greenwood`s and Rev Ash`s reports were forwarded to the Foreign Office in London, along with a summary report by H.G. MacDonnell.
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