The People of Gibraltar

1828 - Letitia Elizabeth Landon - Six Hundred Lives

Mr. Howe

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was a London born poet and novelist. As far as I know she never visited Gibraltar but her poem on the yellow fever epidemic ( see LINK ) - perhaps unique for the subject - must have been based on first hand evidence gleaned from friends. The poem appears in The Zenana and other minor poems of L.E.L which was published posthumously in 1839. She died in 1838, aged 36.

It is hard to tell which particular 'plague' she was writing about but the best bet is either 1828 in which over 1600 people lost their lives - or perhaps general view of every one of the many epidemics from 1804 to that date. 

Scene During the Plague at Gibraltar.

At first, I only buried one,
    And she was borne along
By kindred mourners to her grave,
    With sacred rite and song.
At first they sent for me to pray
    Beside the bed of death:
They blessed their household, and they breathed
    Prayer in their latest breath.
But then men died more rapidly -
    They had not time to pray;
And from the pillow love had smoothed
    Fear fled in haste away.
And then there came the fastened door -
    Then came the guarded street -
Friends in the distance watched for friends;
    Watched,- that they might not meet.
And Terror by the hearth stood cold,
    And rent all natural ties,
And men, upon the bed of death
    Met only stranger eyes:
The nurse - and guard, stern, harsh, and wan,
    Remained, unpitying, by;
They had known so much wretchedness,
    They did not fear to die.
Heavily rung the old church bells,
    But no one came to prayer:
The weeds were growing in the street,
    Silence and Fate were there.
O'er the first grave by which I stood,
    Tears fell, and flowers were thrown,
The last grave held six hundred lives,1 
    And there I stood alone.

1. A fact, mentioned ( to L.E.L ) by a clergyman, Mr. Howe, whose duty enforced residence during the ravages of the yellow fever.