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Four Years Report

William Milligan

Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 - 1847), Saturday 5 September 1835, page 559.

National Library of Australia:
http://nla. gov. au/nla. news-articled0763


(Extracted from the Proceedings of the Medical and Physical Society, in the Calcutta Courier, of the 14th May)

“Four years' reports on the climate and diseases of the new colony of Western Australia, more especially of the Swan River district, by W. Milligan, Esq., M. D., Assistant Surgeon in His Majesty’s 63rd Regiment.

“The new colony of Western Australia, according to Mr. Milligan, is situated on the Western coast of New Holland, and extends from Cape Londonderry in latitude 13° 44' South, to West Cape Horne, in latitude 33 8' and from longitude 112 52’ to 129 from the meridian of Greenwich. The Swan River district, the one first settled, and still the most important, is situated between latitude 32 and 33, the entire area being about 50 miles long, by 30 in breadth. The country is generally of the open forest description, the surface undulating, and covered with a great profusion of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Three Rivers intersect this valley, the Swan, the Canning, and the Murray. They are subject to the influence of the tides, abound with fish, and, though generally shallow, are subject to occasional inundations, which leave extensive alluvial deposits. The Swan River is navigable for boats of four or five tons as high up as Perth, which is about 12 miles from [Fremantle]. Fresh water lagoons are numerous; there are also others containing salt water. The water of the wells, though at first indifferent, from not having been procured from a sufficient depth, is excellent, it sparkles in the glass, cooks food, and washes linen well and speedily, and may be drank freely without relaxing the stomach. The strongest winds are from the North-west and South-west. The North wind is the hottest, and is very sultry during summer, destroying vegetation if long continued During the summer there is a regular land and sea breeze, the former prevailing in the morning from the East, and the latter setting in about noon from the South-west. The mornings and the evenings are pleasant, and the flights cool, The sky iB clear, and of a beautiful azure, without cloud or rain, moderate dews descend at night. As the autumn approaches the weather becomes the less serene. The sky is occasionally overcast with thunder storms, which prove acceptable however, ‘ and beneficial, mitigating the excessive heat, anil rendering the fields fit for the labors of the hus--bandpian. In winter the winds are occasionally boisterous, endangering the shipping if exposed $ it rains for the most part for two or three days together, and then clears up for a somewhat longer period. In the wet weather, fogs are not uncommon in the mornings and evenings in the low grounds, or along the banks of the rivers. Hail of a large size occasionally falls; snow is unknown, and ice is but rarely to be met with. Fires are not unwholesome in the mornings and evenings ; but on the whole are to be looked on more as a luxury than a necessary. Such is the nature of the climate and localty in which Sir James Stirling proceeded in June, 1829, accompanied by a detachment of His Majesty’s 63rd Regt., to establish a new colony. Settlers commenced to arrive, and poured in rapidly, till the end of 1830, at which time the population amounted to two thousand. The vessels which brought them out, resembled in some measure Noahs ark, being crowded to excess with animals, birds, and plants, as well as men, women, and children, with provisions and household goods. If we can fancy the population of one of the parishes in England, mixed with a sprinkling of half-pay officers, some gentlemen from the East and West Indies, and a few Cocknies, put down on the shores of a wilderness, we shall have some idea of the founders of this interesting colony. Their first object on landing was to get under shelter. Their domiciles were of course at first of a wretched description. Some had single tents, others huts of green wood pervious to every shower, while many others had no other covering night or day than the wide canopy of heaven. Afterwards, when the settlers got on their own grants of land, their houses improved, by successive gradations, from the wooden house they had imported or made in the colony, to that of a wattle and dab [sic], and finally to the more durable structure of brick or stone. As might be expected, losses from the straying of cattle in the bush, and disagreeable adventures from the travellers losing their way, were far from uncommon. Accidents from the explosion of gunpowder, and from the use of fire-arms by persons unaccustomed to handle them were likewise far from unfrequent; in no instance, however, did any Tetanic affection follow. Notwithstanding these little mishaps, matters continued to go on pleasantly enough till the beginning of the winter of 1830, when the supplies brought from England, consisting principally of salt meat, biscuit and rum, began to fail, the harvest was indifferent, and, to crown their misfortunes, after heavy rain, the rivers rose from fifteen to twenty feet above their usual level, and all who had commenced buildings on the lower grounds were obliged to desert them. From these various causes much personal fatigue and exposure were encountered, the hopes of the settlers damped, and their energies depressed ; scurvy, fever, and dysentry, consequently showed themselves. These diseases were principally confined to the lower orders; among the higher classes, who were better provided with the necessaries and comforts of life, and who were more temperate in their habits, there was little sickness and less mortality. With successive seasons, the harvest became more bountiful, the flocks more numerous, and scurvy has disappeared in consequence. The fevers have likewise come less prevalent as the country has been more widely cleared and better drained. The Endemic diseases of the country appear to be principally inflammatory affections of the mucous membranes, Ophthalmia, Dysentry, and Catarrh. Rheumatism is occasionally met with, in damp weather, in autumn and winter, of rather an obstinate description, and also a low fever, the Gastro-Enterite. Mr. Milligan's observations on these diseases have principally reference to the locality of Perth, the capital of the colony. The town is situated on the banks of the Swan River, on a gentle elevation, thirty feet above the level of the river, and about forty above that of the sea. It is bounded to the South by the Swan, which is here of a mile broad, to the North by a string of the fresh water lagoons, which run up to the mountains, to the East by an extensive plain terminated by the Darling range, and to the West by Mount Eliza, which, running North and South, affords considerable protection from the gales coming in that direction. The Swan and the Canning unite immediately below the town, in a large estuary, called Melville Water, which still farther reduces the temperoture of the sea breeze in its progress inland. The soil is light and sandy, with the exception of the banks of the river, which are alluvial. The substratum is sand stone. Having premised this much, I proceed to extract a few notes on the several diseases above specified. The Ophthalmia appears to be a subacute species of the purulent, and is, in Mr. Milligan's opinion, peculiar to the country. It made its first appearance about the middle of March, and soon became epidemic, very few escaping an attack of it: in May it reached its acme, then began to decline, and disappeared in the beginning of June. Some itching was felt on its approach, the eyelids became sticky and adhesive, and fuller than natural. In 24 or 36 hours, a viscid mucous discharge took place, the vessels of the conjunctiva became distended with red blood, and this state was often accompanied by redness round the eye internally ; when the purulent discharge was considerable, the swelling of the eyelids often prevented the patient from opening them for several days; exposure to light caused pain, but when the light was excluded pain was seldom much complained of. In a few cases the sensation of sand being in the eye was felt, and was attended by a greatly increased secretion of tears. These symptoms generally subsided in 4, 6, or 9 days under the use of purgatives, diaphoretics, lead and zinc lotions, occasionally the unguentum calaminare was used to prevent gluing of the eyelids, and in more obstinate cases the ungt. nitrat. argenti. Bleeding was rarely necessary; but was had recourse to where there was much fever or pain. Blisters were applied to the nape with advantage. Before the appearance of the disease the heat was high, 120 in the sun at noon, and 90 in the shade; there was no rain, the light dazzling, and probably particles of sand floating in the air; all cases under Mr. Milligan's care terminated favorably; but some less skilful or active practitioners were not so fortunate.

“Cases of dysentry appear to occur throughout the year, but it prevailed most in April 1830. This it will be recollected was not long subsequent to the first establishment of the colony. The disease appears to have been of a mild nature. The symptoms were frequent, scanty dejections of mucus and blood, accompanied by tormina and tenesmus. The pulse was not often much excited, nor the temperature of the body increased. The tongue was white and furred, there was no thirst, and the appetite but little impaired. It terminated favorably in a few days, in every instance but one, who was in a hopeless state, passing involuntary stools when admitted. The disease was induced generally by sudden changes of temperature deranging the balance of the circulation. The objects in attempting the cure were to correct this, to restore the suppressed secretions, and to remove congestion or inflammation. To fulfil these indications bleeding, the warm bath, aperients, diaphoretics, calomel and opium, were had recourse to with advantage It was necessary to be careful of the lancet, as many of the patients were tainted with scurvy, leeches were the safest remedy— mercury, for the same reason, could only be used with great care.

Scurvy first manifested itself in June, 1830. It was characterised by a bloated sallow complexion, sponginess of the gums and palate, sometimes giving rise to hoemorrhages; from these parts great debility, hard tumors on the thighs and calves of the legs, contraction of the knee joints, petechio, vibices, and ulcers : pulse frequent and weak, skin cool, respiration anxious, tongue white, appetite good, bowels constipated. The mind clear and full of hope to the last. Many cases admitted into Hospital in the last stage, with large fangous excrescences spouting from the gums and roof of the mouth, contracted joints, diarrhoe, dropsical effusions, and extreme exhaustion. The laboring classes, as subject to the greatest privations, were of course the greatest sufferers. The disease appeared to increase as the wet weather set in. The remedies employed were lime juice, fresh animal and vegetable loud, diy air, ventilation anti cleanliness, wine and quinine. When any determination to a particular organ manifested itself, suitable remedies were had recourse to. Of sixty three cases treated, fifty-seven recovered, and six died.

"In the beginning of May, as the winter commenced, a few causes [cases?] of continued fever appeared. It was in general characterised by great debility, by a pale, shrunk and dejected countenance, feeble and unequal pulse, general excitement, and great nervous irritability, the surface was cold and pale, as if the blood had retir'd to the internal and vital organs, a low stupor or delirium appeared early, and continued during the progress of the disease. Such cases as put on these appearances soonest, were the most dangerous. Some cases were attended with more free vascular action, the heart and arteries beatiug more stronger thau usual, the heat of the surface increased, the face flushed and accompanied with the headache and giddiness. The nervous excitement was less, there was no delirium; the patient was troubled with restlessness, anxiety, and oppression. In a few cases, near low and marshy grounds, the fever assumed this remittant form; in no case, however, has intermittent fever been met with in the colony. The remote causes of the disease appear to have been cold, damp, fatigue, exposure to the weather, indifferent food, the depressing passions, intemperance, and such causes as are generally supposed to give rise to fever in Europe; perhaps infection, as some vessels appear to have arrived on which Thypus [typhus?] prevailed during the voyage. The proximate cause Mr. M illigan is inclined to attribute to Gastro-Enteritic Inflammation. The treatment adopted in the early stages of the disease was the Artiphlogistic, with tonics and stimulants in the more advanced.

"Rheumatism is occasionally met with during winter and autumn. It appears to be a good deal of a Sub-acute or Chronic form, and is marked by pains in some set of muscles, increased on motion, sometimes in the head, the nape, shoulders, arms, chest, loins, and so forth. It is generally accompanied by headache, loss of appetite, thirst, white tongue. The vascular action was seldom much disturbed, and increased heat seldom met with. Metastasis to the heart was net uncommon. Mr. Milligan is inclined to attribute the disease in some measure to derangement of the Chyopoietic organs. The remedies employed were bleeding, general and local, aperients, diaphoretics, warm bath, narcotics, calomel and opium, colchicums blisters, issues, moxa, acupuncturation, and finally tonics; such as quinine and arsenic.

A mild form of cholera showed itself in the month of October, 1832. The fluid ejected by vomiting, and the dejections were bilious, cramps of the extremities attended in some cases; but the disease bore no resemblance in severity to Indian Cholera, and readily subsided under the use the calomel and opium, and mild aperients—weakly persons suffered most.

“About the middle of October, 1833, Hooping-cough first appeared in the colony. It was imported with a detachment of H. M.’s 21st Regt, which arrived on the 18th of September from Van Diemen’s Land. The disease does not appear to have been marked by any peculiarity, with the exception of the following, which deserves to be recorded: a short time previous to the commencement of the disease, the patient was often attacked with a visecular eruption on the head, face, chest, abdomen, or extremities, bearing all the characters of varicella. In some instances, in which eruption did not appear, small boils came out as the cough declined.

“Notwithstanding every exertion,vaccination had not been introduced during Mr. Milligan's residence in the colony.

“Gonnorrhoea was met with for the first time in the beginning of 1833, and is supposed to have been introduced from Van Diemen's Land.

"No case of Measles, Small Pox, Scarlatina, or Syphilis, had been met with, and to no Diathesis did the climate appear hostile; but to the Rheumatic.

"It agrees with the European constitution, and every description of live stock, and vegetable production, though collected from different climates, finds there a congenial locality. The annual mean temperature is 60 to 64. A great advantage which Swan River possesses to the Indian Invalid, is its proximity, the voyage from Madras having several times been performed in 25 or 30 days ; it is said to [be] shorter by one-half than either to Sydney or Van Diemen's Land. The society is good and respectable. The best period for leaving India is February, as the intensity of the summer heat in both countries is thus avoided

"Among much other valuable information in Mr. Milligan’s elaborate paper, of which I bent unable to avail myself, is an interesting account of the Aborigines of the country.”

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