One of the First People to Die of Diphtheria – Bella McFarlane

One of the First People to Die of Diphtheria – Bella McFarlane
Photo – Lost Ottawa

Isabella McFarlane
Merivale Pinecrest Public
Burial Place:
Carleton (incl. Ottawa), Ontario, Canada
James McFarlane Died,May,10,1850 Aged,46,y’rs. Isabella McFarlane Died,Oct.11,1865 Aged,20,y’rs. Jennie McFarlane Died.Oct.28,1936 Aged,94,Y’rs.

What was it like to die of Diphtheria in those days? One of every ten children infected died from this disease sometimes called “Boulogne sore throat”. Symptoms ranged from severe sore throat to suffocation due to a ‘false membrane’ covering the larynx. Until treatment became widely available in the 1920s, the public viewed this disease as a death sentence.

Diphtheria vaccination first appeared in the 1890s, but only became widely used in the 1920s. During this interval medical scientists labored to create a safe and effective vaccine. Antitoxin introduced in 1890 provided immunity for only two weeks. Six years later, the toxin-antitoxin mixture came into general use, providing life-long immunity. Doctors used horses to generate this antitoxin serum. Thirty years after diphtheria antitoxin first became available, Béla Schick introduced the Schick test, a cutaneous test showing if a person needed immunization. This allowed for the use of toxin-antitoxin to become widespread.

The toxin-antitoxin mixture, for all its promise, posed significant risks because it involved injecting live toxin. In 1924, Gaston Ramon developed the toxoid, a neutralized form of the toxin that would still impart permanent immunity. The toxoid-antitoxin mixtures eventually developed into the TDAP vaccine that is still in use today.

One way to help patients was removing pseudomembranes from throat by sucking through a tube or pipe. This procedure could lead to occupationally acquired infection, as seen in cases from the 1900th century presented here.

In 1860s, a child was brought to a local infirmary where Professor Syme had first performed tracheostomy. However, the ‘poisonous stuff had accumulated so much’, the child died. In 1890, it was discovered that serum made from the blood of immunized animals contained an “antitoxin” which, when injected, cured patients suffering from diphtheria.

Ottawa Daily Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
31 Jan 1863, Sat  •  Page 1
This advertisement ran every few days in the local papers-
Ottawa Daily Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
12 Oct 1866, Fri  •  Page 4  Hôpital de la Miséricorde ( check out those same sisters in the ad below)

Today, the building is abandoned by the living – but certainly not the dead! Considered a paranormal hotspot by ghost-hunting experts, there are many stories of disembodied children’s voices crying, sounds of clanging and abuse, not to mention the spirits of angry nuns and a fearful young mother. Click here

Related reading

What was Puking Fever? Child Bed Fever?

The Duff Dairy Diphtheria Scare

The Diphtheria Scare Fake News?

Diphtheria in Carleton Place

Life in The House of Industry

Dark Moments in Ottawa History- Porter Island

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

2 responses »

  1. inda:,
    NOT RE THIS POSTMy cousin ,Douglas Caldwell, is holding a family reunion in CP on October 30,2021. he has been trying unsuccessfuly to get in touch with you. via phone. He admires your writing. very much. He lived in CP in the 1940s and has fond memories . He is now a semi retired businessman living in Toronto and would like to get in touch with you as soon as he can. His email is:
    Phone 1-416 900-0384;or;1-416-904-4683
    Thanks for you consideration. Love your blog.
    Judith Salley


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