Doctors and Diagnosis

Different Vaccination Rates

In the Daily British Colonist editor Amor De Cosmos noted that, "nearly everybody goes in for vaccination nowadays, and it is safe to say that at least one half of the resident Victorians have had the cuticle of their left arm slightly abraded and vaccine matter insinuated."7 It is clear that the white members of the community were availing themselves of the vaccine or inoculation. However, considering the numbers of white people that were being vaccinated and Reverend Garrett’s assertion that there was not enough vaccine to go around8 it is unlikely that Helmcken was vaccinating the Natives; inoculation seems more probable. Also, Helmcken noted that he vaccinated the Songhees people "arm-to-arm."9 Arm-to-arm refers to the method of inoculation used in the 1862 epidemic. It could be possible that everyone was inoculated or that what small amount of vaccination the doctors had was saved for white people. There is no definitive answer at this time, because the surviving records are so sketchy and the confusion between the terms vaccination and inoculation.

It also appears that the Native population was not always willing to let Helmcken and his colleagues perform their medical procedure on them. The Daily Press reported on March 27th, that:

Yesterday afternoon, all the principle Indians of the various tribes now living here, were summoned to the Police office to have a "wawa" with His Excellency with regard to the small-pox. The result of the talk was that the Indians agreed to be vaccinated, thinking it was better to suffer a little pain than a great deal of agony. This morning, accordingly, about 30 Indians, amongst whom were King Freezy [link to image RBCM 6198], his queen and the young princess, and all the Indian doctors, were brought to Dr. Helmcken’s office and there underwent the ceremony of being vaccinated for the small pox. It was pretty hard at first to convince them of the benefits arising from this very simple operation, but after a while they were made to believe that the threatened sickness, the small pox was far worse than their enemy, the measles.

On March 28th the Daily British Colonist reported on the same incident: "By order of the Government, some thirty Indians were vaccinated on Wednesday by Dr. Helmcken." Whether they were forced or talked into being vaccinated or inoculated, it is clear that the Native people were reluctant patients. In the words of Garrett, "They refused with very few exceptions to be vaccinated."10 Why would the people refuse vaccination? Perhaps it was that they had more trust in their own medicine, perhaps they distrusted the white people--after all they are the ones who brought the disease. However, there was a report that one of the chiefs was selling scabs for inoculation and expected to do well by it.11 This indicates that many of the Native people were open to the idea of inoculation and even attempted to do it themselves. It could be that after people saw the effects of the disease, they became more open to the idea.

In addition, the medical community was reluctant to treat Native people. Garrett, who set up a smallpox hospital in the Native encampment to care for the sick and dying, noted that, "neither doctors nor nurses were willing to take the risk involved in caring for Indians with small pox."12 People were sometimes sent for burial before they were even dead. Thomas Crosby remembered:

In many cases the grave-diggers found poor creatures almost but not altogether dead; they knew they would be fit for burial soon, and did not care to spend time waiting for the last gasp. It is said they were taking one poor fellow off to the grave, but he objected on the very proper ground that he was not dead yet. He was told to shut up, as he was dead, but too delirious to comprehend the fact. So they carefully placed him under the sod to await the resurrection morn.13

In any case, it is clear that Native sufferers of smallpox did not get the medical attention they needed. Were they hapless victims of fate or victims intentional malice? 14

Doctors and Diagnosis