The Scottish town that went into lockdown against disease 200 years ago

There were guards posted on the fringes of the town in a bid to stop people bringing in the disease and ships quarantined off the coast.

Dornoch Cathedral at sunset. The town went into lockdown in 1831-32 as cholera swept the nation.

Dornoch in Sutherland went into lockdown in 1831 and 1832 as Cholera swept in from India, through the Continent and into England and then Scotland.

In a mirror of events in 2020, punishments were handed out to those who failed to follow the rules brought in to stem the spread of the horrendous disease.

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“Dunghills and every other species of filth” were removed from the from the burgh with quicklime used to cleanse houses of infections.

Bedding and clothing of those killed by cholera were burnt and furniture removed from the homes of sufferers, with homes quarantined for 10 days, according to accounts.

At Dornoch, and in Sutherland generally, vagrants were seen as the greatest threat at the time of the epidemic.

Death had shown “the great danger which may be apprehended by the introduction of infection Into the County means of the numerous beggars and vagrants, the dregs (of) the south country population, who invest this part of the Country,” an 1831 report in the Inverness Courier said.

Calls were made for a guard to be establised at Meikle Ferry at Dornoch with others placed at Bonar, Portinleck, and Helmsdale “for the purpose preventing the entrance into the County of such characters,” the report added.

Anyone caught trying to enter the county would be taken before the nearest Magistrate and dealt with according to the law.

By 1832, Dornoch was living with the “fearful consequences” of the spread of the disease into the community with 16 vessels known to have travelled to hot spots now quarantined off the coast.

Green flags flew from some of their masts to indicate they may have sickness on board.

Amongst them was a vessel from Wick chartered to pick up a consignment of hemp from a Baltic port and bring it back to Dundee.

After almost reaching its destination, the captian turned back withut the cargo on hearing of the prevalene of the disease in the area.

In February 1832, a meeting was held of local landlords to discuss the response to the epidemic.

It followed reports of the death of a travelling ballad singer in Laggan, Badenoch the previous week.

Landowners distributed blankets, flanells and plaiding, and even money, in cases of extreme need, a report in the Inverness Courier said.

“A quantity of medicine is ordered to be in readiness, and it is in contemplation to build an hospital, to the north west of the town,” it added.

A small enclosure on a little hill close to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club was used as a burying ground for those thought to have cholera.

Only one stone remains, although it is not certain if the 44-year-old man marked by the grave actually carried the disease.

Some reports say the town escaped the horrors of the disease.