Dartford Hospital Histories

Food For The Ships

Should the ships be supplied locally or centrally? By 1901, at the beginning of the last major smallpox outbreak, there were anomalies arising, no doubt from the problems with central supply. For instance, fish came direct from Grimsby, well wrapped in ice, whereas in 1899 it had come from G Vinten, High Street, Dartford, as also did ice, used therapeutically. Milk, often bad in hot weather, came from Brockley, SE London, but meat and vegetables from Dartford (supplied by the inappropriately named D Bacon). It was the deliverymen of the meat vendor, Reubens of Dartford, who put the cat among the pigeons, or rather let the smallpox out of the isolation bag.

They, with the help of the Long Reach gate porter, broke the rules disastrously, being allowed to take their delivery carts up to the pier head on their verbal assurance that they had been vaccinated. They had of course only been vaccinated in infancy, so had no immunity left.

Thus, when delivery man Graham developed smallpox two to three weeks later, starting an outbreak in Eirth, Dr Ricketts had to accept that he had been infected in the hospital compound. After this, photographs of delivery men who had been vaccinated and allowed access were held at the gate lodge for the porters to use for identification purposes.

The transgression of the rules cost the gate porter his job and Reuben Message his contract. All was not lost to London traders for D Bacon continued to supply potatoes and a year later Message provided ice, to the tune of £67, admittedly small fry compared with a 1902 quarterly account of over £1000 to a London meat firm. The fruits of the smallpox epidemic were sweet for some, and Message must have rued the day that his men crossed the hospital threshold.

Meat was required for beef tea, the main nutritional support for patients, and Dr Ricketts was very particular about its preparation. In 1894 he wrote “according to the dietary scale in force at the hospital till recently soup was allowed for sick patients and beef tea was not specified. A short time back I directed that beef tea prepared according to the recognised formula, should be substituted in the dietary scale for soup, and I pointed out that lean meat should be used instead of shin beef”.

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