Thursday, 1 July 2010

Monument to members of the Hong Kong Police Force who died of Cholera in 1883

August is the hottest month in Hong Kong with temperatures rising to 35°C. In the 21st. century the majority of homes and offices have air-conditioning making the climate bearable. In the 1880s this was not the case and families had to cope, not only with the heat, but also with the constant fear of cholera, typhoid and even plague.

Frederick COOKSON had arrived in Hong Kong in 1881. He was a native of Taporley, Cheshire and had been born c. 1854. He found the Hong Kong climate difficult and never enjoyed good health. Frederick was a Police Constable attached to No. 4 Station which was situated near the Naval Yard on the outskirts of town. The station was in a dreadful condition and had been condemned so he and his family lived nearby in a private house.

As the summer of 1883 progressed Frederick developed chronic diarrhoea and by 9th. August his wife was also suffering. The couple were taken to the Civil Hospital and were diagnosed with choleraic collapse. Cholera is highly infectious and the medical superintendant thought it advisable to seek advice from the Deputy Inspector of Hospitals. The newspapers reported that “Dr. Gordon does not consider the cases to be true cases of cholera of the epidemic and infectious form”. Elizabeth COOKSON did not last the day and died a few hours after admittance. Her three children were being looked after by a neighbour whilst Frederick remained in hospital.

George DURRANT was a friend of the COOKSONs and a fellow Police Officer. he had helped them whilst they were unwell but the day after they were admitted to hospital George came down with the same symptoms. He too was admitted to the Civil Hospital where it was decided that both Frederick and George should be isolated. They were put under the charge of the doctor from the quarantine station on Stonecutters Island and George died after only a few hours. The authorities were by this time getting very worried in case they were in the midst of a full scale cholera outbreak so instead of having George’s body buried in the Colonial Cemetery it was towed out to sea by a steam launch and sunk in deep water, five miles away. George was a native of Old Weston in Huntingdon and was 32 years of age.

Meanwhile, Frederick appeared to be rallying - but then he was hit by a relapse and died on 11th. August. Two other patients in the Civil Hospital, originally thought to be suffering from cholera, recovered and were discharged. The infection did not spread. Unfortunately the Cookson’s youngest child – nine month old Elizabeth – died on 13th. August “of some infantile malady”. The surviving Cookson orphans were left in the hands of the Government.

The records show that baby Elizabeth was buried in a different section of the cemetery to that where her parents lay. However, nearly a century later all three graves were amongst those 2,285 graves without headstones that were to be exhumed to make way for the approach road to the new Aberdeen Tunnel. It is fortuante that the Hong Kong Police had the foresight to erect a monument to the Cookson family and to George Durrant – for without this all trace of them would probably have vanished forever.