Maheno native Louis Marcks volunteered for the war in South Africa from Wellington where he was working as a labourer. On his return from the war in the SS Britannic, he and 44 others were placed in quarantine on Soames Island. An investigation into conditions on board the ship found they were ideal ones for the spreading of disease.
THE BRITANNIC SCANDAL
Discussion in Parliament.
In the House yesterday Mr Monk gave notice to ask the Acting-Premier if he would represent to the authorities that grave reflections are being imputed to the Imperial Government because of the filthy and insanitary condition under which the troops in the Britannic have been returned to the colony.
Mr G. W. Russell gave notice to move that a joint committee of both Houses be set up to enquire as to the alleged overcrowding, faulty victualling, and sanitary arrangements on the Britannic.
Mr Monk also gave notice to ask the Government who was responsible for the filthy vermin-swarming condition of the bedding supplied to the troops on the Britannic. Sir Joseph Ward referred to the complaints that were being made in connection with the Britannic's voyage, and and reports on the subject from Colonel Davies and Surgeon-Major Pearless. Colonel Davies said that the total number of troops on board when the ship sailed from Durban was 1088, including 83 officers, of whom 68 Australians disembarked at Albany and Melbourne. There was not much sickness until they left Melbourne on the 27th July, when measles broke out. The sickness previously had been pneumonia and colds, which in his experience everyone who had lived in a dry climate like Africa got immediately they came down to damp latitudes. He personally inspected the hospital very frequently, and questioned patients as to their treatment, and on no occasion did he receive a complaint. The ship was full, but not over-crowded in any sense. She had a greater number of men on board when taking the Imperial soldiers round the colonies, and had them on board for about five months, and in much warmer climates. Being an old ship she was rather low from deck to deck, and men coming from life in tents felt the stuffy atmosphere at first, but after two or three days out from Durban they did not complain. He was satisfied that food was good and ample. He was supplied with the bill of fare for every day, and it was greatly in excess of the Admiralty transport scale. He was doubtful of the galley accommodation, but the captain of the ship said it was impossible to alter this, and he was sure very slight inconvenience was experienced from this cause. There were about six complaints in regard to the food, and at his request other food was immediately substituted by the ship's people, The meat was frozen, and was the same as that supplied to the officers. In addition to the usual officers of the day, he ordered Lieut-Colonel Chaytor, Captain Polson, and Major Haytor (officers commanding regiments and detachments on board), to detail their own captains and subalterns of the day, all these officers, together with a medical officer, the Quartermaster, and subsequently Veterinary-Captain Young, an expert on frozen meat, inspected every issue of food. The whole ship was inspected, and at each inspection he asked in every mess if the men had any complaints. There were very few indeed, and these were immediately dealt with. The discipline was excellent, and only on one occasion did he have to complain of it. Some of them complained of the fish, which was salt, and at his request tinned meat was supplied instead for the rest of the voyage. All the Eighth Contingent were fully paid up before arrival in Wellington, and railway and steamer passes were prepared on board so as to avoid delay on arrival. Surgeon-Major Peerless, reporting on the hospital and the sick men on board, said the hospital staff was thoroughly efficient and the men were well attended to. There were three medical officers in addition, to himself, four dispensers, hospital sergeant and three orderlies. There were 32 beds, and as soon as these became full ten more cots were provided in the adjoining troop deck. The accommodation in the hospital was ample till the day before they landed, when some of the men had to be placed in hammocks for one night. The food was good, and plenty of it, and he had no difficulty in obtaining anything extra. When the men disembarked the hospital authorities would only admit ten, so he picked out the worst cases and sent the rest to Somes' Island, attended by Dr Purdy. Every man had a glass of brandy before leaving. The average daily number in hospital until arriving at Melbourne was about 15. After that measles spread rapidly, and in two days every bed was full. The measles were contracted in South Africa. In conclusion, he was porfeclly satisfied with the way the whole staff worked for the good of the patients.
After reading these reports, Sir Joseph Ward went on to say that he had already cabled to the Imperial authorities, pointing out the propriety of seeing that greater consideration was shown to colonial troops in returning them to their homes, in other words, that the same consideration was extended to the men as had been shown them when they were despatched from the colony. He added that, in company with the Hon. Mr Hall-Jones, he had visited the Britannic on her arrival in Wellington harbour, and no complaints were made to them.
Mr Pirani asked that daily telegrams should be sent to relatives of sick troopers showing how they were progressing.
Sir Joseph Ward said that all along the Government had sent the fullest information to the relatives of men on the sick list, and would continue to do so. Any assistance the Government could give in this connection would be readily and cordially extended.
Mr Fisher said it was notorious that the Britannic was disgracefully crowded when she carried the Imperial Contingent, but the men, being Imperial troops, dared not make any complaint. He had been told by the men of things that had occurred on the Britannic that were not fit to be mentioned in decent society. Mr Witheford stated that the northern men had expressed great satisfaction at the treatment they had received from the New Zealand Government. The blame rested with the Imperial authorities.
Mr G. W. Russell thought the reports of the responsible officers showed there had been a certain amount of exaggeration, but they were not sufficient to completely allay the uneasy feeling that existed throughout the colony. It was necessary to institute an exhaustive enquiry. Mr Monk complained that although the men had returned dispirited by what they had endured on the Britannic's voyage they had not received a fitting welcome home. Mr Hornsby said the circumstance called for a strict and impartial enquiry. The people would not be satisfied with the officers' reports, which to his mind assumed too much the character of a huge white-washing brush. Mr Napier also agreed that the public would not be satisfied with these perfunctory reports. Mr Hutcheson said the conditions of things on the Britannic showed the usual tactics of "J, Bull, Esq" when he returned his empties. He pointed out that the Imperial Contingent suffered some personal discomforts on that vessel, as our own men, but not with the same disastrous effect on the health, as the Imperial men were trained to that sort of thing.
Mr G. J. Smith, in supporting the request for an inquiry, said that Colonel Davies and Surgeon-Major Fearless had done all they could to mitigate the discomforts of the men. Mr Meredith said nothing but a full and exhaustive enquiry would satisfy an indignant public. Hon. Hall-Jones romarked that it was incidental to the transport of large bodies of troops that these things occurred, and the grievances had been accentuated by the fact that the vessels which took the colonials to the Cape had three times more space at the disposal of the men than would have been the case had they been Imperial soldiers. He rather welcomed the inquiry, and he felt it would show there was not ground for the seriousness of the complaints that had been made by some hon. members. Mr R. McKenzie said he had not heard a single complaint from men he had spoken to. Surgeon-Major Peerless had told him that everything was as good as could be expected under the circumstances.
Messrs Collins, McNab and Budde also agreed that an enquiry was desirable to satisfy the general public. Most of the speakers in the discussion expressed the opinion that no blame whatever could be attached to the New Zealand Government in the matter, and that responsibility rested entirely with the Imperial authorities.
Sir Joseph Ward, in replying, expressed satisfaction that the New Zealand Government could not be blamed either directly or indirectly, but he recognised it was their duty to see that their men were treated properly. The Government were quite willing to have an enquiry held into the matter, and he considered it was the right thing to do, but it was only fair that some opportunity should be afforded the officers of the ship to have their statements placed on record before the vessel left the colony. He thought two members of the House should hold an inquiry, and suggested they should be Sir William Russell and Mr McNab. That arrangement would afford an investigation independent of the Defence Office.
Mr Pirani interjected that both these gentlemen were military men.
Sir Joseph Ward replied that that was in their favour. The Government would accept full responsibility for their selection, which he felt sure would meet with the approbation of the public. With regard to what Mr Monk had said, Sir Joseph Ward pointed out that it had been found impossible under the circumstances to give the Britannic's men a general public reception, but he and Mr Hall-Jones had extended to tbem as hearty a welcome as had been received by any of the other returning contingents. With reference to Colonel Davies, Sir Joseph Ward said he believed he had the confidence of the men he had brought back, and he deprecated any attempt to prejudice him or his officers before the inquiry was held. The officers' reports were ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed. -Manawatu Times, 6/8/1902.
BACK FROM THE FRONT.
ARRIVAL OF THE BRITANNIC
NUMEROUS CASES OF SICKNESS
The transport Britannic, from Durban via Melbourne, arrived in the stream at 8.35 on Friday morning, having on board most of the Eighth New Zealand Regiment and details from the Ninth and Tenth.
A launch containing Colonel Newall, Captains Lomax and Joyce, Dr Pollen (port. Health Officer) and Dr Valintine (of the Health Department) immediately went off to the vessel and the examination of the men commenced forthwith. There was a good deal of sickness on board, caused to a large extent by cold and the crowded state of the ship. Between forty and fifty men were in hospital under the care of Surgeon-Major Pearless and the medical officers, suffering from a variety of diseases. After consultation it was decided to send to the Wellington Hospital ten of the patients, who were chiefly convalescents from typhoid. The remainder, chiefly patients from pneumonia and measles, will be removed to-morrow to Somes Island where a hospital will be established. Dr Purdy has consented to look after the men, and four nurses will be sent over to the island. There were three deaths on the voyage, all resulting from pneumonia, Private Lawrence, of Christchurch, having died after the transport left Melbourne. The crowded state of the steamer rendered it a difficult matter to deal with the outbreak of sickness, as isolation of the patients was practically impossible.
It was not until well on in the afternoon that the work of inspecting the men was completed, and the vessel then weighed anchor and steamed up to the wharf, where an expectant crowd had been waiting for some hours. After one unsuccessful attempt, the vessel was securely berthed, and the scene on the wharf on the removal of the barriers was one of great turmoil. There was no restriction to the crowds that found their way to tho wharf, and the confusion was increased by the fact that, the gangway was not let down for some considerable time after the vessel was berthed. Meantime, baggage, rifles, trinkets, possibly even loot, contained in every description of bag, box, trunk, tin and strap, were bundled indiscrimately over the rail on to the wharf, the owners finding their way down afterwards by the friendly aid of a rope or steam pipe. About 350 men belonging to the South Island embarked immediately on the Mararoa, which left later in the evening for Lyttelton. The Britannic had on board, besides a crew of 158, 1017 officers and men. Following is a list of the officers:... -NZ Mail, 6/8/1902.
THE RETURNED TROOPERS.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD ON THE BRITANNIC.
A number of the troopers who returned by the Britannic called at the Herald Office Yesterday. They were very strong in condemnation of the accommodation and food on board of the Britannic. They said that the bread was fair, the meat was bad, the tea was bad, the coffee was bad. When complaints were made, no satisfaction was got. There was not sufficient room to swing the hammocks, and men had to lie on the floor below the hammocks, and on tables, or any corner they could get. They state also that food could always be bought from the cooks or stewards. This certanly should not have been the case, as this was giving these cooks an object in making the ordinary food uneatable. The officers had excellent quarters, and were well provided. To show this they handed us the breakfast menu card for the officers for July 29, as follows :- Fruit, Quaker oats, Yarmouth bloaters, codfish cakes, baked bass, sirloin steak, devilled sheep's kidney and bacon, split Cambridge sausage on toast, minced collops, broiled Cumberland ham, poached, fried, and boiled eggs, plain omelettes to order, Saratoga chips, Vienna and Graham rolls, scones, honey, marmalade, watercress. -NZ Herald, 7/8/1902.
The Returned Troopers.
THE ORIENT'S MEN TO REPORT THEMSELVES.
Per Press Association. Christchurch, August 10.— With regard to the Orient troopers the men in hospital with measels are doing well. Orders have been given for all men that returned by that boat to report to the Defence Department, so far only about 30 have come in, and these have been vaccinated by Dr. Symes, District Health Officer. A military hospital is to be established close to the infectious diseases hospital at Bottle Lake, and members of the Permanent Artillery will pitch 40 tents for that purpose tomorrow. The names of all returned men have been furnished to the police, and any who do not report will be arrested. Wellington, Angust 10.— The small pox patients are doing well, and no further outbreak has occurred. Two more of the Britannic's men, O'Neill and Mousted, died yesterday. Marcks is very bad, and Craig, Ryan, Fleetwood, and Brown are dangerously ill. Johnstone is improving, and the remainder are doing well. -Taranaki Herald, 11/8/1902.
The flags at Maheno were flying halfmast yesterday as a mark of respect to the memory of Trooper Louis Marcks of the Eighth Contingent, who died of pneumonia at the quarantine-station on Soames Island on Sunday last. It appears that he sickened two days before the Britannic got to Wellington, but as the illness was said to be measles, little uneasiness was felt by his parents who were daily expecting to see him come home. Of a quiet and retiring nature, Trooper Marcks was a universal favorite in the community and much sympathy is felt for his relatives in their sore affliction. -Oamaru Mail, 12/8/1902.
The body of Trooper Louis Marcks, of Maheno, is to be brought home for interment, and is expected to reach Maheno tomorrow, in time for the funeral to take place the same day. -Oamaru Mail, 13/8/1902.
There was a very large attendance at the unveiling yesterday, in Maheno Cemetery, of the monument raised by the residents of Maheno and Kakanui to the memory of the late Trooper Louis Marcks, who, it will be remembered, died in Wellington on his return from the front, after contracting the illness which carried him off on board the transport which was bringing him home. The circumstances of Trooper Marcks' death were the more sad because he survived the hardships and dangers of active service only to sacrifice his life on returning to the colony. The deceased soldier none the less died for his country, and it was most natural that his many friends should desire to perpetuate his memory and heroism by a special monument in their midst. The handsome memorial consists of a plain marble pillar on a bluestone base, and the inscription is: "Erected by residents of Maheno, in memory of Trooper Louis Marcks, 8th New Zealand Contingent, who died 10th August, 1902, aged 21 years. At Rest." The stone was from the yard of Mr J. Crombie, of Oamaru. The dedication ceremony in the cemetery was brief but most impressive, and was conducted by the Rev. H. J. Davis, of Hampden. The service commenced with the singing of the hymn "On the Resurrection Morn," after which Major Nichols briefly explained the purpose and history of the monument, and proceeded to unveil it, throwing aside the Union Jack with which it was honorably draped. Then followed the brief dedication service and the solemn function was at an end. The monument, however, will help, were such necessary, to keep the memory of Trooper Marcks green. The deceased was remarkably popular and was an estimable young man in every way. -Oamaru Mail, 5/1/1903.