Quarantine in Quebec

Most of the information in this post was found when I visited Ireland to do research on the Jackson family. It comes from visits to the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin, the Lifford Courthouse and Donegal archives in Lifford, County Donegal and a quick visit to the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone.

ArtTower / Pixabay

My great great grandmother Rebecca Jackson was sentenced to seven years transportation on 1 January 1847 at the petty sessions court at Lifford in County Donegal. She was sentenced with three other members of her family: her father William, her younger brother William and Jane Steele (not known yet how she is related). But you ask how is this related to the title of my post?

Anne Jackson, yet another member of the family but still not proven how related, was also a member of the Jackson gang who had been stealing for many years in the Carrigans area of  County Donegal. But on 1 January 1847, she turned on the gang and dobbed them in to the authorities.

Three cases were reported on that day:

  1. Anne Jackson of Garsney??? and John Craig of Corneamble  a(gainst) William Jackson the Elder and Jane Steel both of Garsney
  2. Anne Jackson of Garsney and Anthony Gallagher of Ruskey? a(gainst) William Jackson the Elder, William Jackson the Younger, Rebecca Jackson, Jane Steele and Mary Jane Gallagher
  3. Anne Jackson, Caldwell Motherwell of Monglass, sub constable James Love?, Nelly Jackson of St Johnston and Joseph Wray of Curry free? County Derry a(gainst) William Jackson the Elder, William Jackson the Younger, Rebecca Jackson, Jane Steele and Mary Jane Gallagher

Remember this is the time of the potato famine in Ireland, so was William and his family stealing just so they could eat and survive? What would happen to the rest of the family once they were convicted and sent to prison or transported to Van Diemens Land?

Anne Jackson very quickly found out that the remaining members of the Jackson family could turn against her. The following information found in the Donegal Outrage Papers at the National Archives of Ireland.

By May 1847,  Mr McClintock and John Ferguson (from the Newtown Cunningham Petty Sessions) had sent a letter to the Under Secretary at Dublin Castle applying on her behalf for a passage for Anne and her two children to one of the colonies at Government expense. The reason for this request was she had been threatened with personal injury from other family members still in the county. Anne was a pauper, unprotected and had two children aged 10 and 6 to look after.

A month later, a reply came from the the Government Emigration Office in Londonderry.

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 22 Instance respecting the providing passage for Ann Jackson and her two children and to arrange for 5 pound to be paid her on arrival at the port of Quebec. Have received from H McMahon Esq fifteen pounds for the purpose of providing such passage and remitting the five pounds – I shall provide the passage and remit the pounds to the Emigration gent at Quebec.

distelAPPArath / Pixabay

Quarantine station on Grosse Ile, Quebec, Canada

By 4 May, Dr Douglas and his staff were ready for the ships arriving from Ireland. There was one steward, one orderly and one nurse as well as the doctor. They had 50 iron beds and lots of straw, ready to hold 200 cases for quarantine. The rest of the island was very marshy so not really suitable for extra tents to be erected to expand the quarantine station.

But by December 1847, Dr Douglas reports the following statistics:

  • inspected 442 vessels – mid May to mid December equals 7 months, therefore roughly 63 vessels per month or 2 vessels per day
  • 8691 emigrants taken into the hospital, sheds and tents with typhus and or dysentery
  • 95 smallpox cases and 25 other diseases
  • 3238 dead: 1361 men, 969 women and 908 children

To read more about the conditions of ships and emigrants, check out this information from Padraic O’Laighin. More reading about the coffin ships and journey to Canada is found here.

In my research, I found a list of passengers booking for the ship Superior (570 tons Captain Mason) for Quebec 5th-16th July 1847. On board was Ann Jackson, Carrigans, Co. Donegal and children Mary Jane 13 years and Robert 9. Had Ann misreported the ages of her children as 10 and 6 in order to get more sympathy from Mr McClintock? Or is this not my Ann?

Looking at immigrants with surname of Jackson at Grosse Ile Quarantine Station 1832 – 1937, there is mention of chattels belonging to Ann Jackson, a deceased person. Her name is also included on the station memorial. There is no mention though of Mary Jane or Robert on these records. Did the children survive the journey and then adopted once they landed in Canada? I have not researched further on these two but do have some DNA matches on mum’s side in Canada whose trees go back to a Jackson surname.

As part of the UTAS diploma of family history, I wrote a couple of stories relating to Anne – one about Garshooey townland (is this the Garnsey mentioned in the cases above) and a fictional piece about Anne’s last day on Grosse Ile.

Readers: How are you coping with lockdown, quarantine or isolation during this time of Covid?

Story 7 – So far from home

Many people wanted to know more about Ann Jackson. So while I was in Ireland, I tried to find proof if she was my great great great grandmother (mother of Rebecca). Unfortunately I still don’t have proof, but for my major assignment in Writing my Family History, I used information I had gathered from various repositories and books. Hope you like the story even though it is still very factual.


“Excuse me, can I have some water please, a drop will do? Just to wet my lips.”

As I lie on the wooden boards that have been set upon the ground as hospital beds, I look at the other people nearby, moving around and moaning. Has it only been a week since our ship Superior arrived in the river near this quarantine station? We had to wait in line with about 15 other Irish ships, for doctors to come aboard and check passengers for signs of contagious diseases.

Eighteen Irishmen, women and children had died while on our  51 day voyage from Londonderry. Not that it was a rough voyage. Many of us were thin and starving before boarding the ship. This was due to potato blight and our English landlords selling all the corn and other vegetables we had grown. There was nothing left for us, the tenant farmers, to eat. We had to provide our own supplies for part of the voyage but we had so little. Food and water supplied by the captain didn’t last long. Some passengers ate too much too quickly. Very soon the hold where we all slept held a foul smelling stench.

The ship wasn’t large enough for all of us to live comfortably. Diseases were passed between the steerage passengers as we were sharing bunks with three other adults. Many of my fellow passengers ended up with dysentery. My children and I slept in our clothes even though they were wet and smelly from fluids dripping down from bunks above us. We tried to keep warm by huddling together on the same bunk.

“Thank you. Can you check this man lying next to me? He hasn’t moved over the last few hours.”

I am worried what might happen to my children, Mary Ann and Robert, once I am dead. I hear the doctors talking about typhus and the thousands of Irish immigrants who have died from it this year on Grosse Ile.

Luckily my children kept going up on deck in the fresh air so they haven’t been afflicted. Until the doctor checked me out, I thought I was also well. But when I mentioned I had a headache and often felt cold, he decided to send me to the hospital area on the island. Because the children had shared my bunk, but weren’t showing signs of contagion, they were sent to the emigrant shed instead. Maybe they will survive but I worry what will happen to them in this new land without a mother to guide them.

Since getting off the ship, I noticed I have a rash over my body and it is feeling itchy. Listening to the doctors, I know this means I have, at most, a couple of weeks to live as the rash will keep spreading, then I will go into a delirium, maybe a coma and die.

Two men have just taken away the man who was lying next to me. I think he succumbed to the typhus during the night. His body had been thrashing around and he had been talking about ridiculous things. I have seen the same two men digging huge trenches about 200 yards away from where I am lying. Every couple of hours I see them putting bodies into the trench. That will be me soon.

“Is there any gruel or bread that I could have, please?”

Perhaps we would have been better off if we stayed in Ireland.  But ever since the patriarch of the family William senior and his daughter, Rebecca, and son William junior had been sentenced to transportation, I have been harassed and threatened.  The remainder of the Jackson families in my townland didn’t think it was right that I had reported William and his gang to the constable but I hadn’t been punished. You see, I had also been part of the group stealing from houses around Carrigans in Donegal.

Since the trial, I have been terrified for both myself and my children. After begging the magistrate, Mr McClintock to do something, he wrote a letter to someone in Dublin asking if we could be sent to one of the colonies at Government expense. We were told we could go to Quebec and there would be five pounds for us to use when we got there. Just to ask the Emigration Agent. I thought we would be able to start a new, safe life here but …

“Nurse, nurse. Can you find my children Mary Ann and Robert? I need to hug them once more before I depart this earth.”

Have I done the right thing in bringing Mary Ann and Robert to this new country so far from their homeland in Ireland? What will be their future? Have they been infected like me or will they end up in an orphanage? Maybe they will find a nice family who will look after them, feed them well and allow them to develop into a strong woman and man within this colony. Perhaps they will find their way back to Mother Ireland and visit the haunts of their childhood around Carrigans.

I need to sleep. I’ll just close my eyes for a while till the children come.

“Bob, Jim, can you please move this body to the grave area?”



Irish Genealogy Toolkit, Coffin Ships, http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/coffin-ships.html

National Archives of Ireland, Donegal Outrage Papers 1847, relating to Ann Jackson, digital copies held by author http://suewyatt.edublogs.org/2015/05/30/donegal-outrage-papers/

O Laighin, Padraic, The Irish in Canada: The Untold Story, excerpt online http://gail25.tripod.com/grosse.htm


Just thought I would mention I received 80/100 for this assignment. Feedback included great research showed throughout the narrative, emotion and tragedy of the piece shine through. Improvements could be integrate sources more smoothly eg 18 Irishmen etc and some dialogue is outside the narrator’s voice.

Overall I am very pleased with this piece of work as I know I am not a very good narrative writer, more a factual researcher.