Cholera sailor’s former home, Swansea

Link to Welsh translationLink to French translationCholera sailor’s former home, 66 Wind Street, Swansea

A sailor who lived in this building, now home to The Perch tapas restaurant and bar, was duped in 1893 into ferrying Arab pilgrims across the sea. A cholera outbreak killed him and hundreds of others. For other information on this building’s history, see the Footnotes.

The steamship Etna was mostly crewed by Swansea sailors, who thought their task was to fetch goods from North Africa. Two days after leaving Swansea, they learned that their freighter would be carrying human cargoes.

Despite the heat and lack of sanitation, the first two pilgrim voyages passed without mishap. Another 1,700 Arabs boarded in Jeddah and cholera soon broke out, killing the second engineer and a fireman. A survivor estimated that 200 Arabs died on the five-day voyage, which would have taken half that time with a healthy crew.

The disinfected ship returned to Jeddah for more pilgrims. Cholera returned, and this time William Caldwell, of 66 Wind Street, was among the victims. He was a 33-year-old fireman (his job was to maintain the ship’s boiler fire).

Despite having a depleted crew, the ship later took on 1,500 more pilgrims, destined for Beirut. Bodies could not be dumped overboard as the “death ship” passed along the Suez Canal. Instead the rotting bodies were hung over the ship’s sides from ropes, until the ship ran out of rope. The ship was barred from many ports. After a quarantine period it eventually took a load of iron ore to Stockton-on-Tees, arriving five months after the ship had left Swansea. Eight of the crew had died.

Postcode: SA1 1EQ     View Location Map

Website of The Perch, Swansea

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Footnotes
: More about the building

In 1854, the shop at 66 Wind Street was occupied by chemist and druggist Charles T Wilson.

By the early 1890s, it had become a take-away food outlet. In 1891, Swansea’s Medical Officer of Health visited the premises after complaints about the “business of frying fish”. Proprietor John Morgan was ordered to use the “best practical means for abating such nuisance, or preventing or counteracting the effluvia arising therefrom”.

In the same year, a Morriston labourer called David Jones was convicted of stealing a cooked leg of pork from the shop’s counter. He had requested fried fish but Mrs Morgan refused to serve him because he was drunk. He ran off with the pork but was apprehended that evening, with the pork under his coat, by a policeman at Landore. Jones had the choice of paying a 40-shilling fine or serving a month in prison.