Monday, October 27, 2014

From Black Death to Ebola; from Ragusa to New York: Commerce, Civil Liberty and the return of the Trentina

"among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others for Venice, and to other Christian areas. When sailors reached these places they mixed with people there, it was if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly...We Genovese and Venetians bear responsibility for revealing the judgements of God."

Gabrille De"Mussi, A Genovese Lawyer writing in late 1348

In the same year, 1348, that De’Mussi wrote his commentary a Report of the Medical Faculty of Paris, commissioned by King Philip VI of France, examined the probable causation of the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Europe and came to a very different conclusion. The august members of the Faculty blamed the ‘Black Death’ on the celestial conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars that had occurred on the 20 march 1345!!! 

Venetian Plague-Doctor's mask with Jani Beg and the 
depiction of Mongol mangonels in action.

The real explanation for the lethal pandemic which ravaged Europe and decimated half the population of the Mediterranean basin (estimates of 75-200 million) of course was the presence of plague-carrying rats that had devastated the Mongol armies under Jani Beg, Khan of the Golden Horde, which had besieged the Genovese port of Caffa (Feodosia) in the Crimea in 1345. Jani Beg, in frustration at having to break off the siege, ordered the catapulting with mangonels of the rotting corpses of his dead soldiers into the city. Escaping Genovese ships, loaded with grain, people and rats brought the Yersinia pestis bacillus (Plague) first to Constantinople, then Sicily and then to all ports beyond from Mid-October 1347 – mid-March 1348, thereby rapidly accelerating the spread of the disease beyond the lands of the Golden Horde.

Dubrovnik (Ragusa) – Approaching from the South

Early Quarantine Stations for Republic of Ragusa 1377

In 1377 the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), a rich maritime state which depended almost entirely on the flow of commerce through its city, to try and prevent outbreaks of plague in the city, introduced as a public health initiative the Trentina Ordanance which mandated that all ships and their crew, goods and passengers from plaque infected areas must lay-up at the islands of Mrkan and Bobaro (off Cavtat) for thirty days. A similar facility for land-based arrivals existed outside the city walls and for these a period of forty days, the Quarantina was imposed. Ragusa established its first purpose-built quarantine facility or lazzaretto for maritime traffic on the island of Mljet in 1397 and this subsequently moved to a land-based facility on the Danče peninsula to the west of the city in 1430.

"Be it therefore determined that our Provveditori al Sal shall by the authority of this Council cause a hospital (locum) to be built on the Vigna Murata (Sant’Erasmo), as they see fit, and those who have left Nazareth (Lazzaretto Vecchio) after being cured must go to this hospital and remain there for forty days before they return to Venice."

Venetian Senate Decree 18 July 1468

Ragusa’s overlords since 1205, the Most Serene Republic of Venice (when the returning Venetian fleet of the IVth Crusade and the new Patriarch of Constantinople Tommaso Morosini took control) established its own quarantine facility on the small island of Santa Maria di Nazareth (renamed the Lazzaretto Vecchio) off the Lido with a Senate decree in 1423 and a further convalescent facility, the Lazzaretto Nuovo in 1468 on the island of Sant’Erasmo. The finance for the building of these came from the commercial Proviveditori al Sal (Salt Office) and were then subsequently overseen by the Health Office who could issue their own ordanances.

Venetian Quarantine and Isolation Facilities

In practice the lazzaretto vecchio was run as an isolation (from isola or island) unit, where infected people were brought, and people who had died from the plague both on and off the island were buried. An individual could only be transferred to the Lazzaretto nuovo, a true quarantine facility i.e. where non-infective or cured people were detained once his cure was confirmed. The management of plague outbreaks was aggressive and highly proscribed. A cure was determined if the individual had survived the disease and had had his buboes or abscesses lanced and healed. Once this was determined he would be transferred to the lazaretto nuovo but could take no goods with him, and had to spend fifteen days in the pra part of the facility, then fifteen days in the sanita part before being let go home where he had to spend another ten days in quarantine under a ban on outside movement. At the height of the plague outbreak in 1575 some 6000-8000 people languished and died in the lazzaretto vecchio.

Pieter Bruegel-the-Elder's depiction of the Black Death attendants 
and their modern Ebola equivalents. 
The white shrouds have not changed much!!!

The difference between quarantine as a preventative measure and isolation as a treatment measure continues to be blurred. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define isolation as “separating ill persons who have a communicable disease from those who are healthy” and quarantine as “separating and restricting the movement of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable disease to see if they become ill.”

On the 24th October 2014 the Governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew M. Cuomo and Chris Christie in response to the case of a medical doctor returning to the US with established Ebola infection, imposed a mandatory quarantine of 21 days on all medical workers returning from West Africa if they had had contact with Ebola patients. The first person detained under this edict, a nurse Kaci Hickox, who is asymptomatic and has tested negative for Ebola, has been detained in an unheated tent on the grounds of the University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.

This resurrected Ragusan Trentina edict of the two Governors has created an enormous ‘civil liberties’ outcry but does, because two States have made a conjoint decision, have a basis in Federal Law but only it appears if the US Secretary of the Treasury has given the go-ahead.

Article I, section 8 of the US Constitution (the so-called Commerce Clause) grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce” with foreign Nations, States and the Indian Nations. Using the remit of the Commerce Clause the US Congress passed its first federal quarantine law (to contain Yellow fever) in 1792. The law did not allow federal authorities to promulgate quarantine procedures of their own but allowed those authorities to assist State officials, upon request, in enforcing their own quarantine measures. The Act was repealed in 1799 to be replaced by slightly more robust measures and transferring authority for its implementation to the Secretary of the Treasury (Act Feb 25,1799, ch 12, 1 Stat 619).

A US Supreme Court judgement in 1886 ( 118 U.S. 455) in Morgan’s Steamship established that quarantine in the maritime context was to be subject to the federal Commerce Clause and in 1890 an Act to Perfect the Quarantine Service was passed which granted the Secretary of the Treasury power to develop regulations beyond just the maritime context. Further and further court decisions re-enforced the federalisation of quarantine and in 1921 New York State was the last state to transfer its quarantine facilities to federal control.

In a 1942 decision in Wickard v. Filburn (317 U.S. 111 [1942]) the US Supreme Court determined that any activity that would have an economic effect on inter-State commerce was subject to the Commerce Clause. Two years later the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) was passed invoking these powers. The segment of the Act devoted to civilian quarantine and isolation is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 264 (d) (1) and states:

Regulations prescribed under this section may provide for the apprehension and examination of any individual reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease in a qualifying stage and (a) to be moving or about to move from a State to another State; or (B) to be a probable source of infection to individuals who, while infected with such a disease in a qualifying stage, will be moving from a State to another State.

The PHSA thus legislated for the potential of any individual to disrupt directly or in a far more draconian fashion, vicariously inter-State commerce, by having quarantine regulations enforced. In most decisions since 1944 the US Supreme Court has been consistent in holding that the quarantine provisions in the PHSA as enabled by the Commerce Clause are constitutional but they do imply a volition or activity on the part of the individual that could disrupt that commerce.
The notion of activity, inactivity and compulsion as defined by the threat to inter-State commerce have yet to meet the challenge to constitutionality presented by a recent Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2011) which held that the Commerce Clause does not regulate for “inactivity”. According to the decision, and to use a rather broad example, Congress and by extension the Federal authorities under the Commerce Clause cannot legislate for ‘breathing’ but only for breathing in certain places.

New York and New Jersey States have decided to go their own way for now and not wait for a federal mandate. New Jersey has decided to allow quarantine at people’s homes for 21 days but this leaves Kaci Hickox, who lives in the State of Maine in limbo. Under Commerce Clause authority New Jersey has decided to quarantine her, as a non-resident and therefore a risk to interstate commerce, in a tent on a New Jersey medical facility. The mere fact that she might make the effort to go home means that her actions are no longer considered ‘inactive’. You can be sure that State lawyers are already preparing for a constitutional challenge with this authority in mind. Unlike Kaci Hickox, in 1664 the famous Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi was very impressed with the conditions and management of the quarantine facility he visited in Ragusa (Dubrovnik).

Piri Reis' Dubrovnik

From Ragusa, Venice and France in the 1370s, to New York and New Jersey in 2014, from Black Death to Ebola, the management of pandemics are certainly a public health issue and in our ever shrinking world requires a world-wide response which does not certainly include punishing volunteer medical and non-medical staff for responding to that need. The basis for the quarantine of the well, the legality or illegality of detention, is not a medical issue but a commercial one. Quarantine has always been driven by commercial concerns and used law as a tool to protect those concerns.

Now that the Trentina has been re-entrenched in New York and New Jersey 650 years after it was first introduced in Ragusa, and 220 years after the powers to institute quarantine began to be removed from State to Federal control, perhaps those States are now determined to re-establish some quarantine facility on an offshore island. To be renamed the lazzaretto cuomo-christie no doubt! Guantanamo Bay in Cuba would probably suffice as such a site, given that its current quarantined detainees under the War Against Terror powers of the Patriot Act, are already governed by the constitutional provisions of the Commerce Clause!!


The New York and New Jersey State threat to Federal control of quarantine provisions has forced the Obama administration and the CDC to issue guidelines and by extension regain that control. 

Kaci Hickox has gone home to Maine where she has also run into conflict with the Maine Governor's quarantine regulations. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that if she wishes to sue him for infringing her civil rights, she should "Get in line." 



Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Rihla (Journey 46): PARTRY HOUSE, CO. MAYO, IRELAND – The Lynches of Mayo and Mesopotamia

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about Partry House near Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, Ireland.

There were two brothers in the death-doomed bark;
And one escaped, the other’s life was reft;
And here the words of holy Scipture mark;
“One Shall be taken, and the other left!”
Dark and inscrutable are Wisdom’s laws!
But, Lynch you perished in a noble cause,
And your brother lives to carry through,
Bright deeds of glory denied to you

The Loss of the S.S. Tigris in Two Cantos
By Henry Richardson

The great rivers of the world in general have determined not just a geographical legacy for us but most importantly have enabled the ‘alluvial’ development of civilisation at a local, regional and global level. In particular the two Middle Eastern arteries of Mesopotamia, the mighty Euphrates and the Tigris, have been forefront in this regard. As conduits of migration and evolution they contributed first to Neolithic population expansion but then to the great Sumerian-Akkadian-Assyrian-Babylonian diffusion of the societal basis of communication and organisation. Equally, it must be said, the rivers have also been channels of human destruction and regression throughout history, flooding the lives of the riverbank dwellers upstream and downstream with misery and despair.

There is an ancient proverb from the Greek 5th Century BCE philosopher Heraclitus which states,

“Everything changes and nothing remains still and you cannot step twice in the same stream”.

In philosophical terms this is entirely true, once the moment is gone it is gone, but human history and particularly the history of inhumanity in the Euphrates and Tigris basin often retraces its banality and like a tidal watercourse ebbs and flows with the fortunes of its participants.  I think of the very recent expansion of ISIS (the Islamic Caliphate), and its deliberate evocation of terror to achieve its aims, from their base at the city of al-Raqqah on the north bank of the Euphrates, 160 km east of Aleppo. Hammurabi knew in 1760 BCE and ISIS know today: control the rivers and you control the destiny of Mesopotamia.

Once the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate under the enlightened ruler Harun al-Raschid (the Just), of the Thousand and One Nights fame and the House of Wisdom in Baghdad where much of Greek and Indian learning was preserved for posterity, al-Raqqah was brutally destroyed by the Mongols in 1265. From here ISIS (IC) have expanded their version of the truth firstly northwards and southwards along the Euphrates course but then moving eastwards, almost along the old canal routes linking the rivers, to join and follow the Tigris towards Mosul and Baghdad. The Assyrians, Persians, Romans and Mongols before them have followed the same riverbanks, with the same intent, ignoring the supposed life-sustaining waters and hopes flowing alongside.

On a brisk autumn day in October 2007 (see: I explored the site of the former capital of the Armenian Kingdom at Ani, located east of Kars on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Armenian Border. In my knapsack, as a guide to the site, was the account of a 19th Century traveller and scholar to Ani, Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch from Partry House, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, Ireland. He was the son and successor of Thomas Kerr Lynch, one of an extraordinary set of brothers from Partry whose endeavour in, and love of the potential of, the Middle East saw them establish first a trading company in Baghdad, and Basra and subsequently the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Co in Basra in 1861 to ply their trade from the Gulf to Baghdad and beyond. I was reminded of Henry H.B. Lynch’s achievements in a commercial setting when I in 2009 travelled the main road from Qum to Tehran in Iran, (see: a road that had been built by his family firm Lynch Brothers & Co. of Basra to link up with the earlier 270 mile road (The Bakhtiari road) that Henry F.B. Lynch had surveyed and built from Ahwaz to Isfahan in Iran across the Zagros mountains in 1888.

I resolved then to visit at some point Partry House, the home that had spawned such a family of empire builders.

The Lynches of Mayo

The Lynch or de Lench family, were of Welsh-Norman extraction who came first to Ireland c.1170, and established in Galway in 1274 when Thomas Lynch was appointed provost of the town. 

(Much work on the genealogy of Lynch family has been done by Paul McNulty and I would direct you if interested to his publications at

Thomas Lynch had two sons James and William. The progeny of the firstborn James gave rise to the senior line, the Crann Mór Lynchs of the family and William the junior line of the family that were to dominate Galway commerce for 400 years. I live on land in Barna outside Galway that was once owned by the O’Halloran clan and which passed into the hands of the Lynches of Barna when the aforementioned William married an O’Halloran.

Henry Lynch, a Catholic, of the Crann Mór line was created 1st Baronet in 1634 but not long after his successor Robuck, as a Catholic and supporter of the Royalist cause, was forced by the Cromwellian planters to evacuate his extensive lands at Corundulla Castle in 1654. In compensation, on restoration of the monarchy, the Lynches were given Crown land in Mayo – previously confiscated from the McEnvilly (Staunton) clan in 1542 – by Charles II in a letter patent of Aug 1667. This included a ruined castle (destroyed in 1585) of the last Abbé of Ballintubber Abbey at Cloonlagheen on the south- western shore of Carra lake near Partry in Co. Mayo. Work on the house, which was to be given to his mother, Robuck’s widow as a home, by Arthur Lynch began in 1667.

The Lynch-Blosse form of the name in the senior Lynch line began with the 6th Baronet Sir Robert Lynch who married Jane Elizabeth Barker, the grand-daughter and heiress of Tobias Blosse in 1749. Part of the condition of her inheritance was that the Blosse family name would be incorporated with that of her husband's in the senior line and thus the Lynch-Blosse name began. The family had become Protestant when the 5th Baronet Sir Henry married a Moore of Brize, Co. Mayo.

By way of explanation, so that the profusion (and confusion) of names will not grate, following on from Sir Robert Lynch-Blosse in 1749, as the family expanded the full hyphenated Lynch-Blosse name was only used by the family in direct line to the Baronetcy but confusingly some of the other families of the senior line would, like my guide to Ani, Henry F.B. Lynch, his uncle and first of the Mesopotamian branch Henry Blosse Lynch (1807-1873), and grandfather Major Henry Blosse Lynch of Partry (1778-1823) were given the Blosse appellation as a Christian name. The Lynches of Partry used Blosse Lynch (unhyphenated) occasionally as a formal surname but more usually Blosse as a Christian name whereas the Lynches of Athaville in Balla, Co. Mayo (the baronial Lynches) used Lynch-Blosse (hyphenated) as a surname. The 17th Baronet, Sir Richard Hely Lynch-Blosse is a medical practitioner in England.

The Lynches of Mesopotamia

In November 1807 Henry Blosse Lynch, one of eleven sons of Major Henry Blosse Lynch and Elizabeth Finnis (daughter of Robert Finnis and Elizabeth Quested), was born in Partry House. He joined the Indian navy in1923 and after an adventurous career in the Persian Gulf squadron was appointed, in light of his expertise in Persian and Arabic, in 1834 as second-in-command to Col F.R. Chesney’s expedition to transport overland the components of two steamships across northern Syria to meet the Euphrates, there to re-assemble the steamships (the SS Euphrates and Tigris) and to navigate the Euphrates as far as the Iranian Gulf thereby establishing a safe and effective land-river-sea route with India and the Far East for commerce.


On that expedition Henry lost his brother Robert Lynch and all hands on the SS Tigris to a sudden and violent tornado that ripped across the Euphrates on 21 May 1836. Chesney left Baghdad in 1837 but Henry remained on in the employment of the East India Company to survey the Tigris, which was going to be far more economical to navigate than the Euphrates. In 1839 the East India Company sent three further steamers, the SSs Nitoris, Nimrod and Assyria to be assembled in Basra out to Iraq to Henry’s command under another brother, Michael Lynch. Michael, unfortunately, was yet to be another of the Lynch family who lost his life to the Middle East dying in Armenia while surveying in 1840. Three of the East India ships were withdrawn in 1841 leaving the SS Nitoris under Henry’s command.  Henry however had recognised the great commercial potential of the Tigris and Karun rivers and encouraged his brothers Stephen Finnis Lynch and Thomas Kerr Lynch (both been given maternal surnames as Christian names in the Lynch fashion!) to come out to Iraq and there establish Stephen Lynch & Co. in Baghdad and Lynch Brothers & Co. in Basra as traders in commodities in 1841. Henry moved with his naval duties to India and retired to and died in Paris in 1873.

In 1858 Stephen Finnis Lynch founded the London and Baghdad Banking Association (voluntarily liquidated 18th September 1878) and used this banking leverage to obtain from the British Foreign Office the firman originally granted to Chesney by the Ottoman Porte for the sole right to navigate the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and to maintain two steamers on those rivers. He and his brother Thomas Kerr Lynch on foot of this exclusive right and the transferred steamer Nitoris then established the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company in 1861 to exploit the concession fully. They commissioned their own first steamer the City of London in 1862 and the Dijla in 1865. The Dijla sank on Sept 8th 1876 and was replaced by the powerful two-funnelled SS Blosse Lynch, 270 feet in length and 46 feet on the beam, in 1878.

Thomas Kerr Lynch (1818-1891) married a Harriet Sophia Taylor whose mother was Armenian. He is buried in Partry and was survived by his son Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch and a daughter.

Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (1862-1913) devoted much of his scholarly and political energies, despite becoming Chairman of the Lynch Brother companies in Iraq in 1896, to exploring and documenting with superb photography, and pleading the cause of the peoples and lands of pre-genocide Armenia in 1893 and 1898 and publishing this as Armenia: Travels and Studies in 1901. In 1888 he had surveyed and built the road from Ahwaz to Esfahan which is still sometimes called the Lynch Road. A life-long bachelor, he subsequently became an MP for Ripon in 1906 (losing the seat in 1910) and died in Calais in 1913 returning from Constantinople. He was a member of the Worshipful Company of Bowyers, a company for whom his cousin Thomas Quested Finnis became Lord Mayor of London in 1856.

Of the remaining Lynch sons of Partry, Frederick died aged 12; Dr George Quested Lynch (named for his maternal grandmother’s surname) died at 34 in 1848 of Typhus having returned home from the Middle East to help with the great Irish Famine relief effort; General Edward Patrick Lynch (1810-1884) served in his early years in Persia, Afghanistan and Aden. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant-general in 1878; Arthur Noel Lynch a Colonel in the Madras Army, Brownlow Lynch an Anglican church minister in Ballyhane, Mayo and John Finnis Lynch a Barrister, scholar and J.P.

Partry House

Partry House, in the townland of Cloonlagheen (little meadow on the lake), in the Parish of Ballyovey, in the Barony of Carra and county of Mayo, was built as a dower house first in 1667 on the site of Cloonlagheen Castle and subsequently extended is on a U-shaped plan with a pair of single-bay two-storey returns overlooking an inlet of Lough Carra. It was known as Cloonlagheen until 1820s and sold by the Lynch family (Henry Charles Blosse Lynch) in 1991 and interestingly, for some reason, and in almost a denial of the Blosse Lynch determination to record and describe everything they encoubtered in the 19th century, all of the estate records were destroyed by the Lynch family on the eve of that sale. 

 The Rath and Graveyard

The Obelisk

On the day of my unannounced and impulsive visit I was kindly allowed, following telephone contact between the caretaker of the house and the owner, to visit the family graveyard situated in an old ring-wooded ringed-fort or rath that lay at the end of a meadow some 500 yards from the house proper. Entering through a decaying wrought-iron gate you walk into a sunken depression that contains the simple head-stoned graves of many of the Lynches since 1823. At the eastern side there is an obelisk with dedications and descriptions of the Lynch sons' achievements in exploration, battle, and disease for Mayo and Mesopotamia. I found it an incredibly intimate and serene place where the noise of life is screened out by the ring of trees. And yet so incredibly poignant! 

Party House was re-sold in 1995 and the present owner has spent a great deal of money and effort and love into restoring the property. It is currently for sale again with 248 acres of prime land, a gate lodge and an island in Lough Mask.

Shutting the gate of the wrath cemetery and retracing my steps across the fields, past the overgrown enclosed walled-gardens and a slightly distressed greenhouse I was reminded of Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch's description of Ani in Eastern Turkey. 

He wrote,

“It seemed though the stream of life had wandered off into other channels, leaving behind this eloquent evidence of its former course.”