August 16 - Dr. Charles Keane lay on his death bed in his rented rooms in Ennis, county Clare. With him were his young wife Sarah, and various family and friends including his younger sister Charlotte. It is thanks to Charlotte recording the events surrounding his death in her journal that we have this record.
Charles Robert Keane was the eldest son of Robert Keane of Beechpark, county Clare. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin before graduating with his medical degree from University of Edinburgh in August 1831. Back in Ireland he commenced practice in Limerick at the Nunnery Hospital.
The cholera epidemic of 1832 had spread across Europe over the preceding couple of years, with the first cases recorded in Ireland in March. Charlotte records the first case in Ennis on the 8th June, when she writes of driving in to Ennis that day and being turned back. She reports seeing the Miltown road full of cars laden with luggage - all fleeing the cholera.
On the 10 June, the Board of Health sent a delegation to Dublin requesting doctors to come and assist in Ennis. Charles Keane met up with the delegation when they stopped in Limerick to change coaches. He caught the return coach to Ennis to investigate the situation in his home town first hand. On his arrival he went directly to the fever hospital where he found 6 dead bodies and no physician to care for the living and dying. Newspaper reports of the day state that the local physicians refused to attend the hospital, so Dr Charles Keane took charge himself.
For the next 2 months, Charles spent every night at the hospital tending to the sick and dying, returning to his rooms to snatch a few hours sleep each morning. On the 10 July he visited his family at Beechpark. Charlotte writes when he said good bye, little did they know it would be the last words he would speak in the family home.
On Sunday 12 August Charlotte went in to Ennis to attend church, after which she called to see Charles and Sarah. She had received a message saying Charles was ill. The following day, word came that Charles was very much better. Plans were commenced to arrange a break at Miltown to allow Charles to rest and recover. However this was not to be - on the 15th her brother Giles came and told Charlotte that Charles had taken a relapse that afternoon and was now very ill. Charlotte went to him at once and finding him very unwell, stayed all night. Her graphic description of that night is harrowing, it being obvious to all that he was dying. She writes of his unquenchable thirst, severe stomach cramps, and the cold beads of perspiration which she constantly wiped from his brow.
Charles was visited throughout the night by a steady stream of family and friends, some staying for a while, others too upset at the sight of him to remain. Charles took great comfort from the presence of the minister Mr. Young, as he made his peace with the world and prepared to meet his Maker. He dictated messages to Charlotte to pass on. He even shared a last pinch of snuff with his brother-in-law Tom Pilkington.
The long night finally came to an end, and with the dawn light streaming through the window came the sound of Irish keening for a man in the house directly opposite. Throughout the morning, Charles lapsed into unconsciousness and by midday there was a large crowd gathered in the street outside, as the townspeople learned that their popular young doctor was dying. Shortly before 2 pm, Charles roused briefly, then breathed his last and passed away.
Cholera continued its devastation in Ennis over the next few weeks, but by mid-October the worst had passed and the fever hospital closed. Across Ireland, it is estimated that 50,000 people died during this epidemic.