The Story of Dr. Grasett and the Typhus Epidemic

Dr. George Robert Grasett received the Army Surgeon’s regulation case that we have in the Museum’s collections from his father, Dr. Henry Grasett, British surgeon-in-chief during the War of 1812. G. R. Grasett was born in Portugal in 1811, and came to Canada with his father in 1814. He was apprenticed to his father in Québec City, and learned there how to be a surgeon before receiving his license to practice medicine in 1837. He practiced in Amherstburg, Upper Canada (Ontario) and was Assistant Surgeon in the Royal Essex Light Infantry during the Upper Canada Rebellion. He moved to Toronto around 1844, where his brother, the Reverend Henry James Grasett, lived.

It was in Toronto that Dr. Grasett would meet his untimely end in an act of sacrifice for his fellows. He quickly became known as a doctor with a passion for treating the working class, running the Toronto General Dispensary and serving at the House of Industry. In the summer of 1847, he took up the position of Medical Supervisor of Toronto’s Emigrant Hospital, where thousands of Irish migrants fleeing the Great Famine in Ireland were treated for typhus, or “ship fever.”

Toronto’s population at the time was only 20,000 people, but they received over 38,000 Irish migrants in 1847. Fever sheds were set up at the hospital with cheesecloth for walls to keep out insects, and Dr. Grasett worked there to relieve the suffering of those under his care. However, he fell ill with typhus within two weeks of working at the Emigrant Hospital, and passed away on July 16th, 1847, at the age of thirty-six. He was remembered as a compassionate, devoted doctor, and is commemorated today at Grasett Park in Toronto, which was built on the same spot where the fever sheds were, and is managed by the Canada Ireland Foundation.

Army Surgeon’s Regulation Case –
Museum of Health Care 1921.2.2
Cupping Set –
Museum of Health Care 1969.70.1 a-o

To learn more about these artifacts and more, visit our online collection catalogue by clicking the button below.

Shaelyn Ryan <br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)

Shaelyn Ryan is a recent graduate of Queen’s University, having completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 2021, and is returning to Queen’s in the fall to pursue a Master’s degree in History. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

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