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‘Yellow Fever in Buenos Aires’ Oil on canvas Juan Manuel Blanes, 1871 RRa0314 / 525072i Wellcome Library
This dramatic scene depicts just one of the thou- sands of deaths caused by an outbreak of yellow fever in Buenos Aires during the first four months of 1871. The Lancet described the mortality figures – officially reported as 13 402 – as ‘sufficiently large to sate the most rapacious appetite for horrors’.
At the time, yellow fever was thought to be conta- gious, and the Buenos Aires epidemic was blamed on passengers arriving by sea. The Buenos Aires Standard pointed the finger at a ship captain who threw the dead bodies of 14 fever victims overboard. He also omitted to tell port officials that he had