Jane Ferrier MacDonald was born on the 23rd January 1884 in North Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, the third child and second daughter for George Stewart MacDonald and Helen Marshall.
Named Jane Ferrier after her paternal grandmother, one can only presume that Jane’s first two years of life progressed as normal, that she learnt to crawl and then to walk, that she was learning to talk and communicate with her old brother and sister. How Jane’s second birthday was celebrated is unknown, but to a two year old, the arrival of a new baby sister on the day after your own birthday could have been something pretty special. For the next seven months, we can only assume that life in the family progressed as normal. A 6 year old girl, a 4 year old boy, a 2 year old girl, and a baby, together with their parents, would have made for a busy home.
On the 1st September 1886, the family would have gone to bed as usual, George & Helen perhaps a little concerned about Jane’s stiff neck, sore throat or runny nose, but probably thought it just a childhood cold. The next morning however, Jane would not have improved, and so a Doctor would have been called, and on attending to Jane, diagnosed the little girl with an illness that at that time, did not have a vaccine (1), and in America was fatal to about 20% those under the age of five (2) who contracted it.
Just what George & Helen would have known about the illness, and what the immediate thoughts were, can only be speculation, but they would likely have been aware that just a few years earlier, Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Alice, and grand-daughter Princess Marie had both contracted and died of Diphtheria. Princess Marie was aged just 4 years. This was clearly not an illness related to societal classes.
Just three days after becoming ill, and two days after seeing the Doctor, little Jane, aged 2 years 7 months and 12 days, succumbed to her illness and died. She was buried the same day at Bundaberg General Cemetery. Her two sisters, brother and parents survived this threat to the family, albeit understandably distressed by the loss of one so young.
Jane Ferrier MacDonald : 23 Jan 1884 – 4 Sept 1886
1. Australian Government Department of Health. (2013, October 22). Timeline of mass immunisation programs and initiatives. Retrieved from http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/past-immu-prog
2. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. (2014). Diphtheria – timelines – history of vaccines. Retrieved from http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/timelines/diphtheria