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A Sea of Sorrows

A Sea of Sorrows
The Typhus Epidemic Diary of Johanna Leary

By Norah McClintock

ISBN: 978-1-4431-0710-5 Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4431-1973-3 Ebook
176 pages | Ages 9-12 | 5 ¼" x 7 5/8"

In the midst of the Irish famine, Johanna flees one disaster — only to land in another.

After a massive potato famine strikes Ireland, thirteen-year-old Johanna Leary flees to Canada with her family.

But typhus and other illnesses plague the "coffin ships," so named for the staggering number of immigrants who died enroute. One by one Johanna loses the members of her family — first her baby brother on the journey over, then her mother in the Grosse Isle fever sheds where sick passengers are quarantined when they reach the port of Québec, and her father soon after. Johanna has only her brother Michael left when she sets foot on Canadian soil.

When her brother is mistakenly told that she too has died, he sets off to find their uncle "somewhere in Canada," leaving Johanna to face a new life in a strange land... totally alone.

A Sea of Sorrows captures a dreadful time in history for those desperate, impoverished Irish families who hoped to make Canada their home. Johanna's incredible journey of survival is told with insight and sensitivity by master storyteller Norah McClintock.

Read an excerpt

From Johanna's diary:

August 12, 1847

Today I went to the emigrant sheds and worked side by side with the sisters. We did our best to give water and broth, when we had it, to the patients who are able to take them and, when we could, to move some of the worst-off patients onto clean bedding. But it was like trying to build a very long wall one small pebble at a time. I heard one gentleman tell another that there are more than fifteen hundred men, women and children in the sheds, and that some twenty or more die every day and must be disposed of. The same gentleman said that he will be glad when the new sheds are completed at Windmill Point and the sick are moved there, so that the plague which is carrying off so many of the city’s “valuable citizens” may be checked and public confidence restored.

I did not understand what he meant by that, so I asked one of the sisters. She did not know either, but a doctor who overheard my question said that because of the sickness, business and travel about the city have suffered, and the city’s merchants, save the coffin makers, are complaining that something must be done or the city will be ruined. The doctor spoke with a tone of disdain. He added that there are some people in the city who would like to ship all the Irish back to their landlords and would do it in a trice if there were a way that would not cost them anything.

From Dear Canada: A Sea of Sorrows. Text copyright © 2012 by Norah McClintock. All rights reserved.