Such an atmosphere, with its multiple sources of unreliable information, stoked by fear and hatred, bred rumours of the wildest and most arcane variety. Plague was part of a sinister evangelical plot, some claimed, evidence of a government bent on ‘destroying caste and religious observances, with the ultimate design of forcing Christianity on the natives of India’. Others pointed to ‘proof’ that the government was in the process of poisoning the people: according to one newspaper report, ‘six bags of snakes and other worms have been ground [up] and dissolved in the water-pipe at Cawnpore to bring on plague among consumers’. Inside the scrubbed-white wards of plague hospitals all manner of horrors were said to be perpetrated: workers at the Arthur Road Hospital were quoted in one article as believing there to have been ‘something diabolical’ about a hospital ‘which claimed so many victims’: patients, it was said, were bled to death through the soles of their feet. There were even rumours that under every hospital bed was an ‘oil mill’ to grind the patient into ointment for use on Europeans: the plague inspection sheds at railway stations housed, by logical and paranoid extension, ‘big machines’ for compressing this valuable medicinal ooze from the bodies of innocent Indians.
The Plague Race - Edward Marriott