ADELAIDE: WEDNESDAY, JAN. 15, 1896.
THE HEAT WAVE.
The heat wave which prevailed during the second week in January, 1896, will not soon be forgotten in Australia. It seems to have passed across the land
from west to east, and to have gathered strength as it travelled. While in Ade- laide it had exhausted itself by Monday, or rather had induced a fall of rain which greatly moderated the temperature, the same day is described as having been in Sydney the worst time of all; in fact, it established a record in the way of oppressive weather. Monday's heat was characterized in our telegrams as being "terrific," and evidence of its baneful effects on the human system was supplied by numerous cases of sunstroke — results which pale by contrast the lurid hues of the picsure painted by our Farina correspondent to-day relative to the distressful con- ditions produced in the Far North by the intensity of the solar heat. In the Darling district and in the whole of the eastern interior the temperature has been un- precedentedly trying, the average shade register for the first fortnight of the year at Bourke being 109°, with a maxi- mum of 120°. At Broken Hill the glass went up to 112°, and during the whole of last week the weather was exceedingly oppressive. It should, however, be noted that, owing to the comparative dryness of the atmosphere, a shade tempera- ture of 112° is not more intolerable at Broken Hill than 105° would be at Sydney, where the steamy vapours rising from the harbour and drawn in from the neighbouring ocean hang around the city during the hot and sweltering calm of a tropical midday, and numb the ener- gies of the people like a mesmeric spell, The moist heat which characterizes the latter portion of the summer in Sydney is one of the main drawbacks to a resi- dence in that otherwise magnificently situated city. So humid is the atmo- sphere towards the close of summer there that the great majority of the people suffer more or less in health and in vigour from the weather, very many of the young men especially acquiring a pale and pasty complexion and showing signs of a languor against which it is vain to contend. In Adelaide the thermometer not infrequently registers a temperature of 105° in the shade, and yet the heat is not accompanied by so many casualties in proportion to the population as have been reported with the same degree of heat on the eastern coast of Australia. True sunstroke, however, is not so common as is sometimes supposed. It arises from a specific action of the rays of the sun upon the principal nerve-centres of the body, and the risks are greatest when much exertion is undertaken in the direct sunshine while the
person exposed is wearing unsuitable clothing. In large cities many deaths are ascribed to sunstroke which are really produced by excessive heat acting on an enfeebled heart, or on a moderately healthy physique placed under insanitary con- ditions. Sometimes the lives of old people threatened with syncope from heat might be saved if those attending on them would promptly apply cold water com- presses to the head and friction to the body. Among the great majority of city men the discomforts and dangers of ex- cessive temperature are simply the effect of wearing too tight clothing and breathing bad air. This was proved in a rather striking manner last June in India. At that time the heat and the mortality in Calcutta were almost unbearable. The temperature in offices even where there were special cooling appliances, rose to no less than 107°, while the death rate for the whole city was as high as 58 to the thousand. But in the country dis- tricts of Bengal, although the heat was also extreme, the death rate was only 25.8, which was rather less than the normal proportion for the month of June. Other cities besides Calcutta showed nearly double this percentage of mortality. This interesting contrast is instructive to those who live in cities liable to heat waves ; and, as Adelaide has been described — in a spirit of absurd exaggeration — as 'the hottest city Englishmen inhabit,' it will be well for our readers to notice the comment which was made by the British Medical Journal on the contrast alluded to : — ' The figures for the different death-rates for the month seem to show that in India it is not so much the heat which kills as heat engendering unhealthy conditions in cities, for which scientific sanitation is alone the remedy.' The heat wave of last summer in Lon- don was particularly trying to people prone to melancholia. During the spell of hot weather at the end of July the suicides averaged twenty per week, and it was stated that there was not a hospital in London which did not contain at least one inmate suffering from self- inflicted wounds. The temperature alone would not be likely to produce these evil results. An Australian boundary-rider, after being out for hours in the open air when the mercury indicated 110° or 115° in the shade, does not usually come to the conclusion that life is not worth living unless his liver be hopelessly demoralized. But the effects of heat plus bad air are extremely depressing to the spirits. Any one who knows how stuffy and close are the houses and many of the offices of London, even in the height of summer, will not wonder at the impurity of the blood and the resulting general lowness of spirits which increased the suicide rate so
sadly last July. The heat in South Aus- tralia, while not so depressing as that in many other places, is decidedly provo- cative of thirst ; and, in so far as this causes a liberal consumption of beer, it acts beneficially on the public revenue. It may, perhaps, be noticed from the figures relative to the beer tax which we publish this morning that the teetotal Treasurer seems in his capacity as public financier — not in that of Vice-President of the South Australian Alliance — to be experiencing undue elation of spirits when he imagines that the recent abnormal thirst of the ale-drinker is going to extend into the winter. The felicity of the hon. gentleman as national Treasurer is, however, doubt- less duly tempered by the depres- sion properly prompted by such a prospect in his breast as a temperance reformer. The feelings of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is a temperance advocate must, in very hot weather, afford a curious exemplification of the intimate blending of sorrow and joy in human affairs.