Quarantine the Second Phase 1856 to 1875

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A Planned Response – the Second Phase: 1856 to 1875

Our accommodations on the Sanitary Station, either for the purposes of ablutions, or for treating disease, or for providing for healthy immigrants, have been very meagre. There is a prospect that before 1859 they will be ample. During my experience of above three years on the Station, we have succeeded in every instance in stopping and extinguishing the disease for which each vessel has been detained. With the improvements at present in progress, I look forward with considerable confidence to the continued efficiency of the establishment.26

Thus wrote Dr J Reed, Surgeon Superintendent of the Sanitary Station in his report to Parliament dated 1 January 1858 which detailed ‘the principal circumstances connected with the working of the Sanitary Station during the year 1857’. This was possibly the most significant year in the history of the station as it marked the commencement of work on the first ‘permanent’ structures: the five two-storey stone hospital buildings.

The five hospital buildings were sited by Dr. Reed and Alfred Scurry, the afore-mentioned Clerk of Works; two were sited on the rise (Hospital Nos 1 and 2), initially for the use of the ill and convalescing emigrants, and three Hospitals were sited on the flat to provide accommodation for those detained as a precautionary measure. Albert Scurry subsequently prepared the plan for the hospital buildings which are dated November 1856.

Plans for One of First Five Hospitals 1856

Plans for One of First Five Hospitals 1856

In April 1857 Dr. McCrea, the Chief Medical Officer of the Colony approved Scurry’s plans and local contractor Robert White commenced construction. To facilitate the works, White was permitted to keep sixteen bullocks – to haul stone and other building materials – and five horses on the station for the duration of his contract. Permission was also granted to undertake lime burning for the building works and to this end, White was permitted to utilised dead wood found within the station grounds. A quarry was also established at the station to supply the stone. Welch has written that initially the buildings were not rendered, but deterioration of the sandstone within a few years necessitated the rendering of the exterior stonework.27

Concurrent with the construction of the hospitals was the erection of a three-roomed cookhouse – including accommodation – behind the two hospitals on the rise – and three two-roomed stone cottages for labourers more permanently employed on the station. In addition a four-roomed stone cottage for the storekeeper was constructed; it occupied the site of the present-day Administration building.28 Drawings for these structures were prepared by Alfred Scurry and are dated December 1856. A proper jetty was also constructed – initially it was determined that it would be useful if the contractor Robert White constructed a jetty which the Government could then take over, no public funds being available for the purpose at this time.29

White must have balked at this assumption, for in 1858 a contract was awarded to Mussen & Company for the sum of £958 to construct a timber jetty, 249 feet in length, to plans prepared by Alfred Scurry.30

Plans for Jetty 1858

Plans for Jetty 1858

An additional cookhouse was constructed in the late 1850s and placed behind Hospital No. 4.

Progress on the new buildings was apparently rapid with Dr. Reed able to provide an outline of the works in his Annual report for 1858:

The new buildings are all on the eve of being finished, and the pier will probably soon be finished. When these works are completed there will be every facility for landing passengers for passing through boiling water any quantity of dirty or infected clothes that a ship could contain, and for comfortable housing and accommodating 500 people. Sufficient means for cooking are provided, and there will be, I expect, always a supply of pure good rain water…. our staff of three laborers, one of whom officiates as cook, gardener, and assistant nurse, when required, has been sufficient for all purposes during the year.31

The buildings as completed helped establish the character of the station from this date onwards. Their lineal arrangement across the front of Ticonderoga Bay is still evident today although later structures have, by dint of their position, impacted on a full understanding of the original alignment. Their rapid and solid construction in such an isolated location at a date when the proclaimed colony of Victoria was less than a decade old was also a remarkable achievement. Previously the station had been defined by the pair of flag poles flying yellow flags, and from this time on, the formidable rank of institutional buildings along the Port Phillip coastline, presented a sobering perspective to approaching shipborne travellers, some of whom would have an extended sojourn on the site. Those on board who were ill could expect a stay in isolation, while those unwitting visitors who were in good health were expected to work for up to four hours a day, or stand the forfeit of their rations.

Almost immediately upon these major building works being completed in early 1859, the Tudor en-route from Liverpool and carrying over 150 private passengers and 54 crew, was directed to Point Nepean because of an outbreak of smallpox on board.32

Quarantine of The Tudor

Quarantine of The Tudor 1859

As the infected had not been properly isolated, the entire crew and passengers were put ashore at the station, where they sorely tested the station’s ability to cope with such an event. As a consequence of the risk of infection all clothing had to be subjected to boiling water treatment. The resultant shrinkage and spoilage of personal possessions was not looked upon kindly by the hapless passengers. Dr Reed suggested a solution to this problem in his Annual Report for the year:

There are great objections to dipping in boiling water men’s fine woollen clothes or ladies’ dresses, also to emptying and refilling great numbers of hair mattresses, in order that the covers might be passed through boiling water.

To meet these requirements in future, I would suggest that an apparatus
be prepared in which any linen, silk, cotton, or woollen materials could be
enclosed for half-an-hour in dry air, heated up to between 300 and 400
degrees of Fahrenheit, a sort of large oven. This is a more powerful
disinfectant than boiling water, the temperature of which is only 212
degrees, causes no injury to the materials, and is attended by no trouble subsequently as is the case after the use of boiling water. There is another very important advantage; it could be made available as a drying house. Occasionally there are weeks here in which it would be impossible to dry anything woollen in the open air.33

It would be a number of years before such an apparatus would be installed at the station. Dr Reed concluded his report:

Immigration has been light during the year, consequently our three men and nurse have not been hardly wrought. The nurse is constantly engaged, when not employed nursing, in cleaning and dusting the buildings. One of the men keeps the buildings, windows, roofs, tanks, pumps etc, etc, etc in repair, and does what painting is required.34

Perhaps mindful of the impression this may have given his superiors, Dr Reed ended his report with the following statement:

While a ship is in quarantine, to prevent an hour’s unnecessary detention, our three men work not less than sixteen hours in the twenty-four, principally attending to the boiling water process, drawing wood, etc, etc.35

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A Quarantine Hospital – Necessity or Luxury?

However, Dr Reed’s report may have contributed to the debate surrounding the necessity of maintaining such an elaborate and expensive facility, particularly in light of a financial downturn. An article published in The Argus of May 1860, outlined some of the current thinking in relation to the sanitary station.

With these facts before us of the undoubted possibility of the introduction of diseases of infectious nature into this colony by ships on the one hand, and on the other, of the very deficient sanitary arrangements we possess to meet such disease … there seems a plain necessity for the retention of an establishment like a Sanitary Station …. The expense of keeping up such an establishment may be objected to; but if infectious disease did arrive and spread in this colony, the actual money-expense of eradicating it would be much greater than the cost of maintaining the Sanitary Station; … It is certainly a pity to see the establishment so little used; but there is great difficulty in making use of it in any other way, and at the same time keeping it available for its original purpose.36

These issues were to plague the station into the future. In 1860-61, emigration had slowed, partly as the gold rushes had subsided and an economic downturn began to take effect. As well, shipping companies and their agents and masters began to maintain higher standards of hygiene onboard to avoid the spread of disease, realising that a dirty ship was more likely to harbour disease and thus necessitate a stay at the station. Dr Callan, Resident Surgeon recorded as much in his report for the year 1863, published in The Argus:

We have had but one vessel, the Star of India in quarantine. This important sanatory fact, arising as it undeniably does in the improved cleanliness, ventilation, and food in passenger ships trading to this port, is a most satisfactory tribute to the value of this station as a preventive of disease. The necessity of close watchfulness in the sanitary arrangements of their ships has been forced on shipowners, captains, and agents, by the certainty, gathered from experience, that laxity on those points will inevitably generate sickness, and that sickness cannot possibly escape detection in quarantine, nor its penalty – the loss and expense to them that detention entails…. Notwithstanding the smallness of our working staff, two labourers and a nurse, the institution is kept in a high state of efficiency, always ready at a moment’s notice for occupation. The buildings are kept in repair by the labourers, who have been engaged for some months past, and are still, engaged in whitewashing and painting the outside of the hospitals.37

It is possible to read in Callan’s report a degree of justification for the very existence of the hospital. His comments regarding the progress of work whitewashing the exterior of the hospitals also gave an indication of the high degree of upkeep the buildings required to maintain them in useable condition.

This list of patients from the Star of India is one of many original documents available to be viewed from the Quarantine Station Archive:

star of india list

(click on to see larger image)

The following year the Chief Medical Officer Dr McCrea wrote:

For the last seven years I have had a hard struggle with several Executive Governments, which held office to keep a quarantine establishment in existence at all; and as to getting it completed as desired, I have never been able to do it. I may state in illustration that it required four years’ incessant application on my part to get the heating closet [that requested by Dr Reed in 1859] erected before I succeeded.38

In March 1863, a motion was put to Parliament for the establishment of a Select Committee into the Sanitary Station. Matters for consideration included enquiring into and reporting upon certain charges, official reports and other circumstances respecting Dr Callan, the Health Officer at the station; the duties of the Medical Officer at the station and the cost and public utility of such an institution. On this particular occasion the motion was voted down.39

In 1865, however, a Select Committee established to examine quarantine procedures was instigated by the detention of the ship the Golden Empire which, after arriving in Port Phillip on 2 January and being detained for quarantine purposes, subsequently arrived in Melbourne and inflicted an outbreak of typhus upon the city. The Board of Enquiry noted that

When compared with those of Europe and America, the Quarantine Regulations now in force in this colony are rather stringent than otherwise.40

The Board upon visiting the station however was critical of much they found there including the manner in which the regulations, stringent as they were, were carried out:

From the evidence taken by us, and from our own personal observation at the quarantine station, we regret to be compelled to record our conclusions that the regulation have not been properly and faithfully carried out, and that no proper and organized system has been exercised in the performance of the duties at the station. We found the station itself, in regard to appliances, in many respects defective. The means for the collection and storage of water are insufficient; at the time of our visit there was only a few days supply in the tanks. There was but one bath, and no lavatories of any kind. The cooking-houses were insufficient. For five buildings, each capable of holding one hundred persons, there are but five double privies, one placed in front of each building, at a distance of two hundred yards. They have never been emptied. There is no accommodation within the buildings; and as the single females are locked up at dark, serious inconvenience must necessarily occasionally be experienced.

There is no store or shed for the reception of passengers’ bedding, clothes etc. for the purposes of having it properly marked and washed, or disinfected by heat. There are not beds and bedding for the use of the passengers while they are detained on shore. The mode of washing is bad, and quite ineffective, and the hot-air chamber is out of order. From the total neglect of the details in washing and disinfecting, in the cases of the Golden Empire and the Southern Ocean, we are of the opinion that their detention in quarantine was useless so far as protecting the country from the introduction of disease.41

The opportunity was taken to again press for consideration of relocating the station to a ‘hulk’ in the bay for the reception of healthy passengers with on-shore hospital facilities. It was also suggested that the station buildings could serve as a lunatic asylum.42 In their testimony both Dr W McCrea, the Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Callan, Resident Surgeon, refuted this and outlined in detail the operation of the station with reduced staff:

The staff of the establishment, though then already too small, was reduced by Mr Heales’ 43 Government from three laborers to two. The office of storekeeper was reduced at the end of 1864 by the present Government, who, however, restored it in a few days, when the contingency shewing its necessity, which I had previously pointed out to them, actually took place. The station is at the present moment, and has been for months, without a draught horse to draw the wood for heating the boilers and the drying closet; and although I have been all this time applying for a horse I have not yet succeeded in getting one. These facts will illustrate some of the difficulties I have experienced in my endeavours to get the Sanatory Station made as efficient as I could wish.44

Further, the Chief Medical Officer effectively countered the argument regarding the relocation of the station:

The Board recommend the site of the Sanatory Station to be changed from the Heads to the Ballast Ground and Hobson’s Bay, and that a hulk be provided for the reception of healthy passengers of any infected ship during their detention. I have had sixteen years’ experience in the British navy, in the cleanest and best regulated ships in the world, and if there is one thing more than another deeply impressed on my conviction, it is that a ship or hulk is the very worst place in which three or four hundred passengers could be placed for such a purpose, especially if, as in the case of the Golden Empire, disease is in a state of incubation among them, when the result would be a condensation of the disease, from which contagion in its worst form would be scattered around….The distance of the Sanatory Station from Melbourne I regard as the very greatest merit it could have, and by no means a fault as the Board supposes.45

It seemed that the Chief Medical Officer succeeded in convincing the Government for the recommendations of the Board were rejected.46 For the time being, despite its operation in straitened circumstances, the station’s location and continued operation at the Heads seemed to be assured.

Dr Callan did not fare so well – the Government dispensed with his services the following year, and elevated the storekeeper James Walker to effective Officer in Charge.47 From this date until 1880 there was to be no resident Medical Officer at Point Nepean. The surgeon aboard ship was to attend to patients while in quarantine; if there was no surgeon aboard, the Queenscliffe Health Officer attended the station daily.48 From the early 1880s the duties of the Health Officer and Surgeon Superintendent were combined and based at the station.

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Other Station Buildings

Some of the issues raised in the Report of the Board were addressed in the ensuing financial years – contracts for the sum of £2749.00 was awarded in December 1866 for sundry works and fittings which included the construction of washing rooms and a bath-house containing twenty baths.

In 1867 substantial engineering infrastructure was added to the Station. In his report to Parliament dated 3 January 1868, James Walker stated that the following ‘improvements’ had been made:

A water tank has been constructed at No. 3 building on the flat, five earth closets and a bath and wash-house erected, and lavatories added to each of the hospitals.

In 1870 an additional cook-house was constructed behind Hospital No. 3.49

An inventory of the Quarantine Station and its buildings, including the approximate value of their contents and furnishings was prepared in the latter half of 1873, and provides a detailed account of the station’s components.50 One notable description is of the doctor’s residence which is identified as:

The Surgeon’s Quarters. A detached two storied building. Built of wood on a stone foundation, roofed with galvanised iron and consisting of 11 rooms with verandah.

This two-storey residence for the doctor was erected on the site of the original doctor’s cottage, and may have incorporated part of the original structure.

Putting the station to other uses #1

The sporadic usage that the Quarantine station received also led to the opportunistic use of the facilities in April 1867 to accommodate a large number of children from the Industrial School at Princes Bridge, suffering from ophthalmia – a virulent form of eye infection.55 Initially 120 children were transported to the station with the number soon growing to in excess of 300. Several children while resident at the station contracted other diseases including scarlet fever and measles. During this period the station also operated as a convalescent home and school with a portion of Hospital No. 5 – later the Isolation Hospital – used for this purpose. Known as the Point Nepean Industrial School, the facility operated as such for a little over a year, closing at the end of May 1868.56 The opportunistic use of the station during times of low occupancy also occurred in the early years of the twentieth century after the administration of Victoria’s quarantine facilities had been transferred to the Commonwealth.

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Further examination

In 1872 the station was subject to another Royal Commission and it was again recommended that the station be relocated, perhaps to Portarlington or Mud Island, off the coast of Point Lonsdale. A motivating factor was the perceived high value of the subject landholding, as areas of the Mornington Peninsula were being developed as large and desirable rural estates:

It was brought prominently under our notice that the land now used for a Sanatory Station is exceedingly valuable; that more ground is included within the quarantine boundaries (over 1200 acres) than is comprised in any other similar station in the world; that if sold the proceeds would be very considerable; that it is not isolated, as settlement is increasing every day on the eastern side, whither the prevailing winds blow; that from its size, it is difficult to guard from intrusion or against escape when disease prevails there; and that, while the boarding officer lives at Queenscliff, the quarantine station being situated at the opposite side of the Bay, it is difficult to remove from the public a feeling that quarantine is unnecessary, and if necessary that it is not uniformly strictly observed in Victoria.57

It is not known why the Government did not act on these recommendations.

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