The ‘Plague Ship’ Ticonderoga
In early November 1852, the arrival of the Ticonderoga at the Heads with nearly three hundred of those onboard ill with fever, was to expedite the establishment of the station. The Ticonderoga had left Liverpool with 714 passengers and 48 crew, and during the passage 100 deaths had occurred from typhus and scarlet fever. On 3 November word was sent to Williamstown by Captain Wylie of the Champion, which had passed the Ticonderoga at anchor at the Heads, that conditions aboard were appalling. Plans to establish a Quarantine Station at Port Nepean were now in urgent need of implementation.
On 4 November the schooner Empire was sent to the site. On board was the Harbour Master, Captain Charles Ferguson, who having been earlier involved in the planning and selection procedure for the new site, became the obvious choice to investigate and act upon conditions there.
Ferguson returned to Melbourne on 8 November and the following day submitted a report to Governor La Trobe. Within it he described the conditions on shore:
I landed and found about forty of the sick people in temporary tents near the lime-kiln and houses occupied by Mr Patrick Sullivan, limeburner, which being situated within the limits of the proposed quarantine ground I arranged with him to remove to the next station which is occupied by his brother. …
The embryonic Quarantine Station took over, by necessity, the buildings belonging to both Sullivan and Cannon for the immediate accommodation of the sick. Ferguson’s account continued:
The following morning I examined and marked off what appeared to me to be sufficient space for the quarantine ground and erected two flag staffs thirty feet high, at each entrance point near the beach upon which are hoisted flags. I caused a number of trees to be marked with white paint as a temporary boundary line and intimated the same to all persons there. The space selected as quarantine ground is marked with red lines in the accompanying outline of the coast. It consists of dry open country, a large portion of which is capable of immediate cultivation, with abundance of timber, and from the statements of the Pilots, and those who have resided there for many years, plenty of fresh water can be got at all seasons by sinking wells at a moderate depth. The anchorage is quite secure, any vessel can lay in safety within a quarter of a mile of the beach. …
Finding there was a number of stone masons amongst the Emigrants, I authorised the Surgeon to employ at five shillings per diem, as many as had tools, to begin and erect a store house near to and similar to the one mentioned in Enclosure No. 3 [Sullivan’s house] and would respectfully suggest that the Colonial Architect send drawn at once a plain plan or sketch of a large airy barracks or depot, as there is an abundance of materials on the spot for its construction, which would furnish immediate work for the healthy Emigrants who ought on no account to wander about the station in idleness.14
As soon as the urgent task of seeing to the health and well-being of the Ticonderoga passengers was in hand, attention was given to officially proclaiming the quarantine ground.
The following proclamation of the Quarantine Station at Point Nepean was published in the Victorian Government Gazette of 24 November 1852:
The ‘Sanitary Station’ was finally gazetted as such in 1854 and was usually referred to under this title until the 1880s when ‘Quarantine Station’ became the accepted name.16
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