Thursday, 29 September 2016

T150 – Townsville Past & Present: Architecture in Townsville – Quarantine on Magnetic Island

Continuing our series of posts on "Architecture in Townsville" as part of our Special Collections T150 displays in the Mabo Library, learn more about the Quarantine Station which existed on Magnetic Island during the 19th Century.

Newspaper clipping with hand written note by E R. Hayles, E. R. (Bob) Hayles Album, NQ Photographic Collection, NQID 3541.
 In 1865 – a year before Townsville was named and made a municipality - Cleveland Bay was declared ‘a port of entry and clearance’. This meant that vessels coming to Australia from other countries could use the port as their first stop. Inevitably, arriving vessels sometimes carried people who were sick with infectious diseases or developed illness during the voyage. Quarantine was obviously a major public health issue for Townsville.

Quarantine at Picnic Bay 
In 1875 land was set aside at West Point, Magnetic Island, for a Quarantine Station although no buildings were constructed until 1884. In the interim, quarantine quarters consisted of tents on Picnic Bay beach for women and children. Men were supposed to build their own shelters from any available materials.

Conditions, including provisioning, were poor. Those experiencing quarantining described hunting for game or bartering for fish with the Aborigines and noted that water was also in short supply.

Given these dire conditions, it is not surprising that there was resistance to entering quarantine, to the frustration of health officials. Wiburd (in ‘Notes on the history of Marine Quarantine in Queensland, 19th century’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland volume 3 issue 5, 1945) described one such case.
R.M.S. "Normanby" arrived at Townsville, on 11th July, 1877, from Singapore, via Cooktown, where pratique had not been granted. The surgeon reported that there had been four cases of Asiatic cholera on board, two of which had died, the last death having occurred on 5th July. The health officer (Dr Russel Frost) ordered the vessel to remain in quarantine and instructed the master to remain in port. The captain, however, proceeded south and following a request for prosecution with which the Colonial Secretary refused to concur, Dr Frost resigned. No urther particulars are available in regard to this vessel beyond the fact that she was quarantined on arrival in Sydney. 

West Point and its Problems 
The first buildings at West Point were constructed in 1884 and 1885. The site was always unsatisfactory for its intended purpose with an inadequate water supply and a difficult landing for sick passengers or for supplies. The limitations of size also became very apparent during the most serious epidemic that Townsville has endured, bubonic plague.

The Plague
SS Cintra arrived in Townsville in April 1900 with cases of plague and over 50 passengers who needed to be quarantined as potential contacts but had to be housed separately from the actual cases. The first death from the plague in Townsville was that of Walter Carde, a 23 year old steward on the ship. He died at the quarantine station at West Point, Magnetic Island, on 6 May 1900 and was buried at West Point where his gravestone still stands.
Walter Carde's headstone on Magnetic Island dated 1885.  Magnetic Island heritage study by Judith Jensen, 2002.  NQ Collection.  Copyright:  Townsville City Council

- Ms Jean Dartnall and Dr Alan Dartnall

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