Search the Collection
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

An account of living and working at North Head Quarantine Station

Date: 1900
Overall: 325 x 212 x 2 mm, 100 g
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Neville Horner on behalf of Jack Gourlie
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Diary
Object No: 00037939
Place Manufactured:North Head
Related Place:North Head, Sydney, Pyrmont bridge,

User Terms

    This diary records the experiences of an individual who worked and lived at the North Head Quarantine Station, New South Wales during the great bubonic plague outbreak in Sydney between March and May 1900.
    SignificanceThis diary provides an important insight into the role of the North Head Quarantine Station during the bubonic plague outbreak in Sydney in 1900, and the activities of the staff, isolated patients and their contacts.

    The Station was used for the quarantine of travellers from 1828 to 1984, and is a place of national importance. It symbolises the need to protect the growing colony from epidemic diseases, and written accounts of stays there are rare.
    HistoryFrom the beginning of colonisation in Australia, contagious disease posed a deadly threat to the isolated community. With the arrival of each ship in Port Jackson carrying goods and settlers from the far flung corners of the globe, came the dreaded prospects of epidemics ravaging the outside world. With smallpox, cholera, Spanish influenza, bubonic plague and other contagious diseases regularly sweeping the world, it became essential to the colony that a quarantine facility be established to act as a barrier between it and the outside world.

    The first known use of North Head as a quarantine station took place in August 1828 when the convict ship BUSSORAH MERCHANT arrived in Port Jackson. After the master of the ship had landed and dined in Sydney, it was announced that smallpox had infected some members of the crew. The free passengers were placed in tents at Neutral Bay under military guard, and the convicts, the guards and their families were landed at North Head. The government schooner ALLIGATOR was moored in Spring Cove as a hospital ship where those who were infected with smallpox were quarantined.

    After news reached the colony that cholera had reached epidemic proportions in England, Governor Bourke with the advice of the Legislative Council, passed an Act on 28 July 1832 'subjecting Vessels coming to New South Wales from certain places, to the performance of Quarantine'.

    In February 1833 Governor Bourke proclaimed the land within a quarter of a mile of the high water mark on the shore of Spring Cove as a station for the performance of quarantine. The quarantine ground was enlarged in July 1837 to include all the land at North Head up to a line from the west side of Spring Cove to Cabbage Tree Beach, forming the eastern boundary of Cheer's land. The station was divided into two separate enclosures - the so-called Healthy Ground and Sick Ground - and work commenced on wooden buildings in both enclosures in October 1837.

    The effectiveness of the changes at the Station, the development of medical science, stricter medical examinations of would-be migrants and better conditions on board migrant ships saw a dramatic decline in the number of deaths on immigrant ships to Port Jackson.

    During the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900, the New South Wales Government decided to use the North Head Quarantine Station to isolate plague victims and their contacts. In 1900, 264 plague cases and 1,832 contacts were quarantined between March and August. One hundred and forty plague victims, including 48 whom had died in and around Sydney, were buried at the Quarantine Station. Medical research into the plague was also conducted at the Station with a number of 'plague horses' being kept in an enclosure above Quarantine Beach. Problems which arose during the plague outbreak, including the need to house non-plague quarantine cases, such as shipboard smallpox, resulted in the rebuilding of some of the Station's older buildings and the construction of additional pavilions.

    The Quarantine Station was last used as an emergency accommodation for people fleeing the destruction of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and Vietnamese orphans in 1975 - 76. In the late 1970s parts of it were used as an Internment Camp for illegal immigrants. In 1984 ownership passed from the State and Federal Governments to the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. During its life as a quarantine station, 580 ships were detained at North Head and more than 13,000 people quarantined.

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Diary of Wharf during Quarantine

    Web title: An account of living and working at North Head Quarantine Station

    Related People

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.