Cordons sanitaires, understood as extreme and exceptional forms of isolation by land and sea in the threat of an epidemic, were not an invention of nineteenth-century sanitary, or health, modernisation but were part of the general programme of social and political change that it entailed.Footnote 1 Never before had this type of measure been adopted in such great numbers or at such a fast rate in southern Europe.Footnote 2 These actions may have been triggered by a complex set of circumstances.
Among these, it is worth noting that there was a perceived rise in the risk of epidemics associated with increases in international commercial traffic between European regions, from tropical areas and, in general, from east to west. Furthermore, southern Europeans were anxious about their proximity to areas considered much less salubrious, such as North Africa and the Islamic countries in the eastern Mediterranean.Footnote 3 For this reason, cordons sanitaires as preventive measures were more commonly used by nineteenth-century Mediterranean nations and colonies, for example, Naples, Sardinia, Venice, Spain, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt and Gibraltar, than by nations in the Atlantic regions.Footnote 4 This spread of the use of cordons could be also explained by the fact that, due to the importance of trade for Mediterranean areas, countries in southern Europe preferred bearing the costs of a temporary closure of commercial activity to carrying out the more costly fundamental public reforms that they needed.Footnote 5 This system would be completely differentFootnote 6 from the one applied, for instance, in EnglandFootnote 7 due to the geoepidemiology of disease, which refers, in terms of geography, to the proximity to areas where cholera or other contagious diseases originated.Footnote 8 Nevertheless, the use of cordons sanitaires in southern Europe declined as scientific evidence based on microbiological analysis advanced.
Moreover, citizens considered cordons sanitaires reliable measures for avoiding epidemics due to their past success in combating plague and because of the persistence of contagionism as a medical theory endorsing their adoption.Footnote 9 The First International Sanitary Conference (1851) might have reinforced this idea when, among other statements, it concluded that quarantines set up on islands or peninsulas could be more effective against epidemics than those set up inland on the continent, because they were well-delimited spaces.Footnote 10 Besides, a new epidemic cycle had appeared from the beginning of the nineteenth century with yellow fever and cholera, and plague had re-appeared. Lastly, it could be argued that in general, the new nation-states were much more capable – and interested – in the mobilisation of material and human resources than the previous absolutist states. This was due to greater and more intensive infrastructural power and, of course, to the institutionalisation of citizenship.Footnote 11
Thus, in the words of Michael MannFootnote 12 , we were witnessing the birth of a mixed state, capable of intervening in the civilian sphere, especially from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards. Although town councils were institutions in charge of health issues, this authority was legally delegated by the central government.Footnote 13 Even the regular army, which was the result of the new nation state, took on civilian functions that were different from its traditional, exclusively military, roles. In this way, their capacity to respond to health disasters increased, despite their limitations, especially in the case of Spain, and the limitations of medical science at the time.Footnote 14 The centralisation of health care was just one of the corollaries, which in Spain was established by the General Health Law of 1855,Footnote 15 although it certainly had important precedents. Hence, Spain’s policy for epidemic prevention evolved from focusing on the single aim of isolation to a much more complex prophylactic policy. To these quarantine measures were added other preventive actions, such as urban hygiene.
The onset of this change appeared upon the death of Ferdinand VII of Spain (1833)Footnote 16 and was largely sanctioned by the General Health Law of 1855.Footnote 17 In no cases were cordons sanitaires forbidden but, rather, an attempt was made to regulate their use and abuse, and they were placed under central government control and removed from the control of provincial or local governments.Footnote 18
This study aims to show, through an analysis of the case of the island of Majorca, the generalisation and prevalence of cordons sanitaires and how they contributed to the fight against epidemics in the nineteenth century. The scientific postulates at the time were derived from contagionist theory but, by the end of the period, they were adapted to the bacteriological approach.Footnote 19 Moreover, the new liberal governments overcame the dichotomy between freedom and coercion in favour of the latter, continuing to perform the classic duties of absolute states, while preserving the rights of citizenship, and adding new duties such as the preservation of life and the provision of a healthy environment.Footnote 20
Our starting hypothesis is that the use of cordons sanitaires was not contrary to the main economic interests of the island, nor was it the subject of ideological debate, except for their use inland.Footnote 21 On the contrary, they contained an essential element for the development of commercial capitalism, which, parallel with political liberalism, was growing stronger and stronger in this area of the western Mediterranean.Footnote 22 Lastly, and in relation to these assumptions, it can be observed how, as the century progresses, the cordons were adapted and organised in line with the process of political, administrative and economic modernisation. Specifically, a coercive measure such as this must have the support of the army. For this reason, we believe that the use of cordons sanitaires and quarantines without a progressive militarisation of society would be inconceivable. They required either a permanent army that presupposed compulsory military service or security and surveillance forces such as the Carabineros [paramilitary gendarmerie] (since 1829), the Guardia Civil [Spanish military police] (created in 1844) or the local police in Palma since 1852.Footnote 23
The sources we used were basically local and regional. As there are no documentary series covering the whole period under study, nor centralised documentation on this issue, we set up a database by compiling information from various archives. From the municipal field, we analysed the series entitled Health-orders, which includes orders from the higher echelons of power to the mayors of Majorcan towns, from 1784 to 1870. Also in the towns, health news items appearing in municipal records – a type of documentation that presents a constant series throughout the whole century and consultation of which is very time-consuming – were also consulted. Lastly, the information kept since 1854 in the Archive of the Consell de Mallorca, successor to the former provincial delegation, was of great interest.Footnote 24 This institution was in charge of organising the cordons sanitaires, even though these cordons required the co-operation of the town councilsFootnote 25 and the approval and participation of the army and, of course, the ministry of the interior [Gobernación in Spanish].Footnote 26 Because of this, it is possible to transcend the scattered and fragmented documentation referring to this issue, and the perspectives of different administrations, and occasionally opposing interests can, in turn, be compared. In addition, news items appearing in official gazettes or in the press of the time were extremely useful.
1 Rationalisation and Militarisation of the Cordons Sanitaires
On the island of Majorca between 1787 and 1899 a total of twenty-eight defensive rings were set up in order to guard the whole of the island perimeter intensively from the land, with the support of coastguard boats. This meant an average of one cordon every four years, with greater intensity in the first half of the century. Simultaneously, ordinary protection systems and health surveillance were increased and rationalised at ports. This preventive policy was due to three epidemic threats: the plague, yellow fever and cholera. The first two took place before 1833, the date of the first wave of cholera in Spain. Cholera became the prevalent disease from then on, albeit not exclusively.Footnote 27
The sea–land cordons depended on the political chief or civil governor, who in turn was the central government delegate, specifically from the ministry of the interior from 1834 onwards. Meanwhile, the provincial boards of health had broader functions, but with limited administrative capacity; and were also presided over by the civil governor, whose authority over health intervention was enhanced after the General Health Law of 1855.Footnote 28 In the second half of the century, the provincial institutionsFootnote 29 were more resolutely in favour of cordons sanitaires than was the central government. The town councils were also in favour, despite their reticence when it came to defraying their costs; so much so, that until 1834 they conducted their own quarantines with the blessing of the higher authorities. From this date onwards they did not hesitate to break the law when they believed it necessary to set up local cordons, as we shall see below. However, the establishment of cordons sanitaires was unthinkable without the consent and collaboration of the army, which normally acted following the recommendations of, firstly, the provincial board of health and, then, the provincial commission. What is more, as time went by, this bond increased significantly.
The treatment of space is the first aspect in the militarisation of the cordons. Majorca was considered as a single unit, whose perimeter had to be preserved from the illegal entry of persons and goodsFootnote 30 ; yet, in turn, the island was divided into areas of action in order to make the most of the resources available, both human and material, civilian and military. Thus, from the early 1800s, the island began to be divided into military districts called ‘partidas’. By 1818 only four had been established: Llucmajor (southern coast), Artà (eastern coast), Pollença (northern coast) and Andratx (western coast), with one commander and his troops in charge of each one. On 16 August 1821, because of the threat of yellow fever from Barcelona, three cantons were set up, divided in turn into eight districts, each with their respective military company.
The outer cordon, which was established in 1833, was based on the division of the island into four parts, corresponding to the four coastal axes (fronts) that make up its geography, and these were divided into thirteen different maritime districts. Each of the four island fronts was under a high-ranking officer and each district was under another officer with the rank of captain or above, along with three subordinate officers. A maritime cordon was also established. It is worth noting that, in both cases, it was the Captain General of the Balearic Islands, Juan Antonio Monet, who also held the post of president of the superior board of health, who gave the order to set up the cordons on 26 September 1833.Footnote 31
In 1854Footnote 32 practically the same land division was maintained as in 1833, although the fronts were now called districts and the former districts, cantons, and, instead of thirteen, there were twelve; they were also under the charge of military officers whose duty it was to cover their corresponding sanitary division daily. To fulfil their main mission,
to prevent any disembarkation of goods or persons along the coast, the heads of districts and commanders of cantons shall devote all their efforts to keep the most excellent [watch] in all positions.Footnote 33
Different surveillance points were placed in each canton, which in turn could be grouped in blocks, as happened in Palma. It is important to point out that the municipalities in each canton were supposed to co-operate with the army, as explained in the following section.
On 15 August 1885, the Captain General of the Balearics communicated to the delegation that two days later five infantry companies belonging to the Philippines Regiment would leave the capital, ‘to station themselves on the points of the island’ namely Andratx (western coast), Sóller (north-east coast), Artà (eastern coast), Pollença (northern coast) and Santanyí (southern coast).Footnote 34 Hence, the compartmentalisation of the space to conform to military requirements was constant throughout the whole period. It is worth noting that this military division of the island did not correspond to any other pre-existing division of a civil nature. Majorca was not considered an administrative subject, as it belonged to the province of the Balearic Islands, at the head of which was the civil governor. Meanwhile, the town councils, even the city council in the capital, had no authority beyond their municipal territory. Therefore, the militarised territory of the cordons sanitaires appears as a new space created because of a threat, a theoretically exceptional one, but one which repeatedly transformed the existing political, institutional and administrative reality.
Not only were the cordons directed and co-ordinated by the military establishment, who were able to transform the territory at their convenience, but throughout the 1800s the enterprise became increasingly monopolised by the army to the detriment of civilian personnel and municipal participation, through a process that we can also call professionalisation. In the first cases analysed in Majorca, the model that can be observed must be considered mixed, typical of the eighteenth century; that is, there is co-participation between civilian and military personnel, although always directed by the latter. Thus, in 1794, the cordons had to be carried out according to the authorities,
namely in the outer ring six coastguard boats manned by five sailors, one skipper with a health corporal and a sergeant from the garrison troops and in the inner ring double the guards and tower keepers and the practice of sea rounds under the responsibility of the boroughs.Footnote 35
Therefore, the land cordon was de facto under the responsibility of the town councils and of the civilians in charge.
The primacy of the civilian sector in the first cordons of the century, despite military tutelage, can be evidenced in the cordon of 1800, when it is pointed out
that to cordon off Palma we shall proceed according to the model initiated during the plague of Marseilles in 1720. That is, based on civilian personnel but with troops at the ready: making sure to have some practical people among them, on the respective coasts.Footnote 36
Only a few years later, in 1813 and 1817, the employment of ground troops already seems to be totally clear; at this time retired military officers were ordered to visit the towers and secret guardsFootnote 37 even though at this date the civilian districts organised by the municipalities throughout Majorca persisted.Footnote 38 The presence of soldiers in the land cordons is no longer subsidiary, although they are still a minority with respect to civilians.
A much more spectacular change took place during the liberal triennium (1820–1823), a period in which Majorca was affected by an epidemic of the plague in the region of the Levante or the east coast (Son Servera, Capdepera and Artà) in 1820, and by a yellow fever epidemic in Palma in 1821. In the former, the land army not only made up part of the two cordons sanitaires established (the outer one that covered the whole of the coast and the inner one that isolated the affected area), but the number of their troops was greater than ever. A troop of a thousand men came to be used just for the inner cordon, a number clearly superior to the four hundred infantry civilians and the forty odd cavalrymen who were also used.Footnote 39 Besides, artillery was placed on the perimeter of the area and help was requested of the General Captaincy of Catalonia, in order to increase the military presence.Footnote 40
If we move on from the purely quantitative to the qualitative aspect, it also becomes apparent that militarisation not only involved a greater presence of soldiers, but also that health care itself was increasingly understood in terms of military districts. The documentation of the time clearly reveals a discourse in which the state of war produced by the plague epidemic is made clear. This is a real battle that must be won at all costs.Footnote 41 Most important is the fact that this was not a transitory situation, but rather a repeated threat, resulting from the arrival of cholera in Europe, which reproduced in successive years coercive measures for preventing the illegal entry of goods and persons. Furthermore, a whole series of measures was introduced that affected citizens’ way of life. For instance, in 1854 the civil governor made known to the mayors that:
Whoever infringes the maritime cordon sanitaire already set up, or the land cordon that has been ordered to be set up today, not being forced to do so by storms at sea which oblige them to enter ports, inlets or coves, but without jumping over this onto land or breaking the land cordon, shall be considered a malicious threat to public health, be apprehended and punished with extraordinary prison sentences, and even death should disease-carrying items of any sort be introduced.Footnote 42
During these years, the participation of civilians still remained very high, as shown by the fact that in 1821 a watch of four civilians was appointed to each coastal defence tower, one of whom had to perform the functions of commander; curiously, these were to be preferably churchmen or ‘wealthy’ people.Footnote 43 Moreover, it would seem that the civilians at that time were paid a wage for taking part in the cordons, which, according to the information available, did not happen prior to 1817, when participation was similar to a conscription. This fact did not exclude the use of unpaid civilians at exceptional times. In fact, in 1820 the mayors were ordered to send wealthy civilians who could support themselves without pay to the cordon of Son Servera (eastern coast).Footnote 44 Neither did this mean that from that time onwards the districts under the responsibility of the municipalities disappeared. Thus, in 1822 an order was issued that the troop patrols had to interact with those made up of civilians organised by the local boards of health,Footnote 45 even though their days were numbered.
From this last year onwards, the presence of the army was even more decisive in setting up the cordons. The disappearance of the ‘sea rounds run by the boroughs’ and their replacement by soldiers was the most outstanding fact, as happened in the cordon of 1828. Even so the aforementioned patrols were reinforced with armed civilians, directly integrated into the army’s chain of command.Footnote 46 There is therefore, an increase in the military nature of the quarantine measures, but without the complete disappearance of civilian personnel therein.
As the century advances, the role of civilians becomes a subsidiary force or reinforcement for cordons that are basically military in both nature and practice. Civilians were used only as a response to the insufficient number of soldiers garrisoned on the island. We see this in 1834, when the defensive ring was initiated exclusively with soldiers, and it was not until the month of November that seventy-eight civilians were incorporated in order to reinforce the coast, from Felanitx (south-eastern coast) to Pollença (northern coast).Footnote 47 In fact, from the date of the arrival of cholera, the quarantine lines were above all almost exclusively military, even though at the time the mobilisation of part of the civilian population was necessary. This was due to the limited number of soldiers garrisoned on Majorca and/or to the warfare needs of the time, always allowing for the precariousness of the finances of the Spanish state. Furthermore, the incorporation of civilians would also take on a much more professional aspect than in the immediate past, as it was not a compulsory, unpaid service similar to that at the turn of the century, but rather voluntary and paid.
The initial cordon sanitaire created in 1849 was composed of military personnel. Civilians began to be incorporated temporarily from 8 December, because some of the troops were required to be sent to the mainland. In fact, on the 14th of the same month, civilians were once again relieved by soldiers,Footnote 48 proof of the exceptional nature of their presence. During the cholera outbreak in 1865, the cordon was completely militarised, with the exclusive participation of ‘army forces, tower keepers, coastguards, border guards and Guardia Civil’.Footnote 49 That is, at this time there were also members of the recently created police forces involved, such as the Guardia Civil, and, of course, the border guards, making up in part for the tower keeper corps that had been closed down in 1866. Be that as it may, the following year we once again find civilians hired by the municipalities to perform surveillance tasks at certain points along the coast;Footnote 50 and all the indications are that in 1867 their participation was even greater. In this situation, intense, repeated protests by the population break out in many towns due to the difficulties created by the use of their residents in surveillance tasks.Footnote 51 This reflected their opposition to their participation as it was considered obsolete, ineffective and damaging to the community, in which residents had become citizens with recognised rights.
This model, which began in 1828 and must be considered military in nature, reinforced with militarised civilians, would be maintained practically until the beginning of the 1880s. After and including 1884, there are no further references to the presence of civilians in the cordons sanitaires set up on Majorca. It could be thought, therefore, that from this time onwards militarisation had been completed. It marks the end of a progressive tendency towards the participation of the army in extraordinary health care, initiated at the beginning of our period. We do not believe it is possible to separate this from the development of the central state in Spain and its delegated institutions, which is typical of the European context in the second half of the nineteenth century.Footnote 52 In turn, it also illustrates the rise in functional specialisation, social complexity and interdependencies among members of society.Footnote 53
2 The Persistence of Municipal Participation
Paradoxically, the progressive centralisation and rationalisation of the cordons sanitaires did not eliminate the participation of the municipal and provincial administration. What is more, although their importance was on the wane, both town councils and the delegation continued to be essential to ensure their effectiveness.
Firstly, it is worth remembering that in the first decades of the century, coastal municipalities were in charge of organising the land rounds in the cordons. Both their members and their maintenance on the ground were wholly supplied by all of the boroughs on the island.Footnote 54 The municipality also constituted the mechanism necessary to connect the higher authorities with the population. This remained as an essential aspect in order to put orders into practice.Footnote 55 During the plague of 1820, the town councils became highly involved in the various cordons, but under the direct orders of the higher authorities, whether military or civilian. The mayors had to place the resources of their respective municipalities at the service of quarantine measures, thereby helping to supply the men and material that the outer and inner cordons required.
Nevertheless, even after the disappearance of the civilian rounds and their replacement by the army, the municipalities continued to perform two primordial functions: firstly, they supplied the personnel that the troops lacked until 1884; and secondly, they took charge of their food and lodging needs, as well as making a special payment called a ‘bonus’.Footnote 56 In short, it can be said that the cost of the cordons was defrayed by the town councils, upon which all the extraordinary expenditure claimed by the military or the civilians themselves fell, whenever they were required. They also had to pay for the costs to the state, for the use of the army. The reason for this formula lies in the fact that the cordons were considered an issue exclusive to Majorca and, as a result, could not be defrayed by the provincial institutions with jurisdiction throughout the archipelago (Balearic Islands); neither could they be covered by the ministry of war alone because it did not have the funds to take on extraordinary expenses, since the activity in question was not qualified as strictly military.Footnote 57
Not surprisingly, problems relating to financing and organisation appeared. The former emerged as soon as the municipalities on the coast were required to supply funds needed to establish the cordon, as there was no type of budget envisaged in any institution in the province for this purpose. This fact sparked off real problems in the early years. Hence, at certain points along the coast during the cordon of 1828, the soldiers’ situation was deplorable due to the neglect they suffered at the hands of the local authorities.Footnote 58 Only after the coastal municipalities were guaranteed repayment, through a general sharing out with all the municipalities in the island, of the money and the material advanced to the soldiers did surveillance return to normal.Footnote 59 This model of action was to be reproduced until the end of the century. The degree of acceptance was fairly widespread, and problems with the troops mostly disappeared in practice. However, this did not mean there was no longer any tension between inland and coastal town councils.
In fact, the difficulties with municipal finances worsened as the century advanced. This was mostly due to the large number of functions, other than health, that had to be carried out at the expense of the central government. There is no doubt that this situation left the local authorities with little leeway to cope with extraordinary obligations, above all if these, in practice, became almost commonplace, as in the case of the quarantine policy. Hence, it is not surprising that payment of the respective distribution shares was nearly always overdue, thereby further exacerbating the position of the municipalities that had advanced the payments.Footnote 60 Besides, from the moment when civilian participation in the surveillance tasks became subsidiary to the troops, and in the absence of general regulations, it was normally the residents of the coastal towns who completed the cordon. In 1854, because of the complaints about this situation which was considered unfair, such as the one lodged by Manacor town council (a coastal municipality in the east of Majorca) in September 1854, the governor of the province published a memo on 22 October of that year establishing the number of residents that should be provided by inland towns and the surveillance point on the coast where they were to settle. Even so, after the total withdrawal of the troops on 15 November, only residents from Manacor took charge of the cordon without receiving any help from the inland towns.Footnote 61
The unsatisfactory operation of this system led in 1865 to the introduction of advance sharing out of the possible costs of setting up a cordon. This idea failed due to the legal incapacity of the provincial government to make the town councils enforce expenditures that did not figure in their budgets. This situation also highlighted the limitations of institutions to deal with financing actions which, paradoxically, were considered vital for health maintenance. The situation cannot have been very clear when in 1890, at the request of several councils, the provincial commission of the delegation had to point out that
The forces that are providing the service of the cordon sanitaire must be paid in cash from the Custodian of Provincial Funds the bonus which for this purpose has been assigned to them, and, therefore, even though the Council, in compliance with what is provided in the article of the instruction dated 9 August 1877, is obliged to provide them with the livelihood and utensils they need, the value of all the goods supplied must be reimbursed by the Military Administration in the form provided for in the aforementioned instruction.Footnote 62
However, despite the lack of solidarity that tended to reign among the inland and coastal boroughs, the problems did not become so serious as to prevent the establishment of any cordon nor to undermine their effectiveness.
In addition, in spite of the extraordinary expense the army caused to local revenue offices, its participation was increasingly requested by the municipal administrations themselves. It was not from the direct intervention of the citizens. Perhaps this was because they were supposed to earn a wage which, in the end, also covered corporation taxes, while the normal development of economic activity was reduced to a large extent. Yet, above all, the use of volunteers was avoided and progress was made in the militarisation of the quarantine measures. In fact, in the cordons sanitaires following 1884, no council raised its voice against the payment in cash of the quotas aimed at financing an exclusively army service nor against the way of sharing this out among municipalities.
3 Consensus and Demands for Cordons Sanitaires
Throughout the period studied an important consensus evolved in favour of the cordons run on behalf of the provincial and local authorities, the population at large, and the medical authorities, with some exceptions in 1865 as we shall see immediately below. Initially, we might expect the opposite, as, in order to become acceptedFootnote 63 , preventive medicine, unlike curative medicine, has traditionally required a high degree of coercionFootnote 64 or demand and mobilisation by specific sectors of the population. The reasons why this did not happen on Majorca are certainly diverse. One of them could be its inclusion in a long tradition dating back to the Middle Ages,Footnote 65 with the result of adopting isolation as a normal action in the face of an epidemic threat.Footnote 66 Nor were there significant discrepancies within the medical establishment concerning the adoption of this type of measure, but rather a predominance of a sort of eclecticism between contagionism and hygienism when it came down to proposing anti-epidemic measures.Footnote 67 Only from the start of the twentieth century did medical science and public health shelve coastal cordons sanitaires, when they were replaced by other kinds of protective measures.
Proof of this consensus is provided by the behaviour of the town councils over the period studied. Not only did they participate in the organisation and funding of the cordons sanitaires as we have seen, but they also demanded their establishment and even cordoned off their own towns on the five occasions (1820, 1821, 1854, 1865 and 1870)Footnote 68 that an epidemic had affected some part of the island. It is worth noting that, as of 1855, these measures were blatantly illegal, contrary to before this date, when the councils were even exhorted by the higher authorities to proceed with their own cordons. Indeed, this is exactly what happened during the plague of 1820, a time when the local authorities responded to this call with great zeal. Yet perhaps the most extreme situation was experienced in September 1821. In order to concentrate on the isolation of the city of Palma, the superior board of health withdrew troops from their respective districts. Once yellow fever had been declared in the capital in 1870, this forced the municipalities to defend themselves with their own forces, both in the outer and inner rings.Footnote 69 What is more, on 30 October, 1,660 men were summoned from the ‘Part Forana’ (Rest of Majorca beyond Palma)Footnote 70 to reinforce the cordon in Palma.Footnote 71
From now on, the town councils did not hesitate to demand quarantine measures whenever another epidemic threatened to arrive in the island. Nor were they reluctant when it came to collaborating with their own measures, as we have already seen. This predisposition may also have been due to their own experience learnt from the two aforementioned epidemics in 1820 and 1821. There is no doubt that the arrival of the plague in the eastern region – the most terrible and feared of the epidemics – and, to a lesser extent, the yellow fever in Palma in 1921, acted as a wake-up call for the provincial, local, and even central authorities as well as among the population at large. The death of almost two thousand people alone in the summer of 1820 confirmed the worst fears of the sanitary and political authorities,Footnote 72 even while they were justifying the loss of freedom, justifying the disciplinary measures and justifying their high economic cost. They held to this position even in the face of the strengthening thesis of those in favour of contagionism, beyond any ideological belief. Besides, it is worth recalling that, in the above cases, the epidemic was declared on the island before the establishment of the outer cordon. Once the quarantine measures had been imposed, they managed to contain the epidemic within the initial focal points. Therefore, both cases highlighted the potential danger of the epidemic threat at a time of progress and predisposed society at large to be favourably inclined towards prophylactic and coercive measures, in addition to stimulating the increase in public hygiene.
It is not surprising that, from now on, as well as demanding the establishment of cordons, the town councils themselves did not hesitate to supplement personnel from their own resources whenever the army contribution was insufficient. For instance in 1849, due to the demobilisation decreed by the central government, the civil governor had no problem with the municipalities substituting civilians for soldiers that to that date had made up part of the cordon. What is more, the mayors were urged:
you will seek to achieve the best harmony between the civilian posts and the ones occupied by the troops by helping each other mutually and passing on notice of any new development to the military command who, being more experienced in this sort of service, are able to proceed with greater success in any unexpected event.Footnote 73
In 1866, at a meeting called by the provincial commission itself, attended by the mayors and local elite in order to find out ‘the opinion and will of the country with respect to the surveillance cordon measure on the coasts of Majorca’, it was unanimously agreed that ‘there would be a cordon’, and that it would be made up ‘of the army forces, tower keepers, coastguards, border guards and Guardia Civil’.Footnote 74 Decades later, the councils again spoke out in favour of the cordons sanitaires, even when they had to take on the extra numbers demanded by the army, as we have already seen. In addition, some town councils, such as Sant Joan (in the centre of the island), reported through official channels ‘that it sees with great pleasure the measures that are being taken to free from contagion…’.Footnote 75
However, perhaps the clearest stance on behalf of the population of Majorca in favour of the cordons sanitaires was produced as a result of the declaration of cholera in 1865 and yellow fever in 1870 in Palma. In the first case, the new governor, Adolfo García de León y Pizarro, who had arrived on the island on 27 August 1865, issued almost immediately a series of clearly anti-contagionist measures to curb the spread of cholera on the island. These included the reduction of the number of soldiers devoted to the outer cordon, preventing the isolation of Palma when several cases of cholera had already been declared. Following the law of 1855, he reiterated the prohibition of self-isolation to the boroughs, even though most of them set this in motion. In fact, they were doing nothing less than following the identical pattern of behaviour in the previous cases of epidemics on Majorca. The response of the mayors in the rest of Majorca outside Palma was blunt: they refused to obey and kept up their cordons. This led to an initial, certainly interesting, memo from the governor in the following terms:
Therefore, being unable to believe that the intention of the local authorities who are involved in the aforementioned case was to rebel against the law, given the proverbial loyalty of the Balearic people, but rather that they will have obeyed their natural instinct in view of the unjustified alarm caused by the part of this community which has fled, I expect the mayors to whom I am referring, in view of the aforementioned legal precept and being better informed of the state of health of this city, to immediately take down the cordon sanitaire, on the understanding that if this were not verified I will be obliged to adopt rulings that I wish to avoid.Footnote 76
Despite its forcefulness, we have evidence that the order had little effect. The evidence clearly shows that in Inca (in the centre of the island), Establiments (north of the city of Palma), Sóller (north-western coast), Alaró (centre of the island) and Alcúdia (northern coast)Footnote 77 strict quarantine measures were maintained, while in other municipalities there were disputes with the population when their respective councils decided to comply with the memos from the provincial governor.Footnote 78 To make matters worse, the press, even the more typically progressive press, agreed with the municipalities that rebelled over the re-establishment of the cordons sanitaires.Footnote 79
The clash between the mayors and the governor did not stop until weeks after the epidemic had been eradicated. The press, also, echoed the fact that one of the last memos in this regard dated 25 September, again ‘strictly’ forbade the mayors and municipal boards of health to impose their cordons sanitaires. This was systematically disobeyed, giving rise to a multitude of incidents.Footnote 80 Finally, it would seem that the highest provincial authority gave in. From that time on, its main concern was only to avoid abuses in the quarantines and not so much their elimination.Footnote 81 Meanwhile, as far as the coast is concerned, the army did not return to its barracks until 22 October 1865, when the danger of the disease entering the island had completely disappeared.Footnote 82
The stance of the town mayors was similar to that of the permanent commission of public health made up ad hoc of individuals from the municipal board and the provincial board of health. This commission expressed its support for setting up a land cordon in the capital. On 18 September news emerged of the commission’s agreement regarding the convenience for
Palma and boroughs in Majorca [of] the establishment of a cordon sanitaire around the city, like the one established in 1821 [episode of yellow fever], interpreting the wish of the majority of the inhabitants in the island.Footnote 83
Interestingly, most published opinion held the view ‘that this measure, rejected by the Governor, favoured numerous families who could not find food except at very high prices’.Footnote 84 Note that the press is totally in favour of the contagionist measures.
Finally, in early 1866 the governor relinquished his duties and his replacement, Primitivo Seriñá, had obviously learnt the lesson, as did his successors. They gave up on their anti-quarantine stances. In fact, during the episode of yellow fever in Palma in 1870, the boroughs went back to quarantining themselves with no record of any sort of backlash from the civil governor.Footnote 85
As has already been seen, it is paradoxical that the most radical and extraordinary form of health protection, the cordons sanitaires, ceased to be an occasional practice during the nineteenth century and became something of a norm, with wide social, medical and political acceptance. In this sense, Majorca was the perfect example in the context of the Mediterranean area. On the one hand, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the application of isolation measures such as quarantines and cordons sanitaires was a common practice, especially in easily delimited maritime enclaves such as islands or peninsulas. Even British colonies like Gibraltar and Malta applied them, as well as Egypt. The situation changed after the first International Sanitary Conference in 1851, when only Tuscany, the kingdom of Naples, the Papal States, Greece and Spain retained their use. From that point on, these measures were softened and rationalised, and the establishment of cordons sanitaires was restricted and placed under the authority of the central government in Spain. In any case, the fact that states carried on controlling their ports and applying rationalised quarantines should not be ignored.
Having said this, it is also true that the case study shows certain peculiarities, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century up to 1890. During this period, epidemic prevention by means of the establishment of cordons sanitaires maintained a consensus on Majorca that perhaps was stronger than in other places, even other places in the Mediterranean. This fact could be due to both external and internal factors. In the first place, even after 1851, experts argued for the effectiveness of cordons sanitaires in preserving small islands or certain peninsulas with a relatively small perimeter to defend. Local history supported this claim, as epidemic threats were kept away from the island and, when they were not, epidemics were contained thanks to the use of cordons sanitaires.Footnote 86 In addition, there was at the time no understanding of the pathological process nor, for that matter, any preventive therapies. It is therefore not surprising that Majorcan physicians supported polices based on miasmatic and contagionist theories.
We need to consider the geographical situation of Majorca as one of the determinants in the extended use of cordons sanitaires. The Balearic Islands are located in a border area between Africa and Europe, on the commercial routes between the regions. In addition, they had good connections with the east and Latin America. All these places were considered potentially dangerous for plague, yellow fever or cholera. Accordingly, the perception of danger in Majorca was permanent and evident, especially when in 1820 and 1821, plague and yellow fever severely affected certain areas of the island. At the time, it was believed that smugglers from North Africa or from Barcelona had imported those diseases. This belief coexisted with the strong presence of plague on the African coast of the Mediterranean and cholera on the European coast. Moreover, this period was characterised by an increase in commercial traffic and blame laid on Islam and the uncivilised East.
We may believe, therefore, that the use of quarantines and preventive measures was vital to ensuring the commercial traffic on which the prosperity of the island and its entry into modernity depended. In the absence of other scientific alternatives, the use of this kind of measure, even one so radical, endorsed by the local, and partly by international, medical authorities, was likely to reduce anxiety among Majorca commercial partners. In this way, although cordons slowed contact it quickly resumed after the danger. For this reason, commercial elites could even feel comfortable with the contagionist policy as it actually occurred on Majorca in general. On the other hand, the local and provincial liberal authorities had other reasons for adopting an approach that had the endorsement of the population and of local scientists. These were none other than to ensure social order and the stability of public offices, undermined by any epidemic, as occurred with the outbreak of cholera in Palma in 1865. At this point, we emphasise that the liberal state always prioritised the right to life, and even public order, over individual freedom, a fact that was accepted by a majority of the population, as we have seen.Footnote 87 Only when bacteriology proposed truly effective and credible arguments were the cordons abandoned.
At this point, it is worth highlighting the fact that quarantines and cordons sanitaires not only helped to modernise the island by preserving it from epidemics and thereby maintaining the social order, but were also made possible by the emergence of national, provincial and local administrations that were more capable and effective than Old Regime institutions. That is, without the progressive bureaucratisation-rationalisation-militarisation of cordons sanitaires during the nineteenth century, they would not have proved effective and would have been rapidly discredited. In other words, this case study is part of the process of state growth that Michael Mann noted for western countries during this time, as we stated earlier.
Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the cordons sanitaires were successful. There were only five epidemics on Majorca during the nineteenth century, and these affected the island only partially. Moreover, the sharp rises in mortality became more gradual and short-lived during the same period. This is one more reason to support the contention that coercion in the service of preservation of health can attain a high degree of consensus and can also predispose society to accept new demands from the state or from medical science.