Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Global Risks, Divergent Pandemics: Contrasting Responses to Bubonic Plague and Smallpox in 1901 Cape Town

  • Alexandre I. R. White

Abstract

This article explores two simultaneous epidemics that, despite similar pathologies, prompted significantly varying responses from public health actors in 1901 Cape Town: the bubonic plague and smallpox. The Cape Colony responded to the plague with racialized quarantining, forcibly removing all black Africans from certain poor neighborhoods and transferring them to a camp on the outskirts of the city. It was the most significant segregationist act in Cape Town's history to date and foreshadowed the actions of governments in postunification and apartheid South Africa. Conversely, smallpox, though highly contagious and deadly, did not prompt similar aggression. Drawing from archival material, I argue that this differential treatment was the result of a global medical concern for the spread of plague to Europe that imposed external demands upon any region affected by plague that were nonexistent for smallpox. These demands aligned with local ideologies that equated state control with racial discipline to produce the first urban township in South Africa. This article addresses the global processes at work within seemingly localized epidemics and contributes to existing scholarship by exploring the role of medical experts and scientific knowledge in the framing of early pandemic threats.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Baderoon, Gabeba (2004) “The underside of the picturesque landscape: Meanings of Muslim burial in Cape Town, South Africa.” The Arab World Geographer 7 (4): 261–75.
Baderoon, Gabeba (2014) Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Postapartheid. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Bickford-Smith, Vivian (1995) “South African urban history, racial segregation and the unique case of Cape Town?Journal of Southern African Studies 21 (1): 6378.
Bickford-Smith, Vivian 2003. Ethnic Pride and Racial Prejudice in Victorian Cape Town. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bickford-Smith, Vivian, van Heyningen, E., and Worden, Nigel (1999) Cape Town in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated Social History. Cape Town: New Africa Books.
Boyce, Rubert (1901) “Letter from Rubert Boyce to the RH. Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the colonies.” 1/469, Cape Town Archives Repository, National Archives of South Africa, Cape Town.
Cape Peninsula Advisory Board (1901) Report and Proceedings, with Annexures, of the Cape Peninsula Plague Advisory Board Appointed to Advise the Government on Matters Connected with the Suppression of Bubonic Plague, 1901. Cape Town.
Centers for Disease Control (2004) “CDC Smallpox | Smallpox Overview,” http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/overview/disease-facts.asp (accessed March 27, 2015).
Curtin, Philip D. (1985) “Medical knowledge and urban planning in tropical Africa.” The American Historical Review 90 (3): 594613.
Deacon, Harriet (1996) “Racial segregation and medical discourse in nineteenth-century Cape Town.” Journal of Southern African Studies 22 (2): 287308.
Echenberg, Myron J. (2002) “Pestis redux: The initial years of the third bubonic plague pandemic, 1894–1901.” Journal of World History 13 (2): 429–49.
Echenberg, Myron J. (2007) Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague, 1894–1901. New York: New York University Press.
Ersoy, Nermin, Gungor, Yuksel, and Akpinar, Aslihan (2011) “International sanitary conferences from the Ottoman perspective (1851–1938).” Hygiea Internationalis 10 (1): 5379.
Great Britain Parliament House of Commons (1902) Parliamentary Papers: 1850–1908. London: H.M. Stationery Office.
Gregory, A. John, and Richie Simpson, William John (1901) Memoranda by the Acting Medical Officer of Health for Cape Colony and Professor W.J. Simpson. M.D., F.R.C.P. on the Outbreak of Plague in Cape Colony and the Precautions Taken in Connection Therewith. Office of the Medical Officer of Health for the Colony, Cape Town. CO 897/67/2. London: National Archives at Kew.
Harrison, Mark (2013) Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Haynes, Douglas Melvin (2001) Imperial Medicine Patrick Manson and the Conquest of Tropical Disease. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, http://site.ebrary.com/id/10748515 (accessed April 14, 2014).
Howard-Jones, Norman (1975) “The scientific background of the International Sanitary Conferences, 1851–1938,” http://apps.who.int//iris/handle/10665/62873 (accessed September 17, 2014).
Huber, Valeska (2006a) “The unification of the globe by disease? The International Sanitary Conferences on Cholera, 1851–1894.” The Historical Journal 49 (2): 453–76.
James, T. (1970) “The year of the plague in Cape Town.” South African Medical Journal Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif Vir Geneeskunde 44 (50): 1429–33.
Mason, John Edwin (2003) Social Death and Resurrection: Slavery and Emancipation in South Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Mayor, E., et al. (1897) International Sanitary Convention, Signed at Venice, March 18, 1897.
Mitchell, J. A. (1922) “Small-pox and ‘Amaas’ in South Africa.” The Lancet 200 (5172): 808–12.
Nathan, R. (1898) The Plague in India, 1896, 1897. Simla: Printed at the Government Central Printing Office, http://archive.org/details/plagueinindia18902nath.
Packard, Randall M. (2011) The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Papers Received from Secretary of State, London (1901a) Papers Received from Secretary of State, London: General Despatches-Sanitary Measures in the Netherlands Against the Plague. 1/470, Cape Town Archives Repository, National Archives of South Africa, Cape Town.
Papers Received from Secretary of State, London (1901b) Papers Received from Secretary of State, London: General Despatches- The Outbreak of Plague at Cape Town. 1/469, Cape Town Archives Repository, National Archives of South Africa, Cape Town.
Pettenkofer, Max von (1875) Cholera: How to Prevent and Resist It. London: Ballière, Tindall, and Cox.
Phillips, Howard (2012) Epidemics: The Story of South Africa's Five Most Lethal Human Diseases. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Ridgeway, Joseph West (1897a) “Letter to the secretary of state for the colonies, the right honorable Joseph Chamberlain M.P. from Ceylon Governor Joseph West Ridgeway concerning despatch no. 257.” FO 83/1641. London: National Archives at Kew.
Ridgeway, Joseph West (1897b) “Letter to the secretary of state for the colonies, the right honorable Joseph Chamberlain M.P. from Ceylon Governor Joseph West Ridgeway.” FO 83/1641. London: National Archives at Kew.
Ross, R. J. (1977) “Smallpox at the Cape of Good Hope in the eighteenth century.” African Historical Demography, 416–428, https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/4200 (accessed January 6, 2016).
Sambumbu, Sipokazi (2010) “Reading visual representations of ‘Ndabeni’ in the public realms.” Kronos 36: 184206.
Simpson, Sir William John (1905) The Maintenance of Health in the Tropics. New York: Wood.
Simpson, William John Richie (1900) Memorandum on the Influence of Rats in the Dissemination of Plague. Cape Town: Richards.
Simpson, William John Richie (1908) The Principles of Hygiene: as Applied to Tropical and Sub-Tropical Climates and the Principles of Personal Hygiene in Them as Applied to Europeans. London: J. Bales, Sons, and Danielsson.
Simpson, W. J. (1903) Report on the Causes and Continuance of Plague in Hong Kong and Suggestions as to Remedial Measures. London: Waterlow, http://books.google.com/books?id=_j44AQAAMAAJ (accessed January 14, 2016).
Swanson, Maynard W. (1977) “The sanitation syndrome: Bubonic plague and urban native policy in the Cape Colony, 1900–1909.” Journal of African History 18 (3): 387410.
Tognotti, Eugenia (2013) “Lessons from the history of quarantine, from plague to influenza A.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 19 (2): 254–59.
Trapido, Stanley (1964) “The origins of the Cape franchise qualifications of 1853.” The Journal of African History 5 (1): 3754.
U.S. Department of Health (1902) Health Services Reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Health Resources Administration.
van Heyningen, Elizabeth (1989) “Public health and society in Cape Town 1880–1910.” PhD diss., University of Cape Town.
Watson, R. L. (2012) Slave Emancipation and Racial Attitudes in Nineteenth-Century South Africa. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Worden, Nigel (1985) Slavery in Dutch South Africa. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
World Health Organization (2015) “WHO | Plague.” WHO, http://www.who.int/topics/plague/en/ (accessed March 27, 2015).

Global Risks, Divergent Pandemics: Contrasting Responses to Bubonic Plague and Smallpox in 1901 Cape Town

  • Alexandre I. R. White

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed