In late 1885 a ship carrying over 470 passengers and crew docked at ports in north
Queensland en route
from London to .
It was also carrying cholera. Brisbane
The British India Steam Navigation Company’s ship Dorunda sailed from
on 20th October 1885, with many of its 367 passengers, immigrants - bound
for the . The Dorunda
stopped at port of Brisbane Malta on October
29, Port Said, Egypt
on November 2 and
on November 9, where the (mainly Indian) crew was exchanged. On November 27 the Dorunda reached Aden ,
in Java. Up until this point in the
voyage, there had been little sickness of note according to the ship’s medical
officer, Dr Thomas Hickling. Batavia
Batavia about 560 tons of
coal was loaded onto the ship, and whilst this was being loaded about twenty of
the saloon passengers disembarked and travelled to the
by rail. No other passengers or crew
were allowed to disembark the vessel. Although
it was discouraged, a few passengers bought fruit from a small boat that came
up alongside the Dorunda. No cargo was taken on board, but fresh
vegetables, fruit and potatoes were brought on board for the consumption of saloon
passengers only. No water was taken on
board at this stop. township of Batavia
Four days later, on 2nd December, a 62-year old man became ill with symptoms similar to cholera. He gradually recovered and Dr Hickling did not believe the man had cholera. On the 6th December, an 18-month old child died after suffering convulsions from diarrhoea. Two family members of the child had been treated for diarrhoea just days earlier.
The Dorunda reached
Thursday Island on 7th
December and Cooktown on 9th December. At Thursday Island
the health officer had boarded the ship and found no reason not to allow the Dorunda to continue its journey. The same thing happened at Cooktown, despite
the seven cases of diarrhoea. Twelve
passengers (female immigrants) were landed at Cooktown as well as mail and
On the same day, a 33-year old man named Thomas Doran fell ill and died that night. Dr Hickling reported to the captain that he had no doubt the illness was Asiatic cholera. The Dorunda was now on its way to Townsville. Two of Thomas Doran’s three children (Frank and Henry) became ill with vomiting and diarrhoea on the night of Doran’s death and died the following day.
On the 10th December the Dorunda arrived at Townsville. The health officer was informed of the illness aboard the ship but proceeded to board the ship to decide for himself. He confirmed that the ship was indeed afflicted with epidemic cholera but returned to town seemingly unconcerned that he might be taking the illness with him! The residents of Townsville then lobbied to have him placed under quarantine in his own home.
Under orders from the Colonial Secretary, the Dorunda then proceeded directly to the quarantine station at
Peel Island, off ,
bypassing its intended destinations of Mackay and Rockhampton. Townsville’s quarantine station at Brisbane was deemed unsuitable and
apparently ill-equipped to deal with so many passengers. The Dorunda
arrived in Magnetic Island Moreton Bay on 14th December and passengers were
landed at on the following day. The ship was fumigated and the immigrant
passengers’ belongings and bedding were destroyed. All passengers and crew were isolated on Peel Island
for several weeks. Peel Island
|Advertisement advising readers of precautions against cholera and diarrhoea, October 1885. |
Image: State Library of Queensland.
No cases of cholera developed on mainland
Cornish, W.R. ‘On an outbreak of cholera amongst British emigrants proceeding from London to Queensland in the S.S. Dorunda in December 1885’, British Medical Journal, 25 September 1886, pp. 577-580.
Queenslander, 19 December 1885.