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LETTERS from the QUARANTINE SERVICE, MELBOURNE to DR. RUPERT BLUE, USA

The On His Majesty’s Service long envelope was addressed to Dr. R. Blue, Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health & Marine Hospital Service, Washington D.C. U.S.A. was sent from the Quarantine Service, Melbourne. Both Victoria stamps had an OS perfin, the pink 1d and the brown-red ‘Three Halfpence’ on yellow paper, they were postmarked MELBOURNE / 12.15 A-17 AU 12/ VICTORIA and the reverse was not seen (Figures 1 & 2).

The second cover was also a long envelope On His Majesty’s Service from the Quarantine Service, Melbourne and it was addressed to the Surgeon General, Public Health Service, Washington D.C., U.S.A. The blue 2½d ‘Roo on Map of Australia stamp was postmarked with a roller cancel MELBOURNE/ 14 NOV 14 2-PM/ VICTORIA. There was a purple handstamp ‘PASSED’ applied by a censor (Figure 3).

 

The third cover was similar to the other two but it had a green ½d KGV Head with an O.S. perfin as well as a brown 5d KGV Head, cancelled with a MELBOURNE/ 24/ (indistinct 1920)/ VIC. It was addressed to The Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service, Washington DC, U.S.A., with the Quarantine Service, Melbourne as the sender ( Figure 4).

Rupert Blue was born in Richmond County, North Carolina on May 30, 1868, he attended the University of Virginia (1889-1890) and earned his M.D. from the University of Maryland (1892). His first association with the Public Health Service (PHS), then known as the Marine Hospital Service (MHS), came through a 9 month internship, after which Blue applied for entrance into the MHS Regular Corps and was commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon on March 3, 1893. Blue spent his early years at MHS at the front lines of turn-of-the-century public health, participating in the medical inspection of immigrants to the United States and battling outbreaks of epidemic disease.

Surgeon General Walter Wyman dispatched Blue twice to oversee rat eradication and urban sanitation programs after bubonic plague struck San Francisco, once in 1902-04 and again in 1907-08, following the 1906 earthquake and fires. When he wasn’t trapping rats and squirrels in California, Blue directed mosquito eradication efforts to control yellow fever in New Orleans (1905), at the Jamestown Exposition (1907), and in Honolulu (1911), to help Hawaii prepare for traffic to follow the opening of the new Panama Canal. In addition, he represented the United States on a number of sanitation projects in South America and attended the London School of Tropical Medicine (1910). He was promoted to the position of Surgeon (May 17, 1909), and after Wyman died unexpectedly, President William Howard Taft nominated Blue to serve as Surgeon General (January 1912 through 1916). Blue would go on to serve a second 4 year term under President Woodrow Wilson (1916-1920).

Surgeon General Blue the plague fighter became an institution builder as well. He inherited the Act of 1912, which reoriented PHS toward research and public campaigns against disease. The Act designated the Marine Hospital and Public Health Service as the lead Federal agency responsible not only for interstate quarantine and health services delivery to Federal wards but also for the health of the general public. The Act stepped up Federal public health activities, most notably in response to repeated outbreaks of typhoid fever that tore through cities and towns that drew drinking water from increasingly contaminated supplies. The Act authorized investigations into water pollution’s contribution to the disease burden. Under Blue’s leadership, physician researchers at PHS turned the new science of bacteriology and the age-old practices of sanitation and public education to effective use against diseases linked to poverty in both rural and urban areas. Rupert Blue died on April 12, 1948, and his photo is seen in Figure 5.

These 3 covers were posted during the period 1912-1920 when Dr. Rupert Blue held the Surgeon General position. The contents of the letters are unknown, but reports on influenza incidence was a possible reason for these communications.

 
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