QUARANTINED & FUMIGATED MAIL of VICTORIA & NEW SOUTH WALES
This insignificant cover with an interesting background story was described by the vendor as follows: 1893 cover to Melbourne with Naish 2d violet tied by an almost fine strike of the rare ‘T’ in lattice cancellation in violet of the Nepean Point Quarantine Station at Portsea, arrival back-stamp of NO 9/ (18)93. A key piece for the collector of quarantined mail, being the only recorded example on cover. It was addressed to the Music Company of Allen & Co, Collins St, (Melbourne) City. The reverse was not seen. The oval lattice was very faint, and the ‘T’ could not be seen by me, even on magnification of the original picture (Figures 1 & 2).
The arrival of the Ticonderoga from Liverpool, with its yellow flag aloft, at the Port Phillip heads on 3 November 1852 with nearly 300 sick passengers and crew with scarletina on board, a 100 having died from fever on the 3 month voyage. The ship and its passengers were quarantined at Port Nepean in temporary tents, where another 70 souls died, all of whom were buried in the beach cemetery. This event necessitated the opening of the Quarantine Station at Port Nepean, which was an ideal site on account of its isolation.. The name ‘Portsea Quarantine Station’ was introduced when the Commonwealth took control of quarantine throughout Australia in 1910. It is the second oldest intact quarantine station in Australia, the oldest intact being at North Head, Sydney. A view of the quarantine buildings are seen in Figure 3.
Port Nepean is also significant as the point of arrival of many new immigrants to Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The red arrowed positions of Portsea and Port Nepean at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay are seen in Figure 4.
The first known used of North Head at Sydney as a quarantine station took place in August 1828 when the convict ship Bussorah Merchant arrived in the harbour. It was learned, after the Master of the ship had landed and dined in Sydney, that small pox had infected some members of the crew. By proclamation on 2 August 1828, Governor Darling placed the free passengers in tents at Neutral Bay under military guard. Whereas the convicts, their guards and their families were landed at North Head. A government schooner, the Alligator was moored in Spring Cove as a hospital ship, on board of which those infected with small pox were quarantined. A picture of buildings and tents at North Head Quarantine Station in 1900 is seen in Figure 5.
A more recent example on 3 February 1935 of quarantined mail, with the QUARANTINE/ no date slug/ N.S.W showed that fumigation had been performed, as evidenced by the 2 corners of the envelope having been clipped. It is one of only 4 known covers with this cancel when the RMS Aorangi arrived in Sydney with cases of small pox on board, and all mail on board was fumigated (Figure 6).
As the QUARANTINE postmark is difficult to see, a diagram of the Type 1D (i) postmark (in use from 1899-1935 at North Head Quarantine Station), is shown in Figure 7.
A description of the fumigation procedure for mail is given in J.S. White’s The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901, (1988) pages 258-260: This was accomplished by a process of piercing holes in the letters, placing them over burning sulphur and charcoal and then soaking or splashing them with vinegar. A fumigated letter from the Quarantine Station, March 1839 shows small fumigation splits and stains due to vinegar splashes (Figure 8).
Between 1826 and 1856 in Sydney, some 40 vessels were placed in quarantine for whooping cough, small pox, typhus fever, scarlet fever, measles, and unnamed fevers as listed on page 261 of the above book.