Image of the month: Hong Kong, c.1894

Staffordshire Regiment cleaning plague houses, Hong Kong. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images 

The Photograph depicts a disinfecting operation carried out by the “Whitewash Brigade”, consisting in 300 soldiers and 8 officers of the 1st Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, in Hong Kong. We can see the soldiers having emptied Chinese houses of items considered to be prone to infection from plague, which they proceed to burn on the street. Taipingshan and Kennedy Town, were considered to be the most heavily infected areas in the Colony (between them accounting for 76% of reported deaths). Their very soil was imagined by colonial authorities to be infected by the disease (rats were not at the time believed to be related). Such operations were met with stiff resistance by local residents, whist several soldiers contracted the disease on duty. Intrusive measures taken by the regiment also led to deleterious practices of public corpse dumping and corpse hiding. Still the Whitewash Brigade was credited internationally for putting a stop to the epidemic in Hong Kong.

Owner: Wellcome Library, London

Collection: Photographs, some of Cantlie, with Hong Kong street scenes; Archives and manuscripts

Call number: WMS 6938

Photographer: Unknown


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