Smallpox: The Spaces and Subjects of Public Health

  • Alison Bashford


In the modern period, places of infectious disease segregation were heterotopic: they could be governed simultaneously by the imperatives of a penal system and a health system, and as we shall see in later chapters, informal and sometimes formal systems of race management.1 Penology and public health were both segregative discourses. In 1881 there was an epidemic of smallpox in Sydney, the management of which offers a fine historical example of the dovetailing of the penal and the medical. Such epidemics were not uncommon in the colonial period,2 but this one is interesting because it gave rise to legislation that allowed for the forcible containment and segregation of people as a way of containing infectious disease. Modelled on the 1832 Act to prevent the spread of cholera in England,3 the Infectious Disease Supervision Act New South Wales (1881) also prompted the establishment of a Board of Health in New South Wales; ‘health’ was thus bureaucratised in the self-governing British colony.4 The Quarantine Station, where smallpox sufferers and their contacts were compulsorily detained, was a place of isolation for public health reasons, but the initial segregation and the cordons sanitaires themselves were implemented and maintained through policing and punishment measures. Quarantine was about health segregation but it was also a form of enforced detention, a carceral place.


Police Code Infected People Royal Commission Penal System Hospital Ground 
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Copyright information

© Alison Bashford 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Bashford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of SydneyAustralia

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