Tuberculosis: Governing Healthy Citizens

  • Alison Bashford


Smallpox was always considered an ‘alien’ disease in the Australasian colonies, a disease ‘invading’ the continent and the population, either through early British contact or through the global movement of Chinese goldseekers and indentured labourers. Smallpox became a problem of the white community, but its origins were always comprehended in medical literature as generically Eastern, Asian or Chinese. Tuberculosis, by contrast, was ‘the great white plague’, a disease originating with and belonging to ‘civilized man’ as S. Lyle Cummins put it in his study Empire and Colonial Tuberculosis.1 Newly understood as communicable around the turn of the century, tuberculosis endemically disabled populations in industrialised and urbanised countries. As one British expert on sanatorium treatment opened his book on the subject, ‘tuberculosis is a disease of communal life … It is practically unknown amongst wandering and nomadic people’.2 Epidemiologists in Australia comprehended tuberculosis as a deeply worrying and intrinsic aspect of British or white communities and cultures. Indeed despite tuberculosis being now recognised as a leading cause of Aboriginal mortality in the period,3 its dominant conceptualisation as a disease of whites almost entirely shaped expert knowledge and management of it. Like smallpox and leprosy, tuberculosis was managed spatially in the early twentieth century.


Hygienic Conduct Health Resort Legal Power Puerperal Fever White Community 
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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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