The outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Cape Town appears to have given a measure of warning to other coastal cities in the Cape, and a number of preventative and curative measures appear to have been implemented in various centres. Those taken in the Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage area were recorded in detail in the Blue Books for the Public Works Department of the Cape of Good Hope, and give us some idea of just how seriously the Health authorities viewed this danger.

In 1900 the first steps were taken by Government to place Port Elizabeth in a position to cope with a possible outbreak of Bubonic Plague, by the importation and erection of a Thresh's Disinfector. This was followed, in November 1900, by the dispatch to Port Elizabeth of a complete Equifex Disinfector, comprising of a boiler and three disinfecting chambers or containers, which were placed in storage pending their possible use. On 17 April 1901 the Acting District Inspector, Mr Rix-Trot, was instructed to proceed at once with the erection of two of the containers and the boiler, on a site previously selected by Professor Simpson, in Jetty Street, near to the Custom House, and to arrange for the erection of a building to house its functions. Plans were immediately prepared and tenders called for, and on Monday 22 April, the lowest was accepted, and the work put in hand.

The Disinfector building was 22.5m by 12m wide, and consisted of a timber frame clad in corrugated iron sheeting, based upon a concrete foundation, with a concrete screed floor 150mm thick. A brick wall divided the building into two parts, the disinfecting apparatus opening into either. Adjoining it was a boiler house, together with a bath room, the whole being supplied with drainage, gas, and water. The building was equipped with lead-covered tables, desks, and a drying horse, while the site was surrounded by a galvanized iron fence. The building was completed and ready for occupation within 19 days from the date of its commission. On 24 April the Colonial Secretary visited Port Elizabeth, where he was advised that, in addition, quarters for medical officers, together with a morgue, and offices for the Advisory Board of Health, would also be required. As a result the provision of doctor's quarters, accommodation for a housekeeper and for white attendants, offices for the Plague Board, a morgue, and fencing for the Contact Camp were all agreed to. Plans were immediately prepared and tenders called for the following:

Offices for the Plague Board and Doctors. These consisted of a building 19.5m by 9.6m containing a large room for Board Meetings, the Secretary's offices, and a clerk's office, all equipped with the necessary furniture, shelving, telephone, lavatory, lighting and water facilities. Adjoining it was a small building, 3m by 3m, used as a Waiting Room.

Medical Officers' Quarters and Accommodation for a Housekeeper and other Servants. These buildings were situated at the Municipal Lazaretto, and consisted of a block 27.9m by 13.8m, providing bedrooms for seven doctors, together with a sitting room, kitchen, scullery, stores, bathrooms and lavatories, with necessary lighting, water and furnishings. Close to this block was the Housekeeper's quarters, covering an area 9.6m by 3.9m, consisting of a bedroom, a sitting room, and a servant's room. In close proximity were two small rooms with a combined area of 6m by 2.4m, providing accommodation for black servants.

Accommodation for White Attendants. After it was found necessary to provide accommodation for white attendants, a building 10.2m by 9m housing a sitting room, a dining room, stores and a provisional morgue was erected. Plans were also prepared for a permanent morgue, and although tenders were invited, the work was held in abeyance pending the availability of a suitable site.

Contact Camp. A piece of land, measuring 94.5m by 93m, enclosed by a barbed-wire fence 3.3m high, was set aside at the Lazaretto. The site was provided with the necessary security gates, latrines, earth closets, baths, wash-houses, kitchens, cooking equipment, lighting, water, and drainage, for the accommodation of persons who might have come into contact with the infection.

Fencing Harbour Stacks. On 1 May 1901, the Acting District Inspector received instructions to fence off the area containing grain stacks in the Harbour Board grounds, after infected rats were found there. This work was begun immediately, and was completed in about 6 days by various contractors using some 1063m of galvanized iron fencing.

Accommodation for Black Attendants. In addition to the above, provision was also made for the housing of stretcher bearers, cleaners, and attendants, both white and black, in a building some 36m by 6.6m, containing cubicles, baths, lavatories and earth closets. A large kitchen and store was also planned, but on the advice of the Medical Officer of Health, these were erected nearer to the Contact laundry. The latter was a building some 14.4m by 60m, and included all necessary fittings, such as copper piping, a mangle, ironing stove, ironing boards, sorting bins, tables, washing tubs and drying lines, and was supplied with lighting and water.

Disinfector at the Lazaretto. A single chamber Equifex Disinfector was erected at the Lazaretto according to plans and specifications, the arrangements being similar to the one already erected in Jetty Street, with the exception that the disinfected side was 10ft, and the infected side 7ft longer than the former.

Nurses' Quarters at Lazaretto. Plans were prepared and tenders invited for erection of Nurses' quarters. Accommodation for four Nurses was at first provided, but this was found to be inadequate, and arrangements were made for the housing of eight Nurses. A building 78ft by 32ft was erected, consisting of 8 bedrooms, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, stores, pantry, and scullery, with lighting and water.

Drainage at Lazaretto. During the visit of the Medical Officer of Health to Port Elizabeth, a Drainage Scheme for buildings at the Lazaretto was thought out, and the whole of the buildings erected by the Public Works Department were connected up for the proper drainage of slop and bath water; this was effected with suitable cast-iron pipes, manholes, etc., and effectively carried out.

Fencing the Lazaretto Grounds. These grounds have been fenced in by order of the MedicalOfficer of Health.

Minor Items. A number of minor items have been carried out, such as the preparing of maps, fitting out the dispensary at the Lazaretto, the making of a Mortuary dissecting table, the erection of clothes lines, providing of a sentry-box, shelving, etc., as the occasion demanded.

Stables. Provision had to be made for the horses and vehicles. The necessary plans having been prepared and tenders invited, a building 42ft by 20ft was erected, containing stabling for 4 horses, harness room, forage room, shed for ambulance, and shed for the hearse, all including water supply and gas.

Permit Offices. It was found necessary to erect an office, adjoining the Disinfector in Jetty Street, to be used for the purpose of granting permits for Natives leaving the District. A building composed of wood and iron, and measuring 10ft by 10ft was erected.

District Office, Mill Park Location. Owing to the Plague Authorities being compelled to vacate the Schoolroom in Mill Park Location, used by them for a Plague Station, a suitable building was erected near the Cape Road, containing offices for Doctor and offices for Inspectors, with proper lavatory accommodation and earth closets.

Awaiting-trial Yard at Gaol. On the 30th of April, instructions were issued that a suitable Camp should be erected outside the Gaol, for the accommodation of persons arrested, and who were to be detained under observation before being confined in the gaol proper. This Camp was immediately proceeded with, and covers an irregular shaped piece of ground 100ft, 162ft frontage, and 88ft at the back.  The fence is 11ft high, and owing to the nature of the ground, had to be carried down into the soil 3 feet 6 inches. The site is divided down the centre by a fence 6ft high. A watchman's box and elevated platform for patrol purposes has been provided, as also wash houses, earth closets, lighting and water supply.

Temporary Lock-up at Gaol. Instructions having been received that it was necessary to erect another temporary Lock-up at the Gaol, a plan was prepared, and containing 4 cells, Sergeant' room, Constable's and Charge Office, with lighting, water supply, and earth closets. At the same time a small formalin disinfecting chamber and store, also an office and store for Prisoners' clothing, together with an alarm bell, were erected.

Further Items.

  • A Camp at the North-End, for the housing of people turned out of unsanitary dwellings.
  • A fenced enclosure containing stables for 8 mules, yard, office, and 2 observations huts, together with water supply and lighting, etc.
  • A new cesspool under course of construction at the Lazaretto, and a small adjoining the Mortuary, is being fitted out as a Laboratory.

In total, the following facilities are recorded to have been provided at Port Elizabeth:

  • Disinfector in Jetty Street
  • Offices for Plague Board and Doctors
  • Medical Officers' quarters, Housekeeper's room, and accommodation for servants
  • Accommodation for whites
  • Morgue
  • Contact Camp (and equipment)
  • Fencing harbour stacks
  • Accommodation for Black Attendants
  • Laundry
  • Disinfector at Lazaretto
  • Nurses' quarters at Lazaretto
  • Drainage at Lazaretto
  • Fencing at Lazaretto
  • Minor items
  • Stables
  • Permit Office
  • District Office, Mill Park Location
  • Awaiting Trial Yard at Gaol
  • Temporary Lock-up at Gaol
  • Uitenhage
  • Accommodation Camp, North End
  • Observation Huts, etc.
  • New cesspool
  • Boilers
Provision of Plague facilities for Uitenhage

The Medical Officer of Healthconsidered that some provision should be made at Uitenhage in the event of an outbreak of Plague at that place, and with that view, certain alterations were made to the Contagious Deseases Hospital. A Contact Camp, 100 feet square, was erected, with lavatory and earth closet accommodation, while the Thresh's Disinfector was removed from the Port Elizabeth Lazaretto, and erected in the yard of the Contagious Diseases Hospital.

Provision of Plague facilities for Port Elizabeth

In 1903 the Public Works Department reported to Parliament on the following issues.

Port Elizabeth Native Location: New Brighton

To meet the urgent necessity for the provision of accommodation outside the Municipal limits of Port Elizabeth for the centralisation of the Native population at that centre, operations in connection with the establishment of a location were commenced in the latter part of 1902. A portion of the farm "Deal Party" previously acquired by the Government was selected as a suitable site of sufficient area to meet present requirements, and allow for possible future extension.

A census of natives was taken by the local Resident Magistrate, showing the number of families and single natives to be provided for. Plans were expeditiously prepared, and the work of erection was put in hand. The buildings were divided into two classes, huts for single natives, and a better class semi-detached huts for families.

Eighty-seven of the buildings for single natives were erected, each hut being 112 feet by 18 feet, divided into nine rooms, constructed of wood and iron, adequately ventilated, and erected on Jarrah Wood stumps. Each hut was capable of housing 45 natives. A portion these were huts purchased from the Military Authorities, and transported to and re-erected at the location site, by which a considerable saving was effected on the outlay.

A sufficient number of kitchens was provided for the occupants of these buildings.

Of the better class of huts for families, 66 semi-detached buildings were constructed, each comprising two two-roomed cottages of wood and galvanized iron, each room 10 by 10, with verandah and kitchen accommodation.

In addition to these, however, 8 of the 87 huts for single natives were converted into quarters for families, by dividing each room into two, providing back door and kitchens.

The provision for 'natives' is therefore, as follows:
For single natives, 79 nine-roomed, huts to accommodate 3,555 people
For families, 66 semi-detached buildings, to accommodate 528 people
For families, 8 converted nine-roomed huts, to accommodate 288 poeple
Total: 4,371 people

Of the former, 64 huts were occupied, the majority by single natives, but some by families, while the latter are fully occupied by families, and are greatly appreciated by the occupants, and a further considerable number are required to need the numerous applications received daily, and I strongly emphasise the necessity for this further provision at an early date.

The present occupation is, therefore, as follows:
66 pairs of semi-detached cottages for 528 persons
8 nine-roomed huts converted for families, totalling 288 persons
64 nine-roomed huts for 2,880 persons
Total: 3,696 persons

An adequate number of male and female latrines have been erected, and a satisfactory system of sanitation is in operation. Three large Ablution Sheds, with concrete floors have been provided, with water laid on, which are freely used by the natives. A temporary water supply connected with the town mains has been laid down with sufficient reticulation piping, for all immediate requirements, and with due regard to future extension.

Plans are drafted for permanent water scheme, also for a complete scheme of sanitation, with designs for the treatment of sewage by means of biological methods of the most approved modern type.

The Location has been laid out in blocks, with avenues and streets at right angles thereto, and the necessary spaces have been reserved as sites for Churches, Shops, School, Market Square, Park, etc. The lighting of the whole area is done by means of paraffin lamps, but a large scheme for the introduction of acetylene gas is under consideration. The Administration of the Location is in the hands of the Secretary for Native Affairs Department, and accommodation for all its officials has been provided. Nine shopkeepers have erected large and well-built structures, and have further introduced a steam baking plant on the most approved principles. The fencing of the whole area is proceeding. I trust that any difficulties in connection with the operation of the Native Location Act may be speedily overcome, and the whole Native population of Port Elizabeth comfortably housed in the near future.

I desire to record my appreciation of the energy displayed by the District Inspector and Staff at Port Elizabeth, and their strenuous efforts to meet the urgent demands in connection with  the establishment of this Location. The total cost of the work carried out is £72,748.

In 1904 the PWD reported to Parliament as follows:

During the year no large extensions have been made to the New Brighton Location at Port Elizabeth. A very satisfactory increase in the early part of the year was made to the inhabitants in occupation of the buildings, but it is much regretted that from various causes numbers of Natives have left the Location during the months of May and June 1904. The whole of the Location has been fenced in with a strong ten-strand barbed wire fence for the better control of the inhabitants. Gates have been provided and fixed at suitable places.  The whole work was executed for the sum of £622. The work of sanitation has been satisfactorily carried out by the contractors, and this Department has had no complaints on this score from the Local Location Superintendent. One of the Class C huts, situated on Block 46, has been converted into temporary Hospital, but as the general health of the Natives in the Location has been remarkably good, it is pleasing to report that the Hospital has not had many occupants. The cost of providing this Hospital was £72. The Class C huts have been altered and made much warmer for their occupants by having corrugated iron fixed to the stumps of huts. These stumps in many cases were standing a considerable distance out of the ground, causing the huts to be draughty and uncomfortable.

Additional linings have also been added and fixed to the existing partitions of these huts, and generally they have been made more comfortable for the Natives. The cost involved in effecting these improvements to the buildings amounted to £3,275.

The Old Burgher Huts (removed from Uitenhage), which had for some time past shown considerable signs of wear on account of proximity to the sea, have been painted three coats externally with Crosbie's Oxide paint, at a total cost of Minor additions have been carried out to the Superintendent's Quarters as well as to those of the Medical Officer of the Location.

About 500 iron guards and stands have been provided and fixed to all the dust and dirty water bins to prevent their being blown over. These answer the purpose most satisfactorily. The cost amounted to £162 10s.

The temporary water supply has been extended so that all shopkeepers derive benefit therefrom on the blocks on which their shops have been built. The cost of erecting these stand pipes was £31.

Am expenditure of £772 has been incurred and charged as an advance against the funds administered by the Honourable the Colonial Secretary in fencing in the Magazines and sites. Furniture has been supplied to the Assistant Resident Magistrate's Offices at a cost of £40. A set of pigeon-holes has been supplied to the Post Office. Closets on Block 42 have been converted into latrines for females. Two additional closets have been built for £51. At the Medical Officer's Quarters a wood and iron stable was erected and a bathroom with bath, a kitchen and servants' room have been added to the building.

Repairs were erected to the females' WCs and to the roofs of the Assistant Resident Magistrate's Residency. The water leadings to the residence of the Inspector of Natives have been repaired, a servant's room was erected and furniture supplied to the Inspector's Office at a cost of £42. The streets and approaches to the Location were cleared of stones and repaired, and the Clerk-of-Works' cottage was flashed with lead flashing.

One of the old kitchens was adapted for use as a mortuary by the provision of a door and supply of a table, etc. Two small sample cooking shelters were erected, the larger of which proved satisfactory. Tenders were invited for the erection of a number of these, but owing to the lack of funds the matter was held in abeyance.

On the instructions of Sir Gordon Sprigg a large number of plots were pegged off for Natives who were to erect their own houses on them, or remove the existing buildings from Korsten. Applications were invited by the Civil Commissioner for these plots but only a few Natives availed themselves of this offer.

At the end of June 1904, the whole of the works at this Location which had, since its establishment during the latter part of 1902, been under the control of this Department, were handed over to the Native Affairs Department, who is now looking after the Location sanitation, lamp lighting, road repairs, minor repairs to the various buildings, and maintenance of water supply, etc, etc.

The total expenditure in connection with this Location up to the 31st December 1904, amounted to £77,698, of which the sum of £4,950 was expended during 1904.

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