Quarantine as part of grand strategy

The establishment of quarantine stations in 19th century Australia has to be viewed not only in terms of public health measures, but as part of the grand strategy of the British Empire, in its maritime supremacy of the time, to protect its economic and territorial interests. Immigrants were sent from England to Australia to conquer and to cultivate its frontier lands, which, in their relegation to the disempowered status of terra nullis, completely obliterated the land rights of Indigenous Australians. A great power like the British Empire expanded its colonial sphere of influence through emigration of entrepreneurs and workers from the British stock to a great mass of land like Australia, perceived to be “uninhabited” by the British elite. (This perception was shared by Chinese and Dutch maritime adventurers who visited Australia before the British.) Quarantine was not simply a matter of public health, but also an extension and an expression of political power. Quarantine regulations and stations not only served to protect Australia from deadly infectious diseases, but aided and abetted the British Empire in ensuring that its imago was replicated and firmly established in this far-flung colony in the southern hemisphere: the antipodes to Europe and its advanced civilisation, which at the time was galvanised through the Industrial Revolution that actually began in England. Viewed strategically, therefore, quarantine was both projection and protection of power; the Industrial Revolution, too, contributed greatly to the authority and the technology of Australian quarantine stations. At the North Head Quarantine Station, the autoclaves, the power house and the funicular railway readily come to mind.


Grey, Jeffrey. A military history of Australia. (3rd edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


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