One of the Chinese calligraphic inscriptions on the sandstone wall in the Wharf Precinct of the North Head Quarantine Station includes the words “ganjie” (“感激”), which means “heartfelt thanks”. It was written by a Chinese crew member or passenger from SS Tsinan, which in the late 19th century was a new steamship operated by the British-owned China Navigation Company to facilitate trade between Hong Kong and the colonies of the British Empire, which included Australia.
So why thanks for the inconvenience of the quarantine experience at North Head? Although the dating of the inscription is today illegible, my hypothesis is that it was written during Tsinan‘s quarantine at North Head in March 1903. Travelling from Townsville to Sydney, the ship survived a cyclone in Far North Queensland in the capable hands of Captain Lindbergh and his crew, but not without loss of “an anchor and 60 fathoms of chain” (Evening News, 16 March 1903, p. 4). It can be imagined that the passengers on board, both Chinese and European, arrived in Port Jackson with a great sense of relief.
The crew and passengers from SS Tsinan were quarantined at North Head on 13 March 1903 (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1903, p. 8) and were released from quarantine three days later on 16 March 1903 (Evening News, 16 March 1903, p. 4). Prior to Tsinan‘s arrival in Sydney, its second engineer and a Chinese crew member were removed at Townsville; the former developed symptoms of smallpox and the latter, symptoms that were suspected to be smallpox (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1903, p. 8).
As to the steamship itself, it was first detained in the quarantine limit at Watsons Bay, where its crew and passengers were then transferred to North Head. At Watsons Bay Tsinan was fumigated, after which it went to Neutral Bay where its cargo was unloaded. After that was done, it went into quarantine at North Head (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1903, p. 8).