Bombay City is a narrow island, some eleven miles long by three broad. It is joined
to the larger island of Salsette (some twenty miles by ten) by two causeways and two railway
lines. Bombay Harbour and Bassein Creek separate these two islands from the mainland
of India. It has already been stated that the existence of bubonic plague in Bombay City
was first discovered in the latter half of September 1896. The various theories as to its origin
may be briefly summarized as follows: (1) Importation from Hongkong, where a plague
epidemic was then raging; (2) importation from one of the Red Sea ports; (3) importation
from Mesopotamia; (4) importation from Egypt; (5) importation from Persia, or from the
Levant. The most popular of these theories is that which ascribes the origin to Hongkong;
but there cannot be said to exist the least evidence in favour of any one theory over any
The administrative measures taken in Bombay from September 1896 to May 1897 are
treated in great detail in Nathan's and Couchman's Reports. Those for the year May 1897
to May 1898, together with some information on the symptoms and medical aspects of the
disease, are given in General Gatacre's and in Sir James Campbell's Reports, while both
these branches are very fully dealt with in Mr. W. L. Harvey, the Municipal Commissioner's
Report for 1898-99.
It would therefore be clearly superfluous to deal at any length here with the epidemics
in Bombay City; and for information under this head, therefore, the above works should be
On the other hand, both for the sake of completeness, and because Bombay City is the
Capital of the Presidency, and the starting point, both of the disease, and of the various
measures introduced at different times to combat it, a brief outline, as well of plague
administration, as of the progress of the pestilence in the City, is given below.
Up to the end of the year 1896, plague did not assume any formidable proportions. The
measures taken to suppress it were both prompt and vigorous: sanitation of the infected por-
tions of the city where it seemed to be required was at once energetically taken in hand; houses
and gullies which lay under any suspicion of infection were at once flushed and disinfected;
drains were opened up, remodelled, and repaired; manholes were carefully disinfected,
drains being thoroughly flushed with sea-water and carbolic acid which was poured into them
by a centrifugal pump at the rate of 3,000,000 gallons a day; all cases of fever were treated
as "suspects"; segregation of contacts and removal to hospital of all plague patients was
strictly enforced.
But the presence of the dread disease itself, combined with these stringent precautions
soon produced an unreasoning panic throughout the City, which resulted at first in flight and
concealment and afterwards in open opposition. Mr. Snow, the then Municipal Commissioner,
writes of this period: " Of all the measures taken at this time for combating plague, the one
which caused most alarm was segregation or removal to hospital. The people not only regarded
hospital treatment with detestation, but reports were freely circulated that the authorities merely
took them there to make a speedy end of them. A gang of scoundrels took to blackmailing
by personating the Police and Municipal servants, and increased the general terror, extorting
money as they did under threats of removal to hospital. Several of these free lances were at