University of Tasmania
whole_PetrowStefan1984_thesis.pdf (26.38 MB)

Sanatorium of the south? : public health and politics in Hobart and Launceston, 1875-1914

Download (26.38 MB)
posted on 2023-05-27, 16:27 authored by Stefan PetrowStefan Petrow
In the nineteenth century boosters claimed that Tasmania was the Sanatorium of the Australian colonies, an island where the sick could gain new vitality and where a long and healthy life was assured. This image was projected in order to attract tourists and immigrants. However the insanitary conditions of the two major cities, Hobart and Launceston, resulted in a series of epidemics of infectious diseases in the 1880s and cast doubt upon the salubrity of the island. This thesis examines the cause of these epidemics and other public health problems faced by the two cities and assesses the way in which public health responsibilities were discharged by the City Councils of Hobart and Launceston, concentrating on the period 1885 to 1914. Detailed study begins in 1885 when the Public Health Act, the most important Tasmanian statute on health in the nineteenth century, was passed. Part One surveys sanitary conditions in the two cities before 1885, focusing on the decade from 1875 when, after years of insouciance, epidemics forced the two Councils to give some attention to sanitary problems. Part Two on Launceston and Part Three on Hobart each includes chapters on the political context in which public health problems were considered, looking particularly at the direction municipal reform took and explaining the enlargement of municipal powers; on the indispensable role of Health Officers, who were usually the only members of municipal councils with training in preventive medicine; on how Councils cleared the environment of accumulations of filth and sewage, those-fertile sources of infectious disease; and on how vested interests impeded municipal regulation of insanitary housing, noxious trades, cemeteries and factories. A central theme is that political and economic considerations were frequently more important than the imperatives of preventive medicine in determining whether sanitary reforms would be implemented. Property owners were the most influential pressure group in municipal politics and were often successful in opposing sanitary reform when it seemed to threaten their interests. However, assisted by the shock impact of epidemics, especially of typhoid, and the growth of civic consciousness, sanitary reformers were able to persuade the City Councils to clean up the urban environment. Consequently, although failing badly in crucial areas, particularly housing, the evidence suggests that the sanitary improvements implemented by the Hobart and Launceston Corporations contributed to a steady decline in the general death rate and a reduction in the incidence of infectious diseases.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 1984 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (MA) - University of Tasmania, 1984. Bibliography: leaves 377-395

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager