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Poona Plague Pictures, 1897-1908, undated

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Poona Plague Pictures

Biographical/Historical Note

Bubonic plague, as part of the widespread third plague pandemic, reached the Indian subcontinent from China, where it had first appeared in 1855, around 1896. Appearing first in coastal cities, it spread to the inland city of Poona (Pune) in the state of Maharashtra late in 1896, and by February 1897, with a raging mortality rate double the usual epidemic norm, half the city's residents had fled to outlying areas. In order to bring the plague under control W. C. Rand, an Indian Civil Service officer and head of Pune's newly-formed Special Plague Committee, instituted what were seen by the native population as excessively strict safety measures. These included the use of British and native troops to enforce entry into private dwellings for the examination of occupants and the discovery of afflicted or deceased persons; removal of residents to hospitals or observation and segregation camps; the destruction of possibly contaminated personal possessions; preventing plague victims from entering or exiting the city; restriction of the burial of plague victims to designated rather than traditional burial grounds; and the banning of traditional Indian medical practices. Although the extreme measures quickly brought the epidemic under control, response to their severity fomented rebellion in an already politically charged district. Despite the fact that the measures were lifted a few months later on May 19, resentment was such that on June 22 Rand and his military escort, Lt. Ayerst, were assassinated by the Chapekar brothers on their way home from the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee at Pune's Government House. Such events, along with the spread of plague to rural areas, caused the British government to switch tactics and focus instead on mass inoculation using the plague vaccine developed by Waldimar Haffkine, a Russian Jewish bacteriologist.

Charles Henry Benjamin (C.H.B.) Adams-Wylie was one of the junior British doctors who served at the General Plague Hospital in Pune in 1897 and 1898, where he was a plague medical officer known then as Dr. Adams. He was born in 1871 or 1872 and did his medical training at Edinburgh University and Middlesex Hospital. In 1899 he married Lilian Oimara Wylie, a trained nurse, and changed his name to Adams-Wylie by deed of poll. Shortly thereafter Adams-Wylie was commissioned into the Indian Medical Service as a lieutenant and the couple went to Bombay, where they worked tirelessly vaccinating victims against plague, paying for additional plague vaccination incentives and food for the poor with their own funds. In 1900, after the advent of the Second Boer War, Lt. Adams-Wylie served as a medical officer to troops transferring to South Africa. He subsequently volunteered as a sanitary worker at Bloemfontein while Lilian, known to her family as Lily or Julia, went to Capetown as a nurse. Lt. Adams-Wylie died at Bloemfontein from enteric fever that same year. After his death Lilian Adams-Wylie continued in her nursing career. In 1902 she founded the Adams-Wylie Memorial in Bombay for the poor in honor of her late husband. In 1904, she married Charles Hotham Montague Doughty, an army officer and diplomat and the nephew of the travel writer Charles Doughty, who also appended Wylie to his name. Doughty-Wylie fell at Gallipoli in 1915; his wife died in Cyprus in 1961 after a long and distinguished medical career.

F. B. (Francis Benjamin) Stewart was a British photographer and filmmaker who was based in Pune beginning in the 1880s. He worked for the British military and government as well as for private businesses such as the Warwick Trading Company. He died in Pune in 1919.

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