DISCOVERING THE PLAGUE BACILLUS | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

DISCOVERING THE PLAGUE BACILLUS

This first appeared in issue #2 of 'History Notes', compiled by the late Phillip Bruce. It is reproduced here on Gwulo by kind permission of Mr Bruce's family.

From the Hong Kong News, the English-language newspaper published by the Japanese occupation forces, of May 30, 1942:

"Not many are aware that the plague bacillus was first discovered in Hong Kong by a Nipponese scientist, Dr Kitasato, in 1894. At that time Hong Kong had its first outbreak of an illness that has been called 'the black plague,' with a very high percentage of mortality. Medical men came here from other parts of the world, and it was Dr Kitasato's discovery of the bacillus which became the foundation of plague prevention work.

"My recollection is that Dr Kitasato, in addition to obtaining a foremost place among medical men by his researches, also did great work in Manchuria. He studied with Koch in Berlin (not to be confused with the Dr Koch who was in government service and subsequently in private practice in Hongkong).

"There was another Nipponese scientist who came to Hong Kong in those days, in the service of humanity. His name I forget, but he died from the disease that he was investigating, and I think there is a tablet to his memory in one of the local cemeteries.

"The year 1894 is still remembered by old residents of Hong Kong as the first of a considerable number of annual visitations. One result was that the British government resumed hundreds of closely congested houses at Tai Ping Shan, below Po Hing Fong. "A park was laid out on the site and named 'Blake Garden' after the governor of the time. It is respectfully suggested that local tribute be paid to Dr Kitasato and his colleague, either by renaming the garden after them, or by erecting a memorial therein.

"On 14th January, 1897, the Daily Chronicle of London said: "The bacillus pestis discovered by Dr Kitasato," is "now universally recognised as the essential cause of the plague. It belongs to the group of parasite or disease producing bacteria which find home in the bodies of certain animals... They multiply by fission, and each divided portion is a new plant; reproduction thus proceeds in a rapid geometrical progression. The greatest enemy of the bacillus is sunlight.'

"Although Hong Kong has been practically immune from bubonic plague for some time, the present medical administration is sparing no effort towards eradication of the 'animals' which might harbour bacteria."