Headstone "Catherine Holden"; 1877; QS2007.31


Sydney Quarantine Station Moveable Heritage Collection


Headstone "Catherine Holden"

About this object

This is the headstone of Catherine Holden, who died on 6 January 1877, at the age of 19 years. Catherine was a Sydney resident who was quarantined at the North Head Quarantine Station during the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1876-1877. Catherine, and two other people who died during this smallpox outbreak, were buried in the Second Burial Ground at the Quarantine Station.
Lady Jean Foley explains that, on 10 December 1876, the Torres Strait Mail Steamer Brisbane arrived in Port Jackson from eastern ports via Cooktown, and was admitted into Sydney on the basis of the captain’s report that there was no sickness on board. However, unknown to the captain, one of the crew was incubating smallpox which he transmitted to members of the Holden family in Sydney, two of whom died. In turn, a crewman from the mail steamer Australia, and several of the crew from three visiting British warships (Wolverine, Sappho, and Conflict) also became infected.
Although the Station had been established for the practice of maritime quarantine, when faced with the problem of where to isolate Sydney residents and ships’ crews during this smallpox outbreak in 1876-1877, the Executive Council approved the use of the Station and the hospital ship Faraway for this purpose. There was historical precedent for their decision, as this had also been done in March 1859, during an outbreak of scarlatina in the 12th Regiment’s Parramatta barracks.
“Significantly, the decision to use the Station during an outbreak of smallpox in Sydney fostered the belief, at government level, that moving smallpox cases to the Station had prevented a major epidemic of smallpox in Sydney. This influenced the decision in 1881 to use the Station for the quarantine of Sydney residents during a smallpox epidemic, a decision which exposed to public view the weaknesses in the management of the Station”.
This headstone is historically significant as an artefact of the Quarantine Station’s involvement in the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1876-1877. This event is significant as it was an instance of the Station being used to serve the Sydney community, rather than its intended purpose of quarantining incoming migrants, although this was not the only instance of the Station being used in this way.
It is also very rare, as it is the only surviving headstone of the three people who died during this particular smallpox outbreak. It is also one of only two headstones in the Quarantine Station’s collection which was erected in memory of Sydney residents who died at the Station, rather than immigrants.
It holds social, or spiritual, significance not only for people at the time it was erected, but also today. For the people who erected the stone, it was socially/spiritually significant as a personal memorial to a loved one. However, headstones, or grave markers, continue to be socially significant to later generations who never knew the person, as demonstrated by the fact that this headstone (along with several others) was removed from the ground and placed under shelter to protect it from weather damage. Additionally, descendants of persons who died at the Quarantine Station remain in contact with the Station to this day, enquiring after the condition of their ancestors’ grave and headstone, and seeking to arrange a visit.

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AGE 19

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