A researcher’s account by Dr Hugo Ree, PhD. FRCP
I am a retired physician with experience in the field of tropical medicine. I came to Queensland with my family in 1987 to take over the post of government leprologist on the retirement of Dr Douglas Russell. I first came to the Queensland State Archives some 20 years ago to try to make sense of the epidemiology of Hansen’s Disease (also known as HD or leprosy) in Queensland. From those early days, my interest in the history of HD in Queensland grew and I discovered a number of unpalatable truths. One was that much of the work in dealing with HD in the days before the advent of modern drugs fell to the police, who were expected to manage suspected cases of HD until they were safely ensconced in a lazaret. Out of this came a PhD from Griffith University, Policing Public Health in Queensland, 1859-1919.
Research experience at Queensland State Archives
During the course of my research, I came across the name of Henry Jordan and he seemed to me to be an interesting character. Registrar-General of Queensland between 1875 and 1883, Henry Jordan’s annual reports on the vital statistics of the colony were very important to my research. Later, when a member of the Legislative Assembly, he tried, unsuccessfully, to have Queensland’s notorious Contagious Diseases Act 1868 repealed. This Act, which dealt with the nexus between prostitution and venereal disease, was of great interest to the police. And history repeats itself, as the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption showed. So, I decided to write a small book about Henry Jordan’s life in Queensland, from the time he arrived here in 1856 to set up a dental practice, to his death in 1890. The book has now been published under the title Henry Jordan and the Tides of Immigration, 1856-1890. Like Henry, I was also an immigrant; born in France moving to England in 1940 and then to Queensland in 1987. Henry’s interests in immigration struck a chord. In the Archives’ collection, there is a rich and detailed archival record about the challenges he faced in London as Agent-General for Immigration between 1861 and 1866.
Examples of records held at Queensland State Archives
In relation to the book, the most important reference used was COL/12 (Queensland State Archives Item ID 6834, Batch file: Correspondence with Agent-General for Emigration to Queensland, London, 1861-1866) which deals largely with Henry Jordan’s time as Agent-General.
My favourite records are those that deal with the early cases of Hansen’s Disease, particularly:
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 18271 (COL/264): Batch file, Correspondence re leprosy, 1889-1903
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 18268 (COL/268): Batch file, Correspondence re leprosy and leper colonies, 1911-1936
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 18264 (COL/271): Batch file, Correspondence and case histories (Nos. 1 – 30) re Lepers at Peel, Dayman, Stradbroke and Friday Islands, 1891-1899
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 18251 (COL/273): Batch File, Correspondence and case histories of Leprosy (Nos. 61-100), 1897-1908
These records are so useful because they give intimate details of the patients, information that is lacking from the later files.
Advice and future research
As others have no doubt said on many occasions, the first thing you need to know about the archives is to how to use them, and for this you need staff who are not only helpful and willing to listen but patient. I have to give them full marks. My research into Hansen’s Disease continues, and hopefully will lead to another book!